Bengals' offense has improved dramatically under new coordinator Bill Lazor

CINCINNATI -- The numbers are pretty stark:

  • No touchdowns in two games before the change; eight touchdowns in the three games since the change.
  • A 47.2 quarterback rating for Andy Dalton before the change; a 116.2 quarterback rating for Dalton since the change.
  • A 28.5 percent third-down conversion rate before the change; a 36.8 percent third-down conversion rate since the the change.
  • 258 yards of total offense per game before the change; 346 yards of total offense per game since the change.

Obviously, the Bengals have been a different offense since Bill Lazor was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, replacing the fired Ken Zampese. 

Lazor says the players bought in from the time he took over and the confidence has grown as the results improved.

“I think right now they believe they can be good,” Lazor said. “I think that’s a starting point. I think they believe in each other and maybe some of it has to do with what we’re doing or calling, but I think more of it is, if they believe they can make it work, then that helps me not make as many bad calls. 

“I think on the sideline it feels to me that they believe. I didn’t see anybody flinch. I didn’t see any bad looks with having some turnovers or having a three and out. I just see guys come over and just be about getting their business right, guys talking about the alignment and when asked, give their input, what they think would work.”

The play calling has changed under Lazor but so has the emphasis and focus. The tight end has become more involved. Tyler Kroft had one catch in the first two games. He has 13 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns since the change. This isn’t the Eifert Effect -- Tyler Eifert only had four catches for 46 yards in the first two games. 

Joe Mixon has become the featured back, eschewing a nearly equal rotation under Zampese. 

“There’s a sense of urgency -- like we have to go score on every drive,” Mixon said.  “We come out and attack. We’re going to continue with that. I’ve been pleased with how everybody’s been working with each other.”

The offense is far from a finished product. The running game continues to struggle. The Bengals are 31st in the NFL in yards per attempt at 3.2 and 28th in the league in rushing yards per game at 84.0.

Improving the ground game is an emphasis of the bye week for Lazor.  

“You always try to look at your base run game,” Lazor said. “I think now is as important a time as ever to look at what we’re doing well, what we’re not doing well enough, where we want to go with it.”

The key to any offense in the NFL is quarterback, and Dalton’s play is markedly better under Lazor. Lazor didn’t say it, but the offense was a bit complicated under Zampese. Fewer options have meant more good plays for the Dalton.

“I think Andy's playing very decisively,” Lazor said. “. . . As long as he knows when this play gets called, this is the purpose. I might have a whole bunch of options -- and Andy can handle options -- as long as he keeps in mind, this is the intent of the play and tries to stay true to that and manages the other options that might come up if they leave somebody one on one, then he'll play decisively.”

Dalton has gone to A.J. Green a lot -- 33 times in the three games since the change. But when Buffalo took Green away on the decisive drive Sunday, Kroft made two third-down catches. Kroft is suddenly looking like Eifert did in 2015. 

“It’s a matter of Andy trusting me to make plays,” Kroft said. “It’s exciting that it’s finally happening.”

In order to get the other options involved, the Bengals force Dalton to use them in practice.

“In practice there are times when we double (Green), just to make sure the ball goes the other way,” Lazor said. “(That’s) going to do a couple things. You get the ball to someone else in the pass game, and it also should open up the run game. If the safety has to go to him, then that other safety’s ether in the box leaving everyone one-on-one or also helping on the other four receivers and we should be able to run the ball better. It’s just theory but it should work.”

So, Lazor’s theories have worked. 

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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