“Off the Matt” 2016 Bengals Preview
Have you guys recovered yet?
That was as rough of a way to lose a playoff game as I can remember. The Vikings did their best to upstage the Bengals the following day, but I still think the way the Bengals went down would have been harder to take. This guy still wakes up in cold sweats having nightmares about the final two minutes of that game. The good news is, the Bengals should be back on the prowl in 2016 (so corny, but I couldn’t help myself).
Points Per Game: 26.2 (7th)
Passing Yards Per Game: 245.2 (15th)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 112.8 (13th)
The Bengals had one of the more balanced offenses in the league in 2015. Not only was it balanced, it was explosive. Before the Dalton injury in Week 14 they scored 30+ points in seven of their 12 games.
Anytime there is a major change to the framework of the coaching staff, there will always be questions and in some cases cause for concern. The question for the 2016 version of the Bengals offense is how badly will former offensive coordinator and now Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson be missed. My take on the situation is that the offense won’t miss a beat.
The offensive coordinator duties will be taken over by long-time quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. Dalton has worked with Zampese from day one and has been the only positional coach he has had. This should make for a smooth transition. Dalton’s comfort level with the offense grew by leaps and bounds in 2015. Through eight games Dalton was calling audibles at the line of scrimmage on about 40% of the plays. With the trust between Zampese and Dalton I could see this number growing in 2016.
There is one concern I have for the Bengals offense. How do you replace 98 receptions? That is what Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu combined for last season. In Sanu’s case it is much more than just the receptions that will be missed. His tenacity after the catch and willingness to block set him apart from other receivers. Throw in the fact that he was a master of the trick-play via the wildcat or the occasional throw and he is not an easy guy to replace.
The candidates to replace Jones and Sanu will be Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd. My mother taught me that “if I didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So with that said, I am going to move right along to rookie Tyler Boyd. I like Boyd. He was a do it all type of player for the Pitt Panthers. He showed the ability to be effective at all three levels in the passing game. He is very polished in his route-running and should be able to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups he is likely to see with the amount of attention that A.J. Green consistently draws.
As good as the offense was in 2015, the defense was better. They were second in the league in points allowed, surrendering just 17.4 points per game. One of their biggest problems in 2014 was getting pressure on the quarterback. They were dead last in the league recording only 20 sacks. This wasn’t the case in 2015. They finished the season 10th in the league with 42 sacks and numerous more pressures. The constant pressure was a key factor in posting 21 interceptions, which was good for third best in the league.
side note: Anytime a defense finishes in the top 10 in both sacks and interceptions, chances are the team had a pretty good year.
2015 teams that finished in the top 10 in both sacks and interceptions
Those teams all made the playoffs. The Super Bowl Champion Broncos are missing from that list. They finished first in sacks and 13th in interceptions…close enough.
Losing hard-hitting, ball-hawking safety Reggie Nelson to the Raiders is a big loss. The fact that they were able to re-sign George Iloka and Adam Jones cushions the Nelson loss. Nelson is a beast no doubt, but at 33 when the season starts I completely get why the Bengals chose to not invest a ton of money into him. Shawn Williams showed some flash last year filling in for Iloka, and he will be counted on to make plays in the back-end going forward.
My favorite player to watch on the Bengals defense is Geno Atkins. There are few players in the league who have the ability to wreck an offensive line the way Atkins can. On most plays, at the snap of the ball the middle of the offensive line gets pushed back often disrupting the run game, or forcing quick pressure on the quarterback. Hopefully the steal of the draft in Andrew Billings can learn a trick or two from Atkins, who also a “short” 6’1” 4th round draft pick.
If I have one criticism of the Bengals defense, and please Bengals fans let me know if I am out of line in saying this, but it seems like they do a poor job developing talent in their young defensive backs. Look no further than former first round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. Last season, Dre rated 116 out of 118 qualifiers according to Pro Football Focus advanced stats. As for Dennard, he has yet to make much of an impact and played sparingly before suffering a season ending injury in Week 11. With the current track-record, my expectations for rookie first round pick William Jackson III to make an impact this season are low.
Wait, something is missing. No preview of the Bengals defense would be complete without a mention of #55. The final two minutes of the above mentioned playoff game was a microcosm of Burfict’s career. He makes a great read in pass coverage, drives on the ball, and has the soft hands to make the interception. It was a great play that showcased Burfict’s attention to detail and athletic ability. However, it was all for naught, as just a few moments later Burfict laid a hit on Antonio Brown that initiated a chain of events that lead to their defeat.
They will miss Burfict for those first three games while he serves his suspension for that hit. The problem going forward for Burfict, is that he will now have an even bigger bulls-eye on him in regards to being an easy target for officials. If he even so much as breathes on someone near the sideline or “plays through the whistle,” a flag will be coming out. He is a great player because of the edge that he plays with. However, that same edge often leads to reckless penalties that ultimately hurt the team. For his sake, I hope that he can find a way to harness the energy he plays with.
Everyone will have Week 2 circled on the schedule with the NFL’s hottest new rivalry going down in Pittsburgh. While division games are always important, I think how the Bengals perform in Weeks 5-8 will go a long way in determining if this team will make it to the playoffs for a sixth straight season. In that four game stretch they play the Cowboys and Patriots in back to back road games. Then in Week 7 they get the Browns at home for what could feel like a must win game (if there is such a thing as a must win game in Week 7). They finish this stretch with a trip across the pond to face off with the Redskins in London. I understand the importance of aiming high, but I have to think that Bengals fans would be giddy to finish with a 3-1 record over those four games and 2-2 wouldn’t be the end of the world either.
Undervalued: Jeremy Hill (ADP 55)
There was a great deal of venom spit towards Jeremy Hill by the fantasy community last year, and I don’t get it. I realize that he failed to live up to his ADP (10th overall / seventh RB), but let’s not pretend like he was a scrub in 2015. Sure, there were some downright terrible weeks, but if you stuck with him for all 16 weeks you got the 13th best fantasy running back in the league.
He wasn’t as bad as people made him out to be, but there is no denying a significant drop-off in production from his rookie year when he posted 222/1124 for a robust 5.1 yards per carry.
So what happened?
After sifting through some numbers I have come to the conclusion that the difference between Hill’s rookie and sophomore season was his ability to break the long run. In 2014, he had eight runs of 20+ yards (7th in the league) and his three runs of 40+ yards were tied for most in the league. Quick math says that one out of every 20 carries that Hill took he was going 20+ yards.
I had to check this number twice to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me, but in 2015 Hill had exactly one regular season carry that went for 20+ yards. That helps explain his drop in yards per carry from 5.1 in 2014 to 3.6 in 2015.
I don’t have a good answer for why he couldn’t pop runs in 2015 like he did his rookie season. I get there is skill required, but there is also some luck that factors into it when you take into consideration all the factors that have to go right for a big run play. Sure there are some machines like Adrian Peterson that can do it on his own, but for the mere mortals of the world it is an 11 man effort.
A feature that I like about Hill that has less variables is his usage in goal-to-go situations. Last year, his 26 carries were the second most carries in the league inside the opponents 10 yard-line. He converted 11 of those opportunities for touchdowns. Playing in one of the better offenses in the league should equate to plenty of scoring chances for Hill again in 2016.
We are talking about a running back that had a “down” season in 2015 that still managed to finish as the 13th best fantasy running back. With his current ADP being a mid-fifth round pick (12 team league), Hill will be one of the better values on draft day.
Overvalued: Tyler Eifert (ADP 49)
There is no way it is sustainable.
The “it” I am referring to is the one touchdown per every four receptions he recorded in 2015. Don’t get me wrong, Eifert gets the job done in the red zone. His 11 red zone touchdown receptions were second in the league only behind Allen Robinson. This is even more impressive when you take into consideration that his 16 red zone targets were outside of the top 30.
In the fantasy world a term that gets thrown around is “touchdown dependent.” That is Tyler Eifert in a nutshell. If he doesn’t score a touchdown the odds of getting to double-digit fantasy points is unlikely. Last season, he posted only two games in which he had more than 70 yards receiving.
There is no doubting that Eifert is a premiere talent at the tight end position. I just don’t see how he could possibly repeat the one touchdown per every four reception pace he set last year. Factor in that he has had offseason surgery and there is no way I could select him as the third tight end off the board. His ADP could fluctuate as we get closer to the regular season based on his recovery process goes.
2016 could be the year the Bengals get the monkey off their back. I expect a 10-6 season which will be good enough to get their playoff ticket punched.
Check back next week for a breakdown of a team that turns the stomach of Bengals fans–the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Major League Fantasy Football Weekly: Join Lou Landers, Zak Sauer, and Coach Jeff Nelson live Saturday June 4th, 2016 from 1-2:30pm EST for episode #21 of Major League Fantasy Football Weekly. We will run our show on Saturday until August 27th, and then move back to Tuesday nights from 8-10pm EST on September 13th. This is a live broadcast and we do take callers at 323-870-4395. This week we discuss key free agent signings and trades as well as key rookies from the draft.
You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio: Join Corey D Roberts on Sunday June 5th, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. Every week we will do a quick recap of Fr-Sat games, and a forecast of Monday through Thursday’s games.
Our guests this week are Coach Andy Macuga and Jesse Ellison. Andy is the Head Baseball Coach for Borrego Springs H.S. in the Northern San Diego area of Southern California and a seasoned Major League Fantasy Sports owner. Jesse Ellison is a child hood friend of mine I grew up playing baseball with amongst other sports. He is also the owner of Ellison Baseball Instruction camps in South East Virginia. You can find his camps at ebicamps.com.
“You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”
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