CINCINNATI — When Bill Lazor looks at the Bengals’ playbook, he sees the imprint of three coordinators. He’s getting a chance to try to pull it all together and resurrect the NFL’s least-productive offense — a shocking statistic for a talented unit.
Coach Marvin Lewis’ first big decision after getting another contract extension was offering Lazor the chance to stay as coordinator and give the offense a major overhaul. The Bengals finished last in the league in offense and had the worst running game in their history, averaging only 85 yards.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will be back, along with running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. The playbook could be noticeably different — Lazor said some things need to be done “totally differently.”
“There are times when each of us, in order to grow, need to be pushed and need to be made uncomfortable,” Lazor said. “Andy wants to be great, so he’ll accept that challenge if we make him uncomfortable at times.”
Dalton has worked with four offensive coordinators during his seven seasons in Cincinnati.
Jay Gruden helped Dalton and Green get grounded as rookies in 2011, the start of five straight postseason appearances and first-round losses. When Gruden left after the 2013 season, Hue Jackson replaced him, brought a different creativity to the game plan, and led Dalton to his best season — he led the AFC in passer rating in 2015.
Ken Zampese was elevated when Jackson went to the Browns after the 2015 season, and he took the West Coast offense in some different directions. It didn’t work — he was fired after the Bengals failed to score a touchdown in their first two games into this season. Lazor took over but was confined to working from Zampese’s playbook for the rest of the season and tweaking things gradually.
Now Lazor gets to analyze the offense, overhaul it, and put his imprint on it.
“If I look at the call sheet of what the plays are called here, I’d probably see things that were brought from three different coordinators,” he said.
His biggest challenge will be restoring a comfort level on the offense. The Bengals would play well for a few series or a half, then totally collapse and go long stretches without as much as a first down.
“We just have to be consistent,” Dalton said. “Everybody’s got to be on the same page. That’s what the offseason will be for, to look at everything.”
Much of the focus will be on the line, which lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency a year ago. They were replaced with inexperienced tackles who struggled — the running backs found few holes and Dalton was running to avoid the rush much of the time. Line coach Paul Alexander was let go on Wednesday.
Getting the line fixed is the top priority. Until the running backs get more room and Dalton gets more time, the offense will remain stuck in place.
“We have an amazing group of threats at wide receiver, and we have to capitalize on that,” Lewis said. “We have to get our quarterback to be the guy we expect him to be day-in and day-out, and lead the football team that way. That means we have to keep him from getting jostled around.”