Gruden's departure benefit for Dalton, RBs
January, 9, 2014
By Coley Harvey | ESPN.com
CINCINNATI -- Well, Cincinnati Bengals fans, you wanted it. Now you've got it.
The changing of the offensive guard has begun.
With news Thursday that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was leaving the franchise to become Washington's new head coach, the Bengals are now in position to alter their offensive philosophy in a way that will benefit the entire unit. Yes, that specifically includes quarterback Andy Dalton, and it most certainly includes the likes of running backs Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Expect true balance to come to Cincinnati.
Farewell to the days of passing in the playoffs on third-and-1s. Say sayonara to deep routes on fourth-and-3.
Gruden's departure created a domino effect that has already had ripples throughout the Bengals' locker room. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, who broke the news about Gruden leaving, the Bengals are expected to promote running backs coach Hue Jackson to Gruden's old post. This will be the fourth different title Jackson has held with the Bengals, and it will be the fourth time he has served as an offensive coordinator in the NFL.
Jackson previously was the offensive coordinator in Washington (2003), Atlanta (2007) and Oakland (2010). Before joining the Bengals' staff in 2012, Jackson had been promoted to head coach of the Raiders in 2011 before getting fired that following January.
With the Bengals, he has served as a receivers coach -- during an earlier stint that preceded his tours with the Falcons and Raiders -- a defensive backs coach, and most recently as a running backs coach. Under his watch this past season, Bernard and Green-Ellis rushed for more than 1,400 yards combined. A speedy, shifty playmaker, Bernard racked up 1,209 total yards of offense as both a running back and pass-catcher in Gruden's scheme.
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJay Gruden's play calling has come into question during the postseason, including during Cincinnati's home loss to the Chargers this past Sunday.
While the Bengals were mostly successful under Gruden the past three seasons, posting a combined 30-18 regular-season record and watching Dalton enjoy some of the best passing numbers of any quarterback through his first three seasons, there was one glaring issue: They weren't very good in the postseason.
Sunday's 27-10 loss in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs was the perfect display of the coaching ills that Bengals fans believed Gruden possessed. In a second half that was marred primarily by three Dalton turnovers and some poor decision-making on the part of the signal-caller, the playcaller had his issues, as well. He requested one fourth-quarter play that required receiver Marvin Jones to sprint deep on fourth down when he really didn't need to go so far. The Bengals only needed to convert 3 yards for the first down. With other receiving options covered, Dalton threw to his most open target -- Jones. He was too pumped up on the difficult deep throw and sailed it over Jones' head.
Also questioned after the game were Gruden's decisions to pass 31 times in a fourth quarter that his team entered trailing by just seven points.
Then there was that curious third-and-1 call near midfield in the first half when he brought in bruising defensive tackle Domata Peko as an extra blocker, only to call for a 7-yard pass that resulted in an incompletion.
As he had twice before, Gruden got conservative in a playoff game and failed to trust his running backs. As Green-Ellis would later lament, that wasn't "playoff football."
Gruden admitted during a local radio interview Monday night that he has a tendency to overthink certain game situations and plays.
"Sometimes maybe I give [defensive] coordinators too much credit like, 'OK, this play worked a couple times, no way it's going to work again,'" Gruden said to ESPN 1530 AM's Lance McAlister and former Bengal and team radio personality Dave Lapham. "You outthink yourself, and that's the whole thing you go through as a coordinator is how to attack.
"The big thing for us is trying to keep teams off balance. I don't think we're good enough to be one-dimensional as far as throwing the ball or as far as running the ball."
Under Jackson, expect the Bengals to get back to more of that true offensive balance, particularly in the postseason. In all three of Cincinnati's playoff games with Gruden coaching, the Bengals handed the ball to their running backs on just 25 percent of the overall plays. That's far from balance.
That gap ought to close under Jackson, who was a sort of running back savant at Oakland. While there, the Raiders had a rushing attack that featured a young Darren McFadden. The University of Arkansas product rushed for more than 1,100 yards his third season. He also had 14 carries of 20 yards or more that year. Through seven games in 2011, his fourth season in the league, McFadden averaged 5.4 yards per carry and had eight carries of 20 yards or more before a serious foot injury sidelined him the latter half of that year. He hasn't been the same since.
Now that Jackson is leading the Bengals' offense, Cincinnati has a coach who won't be afraid to run the ball in an effort of helping take pressure off Dalton. Against the Chargers on Sunday, the Bengals probably should have stuck with the run, in part, to relieve some of the pressure that piled itself upon Dalton's shoulders like two-ton boulders.
"With the atmosphere of the playoffs, the little things can get a lot bigger than they really are," Dalton said. "You get down two scores but still have so much time it might feel like you are down three scores, four scores. It's about being able to manage the emotion of the game."
Gruden's departure and Jackson's expected promotion ought to help Dalton control those emotions better. A more balanced offense means Dalton has a very real chance he needs to seize at being "Good Andy" more times than not.