The Cincinnati Bengals have not been to the playoffs for the past couple of seasons. They made it something like five years in a row from the time that they drafted wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton in consecutive rounds several years back, but had been unable to return, or even post a winning record, since embarrassing themselves out of the postseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015.
While they were never able to get over the postseason hump in terms of actually winning a game—something that they have not done since 1990, mind you—they at least consistently looked as though they were on the verge of something, provided that they could learn to get out of their own way at some point and stop inflicting wounds upon themselves.
It has reached the point at which commentators are questioning who the Bengals are, suggesting that they lack an identity. That was the subject of a conversation on ESPN recently, which the Cincinnati Enquirer picked up on and excerpted.
To begin with, I do think the discussion needs to be had, first, just what an ‘identity’ is for a football team, and second, whether or not it is actually meaningful or valuable to have an identity. If the New England Patriots have an ‘identity’, for example, it is that they are infinitely adaptable to any identity that they feel gives them the best opportunity to win.
For a while, the Bengals ‘identity’ on offense was just ‘throw it to Green and Tyler Eifert’, while an emphasis on the secondary and playing tight coverage mixed with exotic fronts was their core approach on defense. I don’t not that that has necessarily changed.
It’s hard to know. They have changed their defensive coordinator, this time bringing somebody from outside of the organization in Teryl Austin. Bill Lazor is also taking over as offensive coordinator full-time this offseason and has been given reign to rewrite the playbook.
In other words, they may very well be literally rediscovering an identity this offseason. Maybe it’s what they need to do to get back on the right track. Or maybe they just need better performances from their players and coaches.
So much of their struggles on the offensive side of the ball over the past two years can be traced back directly to the failures they have had in restocking their wide receivers and offensive linemen that they lost in free agency. They had one of the best offensive lines and an underrated cast at wide receiver, and they have yet to see the results on the field from their replacement parts.
Will this season be any different? They have made the investments, including trading for a left tackle and drafting a wide receiver in the first round (in 2017). We should see whether or not that results in wins this season. And a funny thing about ‘identity’, we often determine whether or not a team has one just based on whether or not they win.