Cincinnati Bengals: jay gruden

CINCINNATI -- The day Jay Gruden foresaw more than three years ago has finally arrived.

Quarterbacks want to be like Andy Dalton.

Cue the soundtrack to an early 1990s commercial anthem: "Sometimes I dream... that he is me..."

In this story by ESPN colleague John Keim on Wednesday, we found out that Kirk Cousins is doing something some other quarterbacks might soon admit to doing. He's trying to play like the Cincinnati Bengals' fourth-year quarterback, who has his team off to a 2-0 start and has started to prove that he might be worth every penny of the six-year, $115 million contract extension he signed back in August.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsBengals quarterback Andy Dalton is playing well enough to be emulated by other NFL quarterbacks.
Built similarly to Dalton and blessed with athleticism and mobility a lot like Dalton's, Cousins is hoping that Gruden, the Bengals' former offensive coordinator who now is Washington's head coach, can get him to taste some of the same success that Dalton has experienced at the start of his career.

"I'm not 6-5; I don't run a 4.3," Cousins said. "I don't have an arm that can throw it 90 yards. If I don't have good command and if I'm not making good decisions and if I'm not doing a great job of managing the game, then I'm not going to be playing very long."

Check, check and check. The same things could be said for the 6-foot-2 Dalton, who ran a 4.87-second 40-yard sprint at the 2011 combine. When he doesn't make good decisions, Dalton struggles. And for whatever reason, those struggles seem to get magnified more for him than when it happens with other quarterbacks.

That was regularly the case under Gruden's guidance, but so far, Dalton hasn't shown any signs of poor decision-making under current Bengals coordinator Hue Jackson. In two games under Jackson's direction, Dalton hasn't thrown an interception and he hasn't been sacked. He also has performed as well as he has without his top two receivers and one of his top pass-catching tight ends.

None of this, however, is to insinuate that Dalton was pitiful under Gruden. Last season, Dalton had five 300-yard passing games, including one four-game stretch of such contests. He also completed a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes.

"We don't expect Kirk to go out and win the MVP next week or win a Super Bowl to prove he's an upper-echelon quarterback right away," said Gruden, who is starting Cousins this week after the quarterback rallied Washington to a victory over Jacksonville after Robert Griffin III's ankle dislocation last week. "We do expect him to produce and play within the offense and not make mistakes and do what he's supposed to do. We expect him to be effective."

Like Dalton.

"They're drop-back quarterbacks and they're both very good, competitive, smart players," Gruden added. "But Andy's done it. Andy's proven it. He's won."

Dalton still hasn't won a playoff game, but he's anxious to scratch that task off his to-do list.

For now, Cousins' objective is to simply be like Dalton.

"If I just do what [Gruden] tells me to do and stay patient, trust the process, keep working, good things are going to happen," Cousins said. "He has a proven track record. ... I watched him have a lot of success with Andy Dalton."

"... Like [Andy], if I could be like [Andy]."
CINCINNATI -- Good for A.J. Green.

Kudos to him for beginning to heed the advice that was offered to him in January.

At long last, Green has started implementing an attitude worthy of a player of his lofty stature. He's embracing his role as a vocal team leader and has started opening his mouth in ways the Bengals had long been anticipating.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's A.J. Green
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY Sports"I've got to speak up when [my teammates] are not having a good day," A.J. Green said.
Based on comments he made during his youth football camp in suburban Cincinnati on Thursday, Green has emerged from his shell. He's asserted his support for quarterback Andy Dalton this offseason more adamantly than he has in years past and he's emphasized that the entire team needs to play better in the postseason, sending loud messages not only to his teammates, but to those of us looking from the outside in.

It's about time.

"If you're a great athlete, I feel like you'll think you always left something [on the table]," Green said. "I feel like I still haven't reached my peak yet."

He knows the Bengals haven't, either.

Part of what Bengals coaches think will get him dramatically closer to his personal summit is him being more vocal.

After the Bengals lost their wild-card playoff game to the Chargers, Green met with head coach Marvin Lewis and then-offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as part of the standard exit meetings. The general theme in the conversations was that Green needed to be louder and more assertive on the sidelines and in the huddles.

They wanted him to lead with his voice. If his teammates needed to be called out, he needed to be the one to do it. If they needed to hear more praise, he had to be the one to provide it.

Green knew those requests would be a lot easier to make than to fulfill.

"That's a big thing for me, stepping out of my box," he said. "I'm not really a vocal guy in general. I let my play, my work, speak for itself. ... It's definitely an adjustment for me because I'm more of a quiet guy, more of a lead by example by what I do on and off the field guy. That's the biggest thing for me is that I've got to speak up when we're not having a good day or we're down or things like that."

While taking a break during the second day of his sold-out, two-day camp, Green told the few reporters listening that he felt his transition was going well.

It certainly appears he's right.

Just look at a few of his comments from the interview session. He was unflinching in his critique of his own postseason play. Asked to characterize his three career playoff games, two words immediately came out of his mouth: "Not good."

Had he been asked that question in the past, he may have ultimately meandered to same answer, but only after giving a stock answer about just simply needing to execute better. This time around, not only did he put pressure on himself to perform better, but he prodded all his teammates to step up their postseason games. He said Thursday that Cincinnati's recent postseason woes weren't only the result of poor performances by he and Dalton, but he challenged the defense to play better, as well.

That's what a vocal leader does. He doesn't just challenge himself, he pushes those around him.

That's also what an 0-3 postseason showing gets you: a frustrated superstar who's eager to prove his worth.

What also makes Green's comments interesting was the manner in which they were delivered. There was no hesitancy in his voice, no uncertainty about whether he was saying the right things or not. Let's just say that he sounded more sure of himself when answering these questions than he did last year.

So where has this new vocal and assertive Green come from? He doesn't have a complete answer. He probably doesn't really need one.

It's safe to say that new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has had something to do with it. Known for a confidence that some might say borders on arrogance, Jackson has a personality that may be rubbing off on Gree. Like Lewis and Gruden, Jackson believed Green, as one of the team's elite players, needed to make his presence known a little better in the locker room.

"He's never satisfied with where I am," Green said of Jackson. "That's one thing about him. No matter what I do or what I've accomplished these first three years, there's always more I can do.

"I remember when the [NFL Network's] top 100 came out and I was the No. 2 receiver, he said, 'OK, let's go be No. 1.'"

Deep down Green may have previously believed he could be the best in the league. But now, based on the comments he made Thursday, it seems he actually believes it, and is doing more to prove it.

Listen up, NFL. A.J. is talking. But will the chatter be enough to help reverse his team's postseason fortunes and to make him even more respected than he already is?

Time will tell.
Hue JacksonAndrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsHue Jackson has vowed to make the running game a bigger part of the Cincinnati Bengals' offense.
CINCINNATI -- The Bengals' window of opportunity was closing fast.

But thanks to one key offseason move, it opened again, if ever so slightly, making now the best time for them to go on their deepest postseason run in a generation. Waiting for next year might be too late.

Naturally, the Bengals will say otherwise, and puff their chests about how they have built a team for the long haul; one that will not only finally win one playoff game, but one that will win enough to make return trips to the Super Bowl.

The reality, though, is that they are aging at certain positions and have a slew of upcoming free agents who likely won't all get re-signed next offseason. With so many massive, salary-cap sucking contracts on the books next season, it could be hard bringing everyone back. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins won't be alone anymore. Vontaze Burfict figures to have a big contract next year. So could A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.

So as the window of opportunity continues closing, what is keeping it open just long enough for the Bengals to be legitimate contenders again this year? Hue Jackson's promotion as offensive coordinator. It was the most important move the Bengals made this offseason.

Had it not been for outside interest in Jay Gruden and his decision to leave when Washington offered him its head-coaching job in January, the broader conversation about the Bengals might be going differently this offseason. With Jackson now in control, there are compelling reasons why the Bengals have a real shot at getting over the postseason hump that has vexed them since 1991. They have a real shot at finally winning a playoff game.

With a top-three defense that lost little -- primarily only its defensive coordinator and a key pass-disrupting veteran lineman -- the Bengals didn't have many wholesale changes to make this offseason. Even their offense was good overall under Gruden, ranking 10th last year. Only their rushing offense, one that ranked 18th last year, needed real attention, and Jackson vowed to immediately address it when he took over. One look at Cincinnati's draft-weekend decisions and it's clear he's trying to make good on his word.

Along with taking physical running back Jeremy Hill in the second round, the Bengals traded up in the fourth for Russell Bodine, a center praised for his strength. Cincinnati also signed as undrafted free agents two running backs, three offensive linemen and a pair of fullbacks, including one who is a converted defensive tackle.

This Bengals draft was as much about running the ball as anything else.

Last season's mediocre rushing ranking wasn't the only one the Bengals had under Gruden. They also ranked 18th in 2012 and 19th in 2011, Gruden's first season as coordinator. Gruden's passing emphasis was understandable, though. The year he arrived, the Bengals drafted Green and Dalton. A former quarterback himself, Gruden wanted to use often the first- and second-round toys he had been given. He wanted to prove he could mold a young quarterback into a star.

He mostly did that. Dalton started right away and enjoyed real regular-season success. Through his first three seasons, Dalton has won 30 games and been to the playoffs each year. He's also passed for more than 3,000 yards in each season, joining Peyton Manning and Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks in league history to accomplish such a feat at the start of a career.

Dalton and Gruden were a big reason Cincinnati's overall offense the past three years was good. But in crucial moments, both tried too hard to take over. They neglected the run.

Those decisions have been costly.

The Bengals' No. 18 rushing ranking last season stood in stark contrast to their No. 10 total offense ranking, No. 8 passing ranking and No. 6 scoring ranking. But it wasn't surprising. After all, in the past three playoff games, the Bengals have handed the football to their running backs on just 25 percent of those games' plays. In January's wild-card round game against San Diego, for example, one they trailed by only four at halftime, the Bengals ran just nine times in the final two quarters. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran six times for 27 yards in the first half, touched the ball twice in the third and fourth quarters. Those two runs, which came on the first two plays of the third quarter, gained 15 yards.

Abandoned with the run were the Bengals' comeback hopes. They lost the game 27-10.

Less than a week later, Gruden left and Jackson was elevated from running backs coach. The day his promotion was made official, he promised to run more and to bring the same toughness that helped him turn the once-lowly Raiders into near-playoff contenders in 2010 and 2011. Oakland hadn't had a .500 or better season in the seven years before Jackson arrived. It went 8-8 both years he was there.

The Bengals appear to have moved beyond the losing ways that so long defined them. Now their chief concerns revolve around not only winning playoff games, but getting back to the Super Bowl.

This season looks like their best and maybe last chance for a spell at making a first-in-a-generation trip. Who knows what the team will look like a year from now. Jackson could easily parlay any success his offense has this season into a return to head coaching elsewhere. Depending upon what happens with his contract situation this offseason, Dalton could be on his way out. Green-Ellis, Jermaine Gresham, Clint Boling, Terence Newman, Mike Nugent and Rey Maualuga, among others, could be finding employment somewhere else, too.

Cincinnati for so long was able to avoid experiencing much turnover. After 2010's 4-12 season, they built a solid core of character and talent that fueled the three straight playoff berths. In the next two seasons, that unit will disintegrate, taking with it the team's window that had been open for so long.

That's why now is the Bengals' best chance to reverse their postseason curse. If they do, some praise should go to rush-minded Jackson.
CINCINNATI -- When the Cincinnati Bengals declined to match the offer sheet Andrew Hawkins had signed with the Browns last month, Dane Sanzenbacher's return began coming into focus.

Sanzenbacher
It made sense for the slot receiver to come back. With Hawkins officially out of the picture, the Bengals needed a player who could fill the role they envisioned for Hawkins before he left. While not as fast as Hawkins, Sanzenbacher plays similarly to him. He can be tough to keep track of in open space and can catch passes deep across the middle of the field, just out of the reach of safeties who might lose track of him.

It took about three weeks after Hawkins' departure for the Bengals to work out a deal with Sanzenbacher, but it finally happened. Sanzenbacher's status as a restricted free agent ended last week when Cincinnati re-signed him to a one-year, $1.2 million contract.

That's about $230,000 less than the late-round tender the Bengals extended Sanzenbacher, Hawkins and linebacker Vincent Rey just before the start of free agency. Rey, who recorded career highs in tackles (47), sacks (four), and interceptions (two) last season, was the first of the three to sign. He agreed to a two-year deal that could pay him $2.1 million. As part of his deal, he also was given a roster bonus of $1 million. All of that money is guaranteed.

Sanzenbacher's contract isn't as attractive, a deal that will pay him just $200,000 of guaranteed money. His comparative hit on guaranteed money likely has more to do with his status as a reserve receiver who was inactive in seven of the 17 games the Bengals played last season. Rey appeared in all 17 of those games, and started in three of them.

Cincinnati was deep at receiver last season, and figures to be again this year. A.J. Green will continue his reign as the top pass-catcher on the team, and Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are the first receiving options after him. Brandon Tate also will be in the mix there because of his special-teams contributions. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert also ought to have an impact in the passing game, as should running back Giovani Bernard. That leaves relatively few opportunities for Sanzenbacher and fellow reserve wideouts Cobi Hamilton and Ryan Whalen. Then there's still a chance the Bengals could add a receiver in the draft, making the position that much deeper.

Still, Sanzenbacher ought to have a much greater impact in 2014. In two seasons, he's been targeted just 11 times. During his rookie year at Chicago, quarterbacks threw his way 53 times.

On his eight targets last season, Sanzenbacher caught six passes for 61 yards. The Ohio State product hasn't had a touchdown reception since his three with the Bears in 2011.

Below is a quick breakdown of Sanzenbacher's contract, as provided by ESPN's Stats & Information:

Cap value: $1,200,000
Cash value: $1,200,000
Signing bonus: $200,000
Roster bonus: $0
Workout bonus: $50,000
Base salary: $950,000
Guaranteed money: $200,000
It's been a while since we've had a Morning Stripes to start off your morning here on the Cincinnati Bengals blog, but here we are with one on this wonderful free agency Tuesday.

In a matter of hours, we'll begin learning the landing spots for many of the league's unrestricted and restricted free agents. The Bengals' two biggest names to monitor, defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins, are beginning to seem as if they'll be too pricey for Cincinnati to bring back. If the market reacts unfavorably to signing either at their believed asking prices, though, then there may be a sliver of hope for the Bengals to negotiate an 11th-hour deal that keeps them in town.

Yes, free agency is the big headline on this Tuesday, but it honestly has nothing to do with what the rest of this post is about.

Regardless what happens to Collins and Johnson, the Bengals still have a new offense to manage and a quarterback that has yet to lead them to a playoff victory. That said, Andy Dalton's focus the rest of this offseason is doing what he can to ensure he's making himself much better than he already has been.

As he starts ratcheting up his offseason training regimen, Dalton told Bengals.com before a charity function in his native Texas on Monday that he plans on working with throwing coach Tom House. A former major league pitcher who lives near Los Angeles, House will be hosting Dalton next week as he works on the Bengals quarterback's throwing technique and evaluating film of his throwing. The Atlanta Braves pitcher who caught Hank Aaron's 715th home run, House might be getting his share of attention soon as the 40th anniversary of the historic hit approaches. Aaron's homer on April 8, 1974, passed Babe Ruth for first-place on baseball's all-time home run list.

House has worked in the past with quarterbacks, pitchers, tennis players and golfers as he tries to get them to understand the sequencing of rotating hips, shoulders and arms when they swing or throw. NFL quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer are among those who have used House in the past.

While one could argue it was Dalton's decision-making that hampered him the most during his worst situations in 2013, there certainly were a number of throws he wished had been delivered better. Notably, he threw his share of ducks that easily floated into the hands of opposing defenders for interceptions. He was picked off 20 times last season, even though, again, many of those were the result of poor decision-making on his part.

Will this House call work out?

Let's take a look at the rest of the Morning Stripes:
  • Here's the story from Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com outlining just what it is that Dalton is expecting House to do with him.
  • As was previously mentioned, Dalton was in Texas on Monday unveiling digital improvements that he and his wife, Jordan, donated to a children's hospital in Fort Worth. The center, nicknamed "Andy's Hub," will have iPads, DVD players and gaming systems to help children undergoing treatment and recovery from various illnesses. Also contained in this Bengals.com story about the initiative is a nugget about how Dalton believes new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will be bringing a more up-tempo offense to Cincinnati next season. Dalton likes that idea.
  • Finally, we turn to the Washington Post for this story about former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and how good one former Washington front-office member believes Cincinnati will be without him. Over the weekend, Vinny Cerrato, Washington's former executive vice president of football operations, said during an interview on SiriusXM's NFL Radio that he thought the Bengals got better with Gruden's departure. Gruden became Washington's head coach in January. You'll have to read the story for fuller context.
CINCINNATI -- If you ever happen to meet Hue Jackson, the version of the Cincinnati Bengals' new offensive coordinator that you're most likely to encounter will be a quiet, polite, even-tempered and unassuming one.

Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and other Bengals offensive stars should be so lucky.

When players start returning to Paul Brown Stadium for offseason workouts beginning in late April, they will be seeing in meeting rooms and on the practice fields a form of Jackson who operates very differently from the one the rest of us might more readily see.

[+] EnlargeHue Jackson
David Kohl/AP PhotoBengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a more abrasive style than predecessor Jay Gruden.
They will instead be taking guidance from a man whose intense, hard-coaching style is reminiscent of former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Like with Zimmer, thick skin, open ears and an open mind will go a long way in helping them prepare for the challenges Jackson will present; challenges his predecessor, rightly or wrongly, didn't always provide.

"I don't know any other way to coach," Jackson said last week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. "I was asked to be the offensive coordinator here, and I'm going to be who I am. I think the players understand that, but I think they know I come from a good place. It's nothing personal. I want to make you the best player you can be. That's my job."

A new sheriff is running the offensive side of the Bengals' locker room. For players like Dalton and Green, that is a good thing. With Jackson in charge, the two young superstars who haven't yet endured much internal flack during their three seasons with the Bengals, might finally get the spark they so desperately need.

You won't hear Jackson admit to that, though. Nor will you hear any of his players own up to it. But it is apparent the Bengals' biggest stars were able to skate by under the previous offensive staff. One of the dirty little secrets about Cincinnati's offenses the past three seasons is that while good and quite talented, the unit was missing the type of brash, in-your-face coaching that was often needed.

That is not meant to slam former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, now the head coach in Washington. On the contrary, it seemed he did everything he could to get the very best out of his players. He did, after all, help coach a quarterback few believed in as a rookie and turned him into a playoff-contending signal-caller in each of his first three seasons. The Bengals' 2013 offense was the league's 10th-best. Gruden coached his players the best way he knew how.

The thing is, Gruden didn't have the meanest of mean streaks in him. He wasn't Zimmer, and he wasn't the coach Jackson will be.

When Green would embarrass his quarterback by inexplicably cutting off a route during a game, leading to an interception, Gruden wouldn't repeatedly needle him the rest of the season. That just wasn't part of his persona. Green's occasional sluggish route finishes might have been addressed when they happened, but apparently that wasn't often enough. Had they been addressed as often as needed, then perhaps he wouldn't have continued dragging through routes even as late as the playoff loss to San Diego. If he continued running through a "Go" route deep in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, he might have caught a touchdown pass that would have put the Bengals right back in the contest. Instead, he slowed up, and the ball fell just out of reach. Cincinnati went on to lose 27-10, extending its postseason winless drought to 23 seasons.

When Dalton would force turnover after same odd turnover in the same game, he wasn't getting scolded for it the next six days. But again, that's OK, it's just not how Gruden coached. If Gruden did all of a sudden try to exhibit the tougher temperament that might have been needed, he likely wouldn't have been taken seriously. It wouldn't have been genuine. Players can see behind what's real and what isn't, and he genuinely would have lost all control of the offense at that point had he tried to be someone he wasn't.

To his credit, though, Jackson really is an old-school, hard-on-players type of coach.

If Green cuts off a route once this season, don't expect him to do it again. If Dalton has a multi-turnover game this season, it would be surprising to see him come back and have another the next week. If he does, then Jackson hasn't done his job.

"If a guy's not performing at a high level, there's a reason," Jackson said. "We have very good players here, and our players are here to help us win a championship from the classroom to the practice field to game day. They have work to do, but it's my job as leader of the group, along with the head coach, to create that environment to be all they can be. That's what I think about all the time."

Much has been said the past six weeks about Jackson's plans for employing a more physical offensive attack this season. As beneficial as a more efficient running game will be for the Bengals, their greatest success this season might rest in what happens in the meeting rooms this offseason, and what happens in the film room on Mondays through Saturdays during the season.

Cincinnati's offensive stars have talent. But the intensity Jackson brings them off the field might be just the spark they need to turn their talented unit into possibly a great one.
INDIANAPOLIS -- After a rather uneventful first day at the NFL combine for the Cincinnati Bengals, Day 2 ought to be jam-packed with storylines and maybe even a little news.

Friday at the combine begins for the Bengals around 11:15 a.m. when former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer takes the podium. He'll be talking on a national stage for the first time since being hired last month as the Vikings' new head coach.

Some 30 minutes after Zimmer finishes his talk, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is slated to make his first public comments since Paul Guenther was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator Jan. 15. That was the same day Zimmer was hired in Minnesota.

Later in the afternoon, new Washington head coach and former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden steps before reporters.

In addition to the time with the coaches, we'll get a chance to talk to another batch of players. This time it's all about the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. Only two of those positions could be of some value to the Bengals in this year's draft, but team officials haven't tipped their collective hand as to whether they'll bring in another quarterback or running back. The possibilities are there, though, particularly when you factor in starting quarterback Andy Dalton's struggles with consistency and the fact that he is coming up on the final year of his contract without a proven backup behind him.

Cincinnati might flirt with the thought of adding a running back because of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's desire to showcase a more aggressive scheme that's rooted in a more efficient rushing attack.

Here's a rundown of a few names I'll be watching Friday:
Last week's Cincinnati Bengals mailbag was heavy on free-agent talk, specifically the chatter as it pertained to defensive end Michael Johnson and potentially replacing him.

This week, we're going to put that on ice for now. We've been discussing "if-then" free agent scenarios all week and haven't had much time to discuss other rather pertinent news, such as the Bengals apparently embracing Hue Jackson as their new offensive coordinator.

Don't worry, we'll get to some of those other questions, but we're going to start this week's mailbag instead with a look at what the Bengals could be expecting with Jackson at the helm:

CINCINNATI -- As Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer began filling out their new staffs in Washington and Minnesota, respectively, the former Cincinnati Bengals coordinators tried their best to sway one of their good friends to join them.

The two were going through an unofficial bidding war for the services of Paul Guenther, who has served as linebackers coach and a special teams assistant. A third team, possibly Tennessee, also was in the mix. Without divulging which team it was, Guenther admitted Thursday that talks never really were serious.

But they were serious Wednesday when the bidding hit a fever pitch following Zimmer's decision to accept the Vikings' head coaching job. As soon as Zimmer's hiring was made official, Bengals owner Mike Brown called Guenther into his office. He had one simple message for him: "You're not leaving."

Thanks to Brown's loyalty, nudges from family, and a belief that he can't walk out on his current players, Guenther decided his owner was right. He wasn't going to leave the franchise. After amending his contract and reportedly extending it another three seasons, Guenther was elevated to Zimmer's old defensive coordinator's position.

"When you looked at the whole thing, I've got young kids and I didn't have to move my family," Guenther said. "I've got good players that I really like and care for. And really, at the end of the day, that was probably the one thing I said was, 'OK, I feel bad for these guys. This guy's leaving and that guy's leaving and these guys deserve a good situation.'"

Gruden left last week to become Washington's head coach. Zimmer will be introduced in Minnesota in a news conference Friday.

"Ultimately, you can say what you want about a coach, but when you line up between the lines on Sunday, it comes down to the players," Guenther said. "And that's one of the messages I'm going to give to those guys. The defense in Cincinnati, everyone says, 'Oh, what's going to happen now?' Well, it really is up to you guys [the players]. So that was a big factor."

Guenther has been on staff with the Bengals since 2005. He once coached in Washington, serving as an offensive assistant in 2002 and 2003. Two years later, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis brought him to Cincinnati. If he had taken either of the jobs Gruden and Zimmer were offering, he would have only coached in his third NFL city. He also might have one less upset friend.

"He's kind of mad at me right now," Guenther said, referring to Zimmer.

The choice to stay might have been an easy one to make for his family, but it wasn't that way when it came to considering what leaving would have meant to his two peers.

"The hard thing for me was to tell those guys I was staying, because they are good friends," Guenther said. "They've seen me work, which is why they wanted me to go with them. It was a tough deal. Probably the hardest thing about this other than the decision."
After a week away, give a warm welcome back to the Cincinnati Bengals mailbag.

The fact that you're seeing it again this week is a sign that yours truly has a little extra time on his hands now that the Bengals have been bounced from the playoffs. Before last week's wild-card round game between the Bengals and Chargers, we ran out of time getting a mailbag up because there was just quite simply too much going on.

This week was a busy one, too, given the big coaching change that was prompted by Jay Gruden's departure Thursday for the Washington head coaching job. But since there isn't a game to get ready for this weekend, we had a little extra time to get this posted for you. As always, you can tweet your mailbag questions to me each Friday @ColeyHarvey, or email them to coley.harvey@espn.com.

We had a couple of emailed questions this week that couldn't fit in this post. Those of you who sent them in, be on the lookout for blogs next week that answer your concerns.

Let's get to it:

CINCINNATI -- Now that he has officially taken over as the Cincinnati Bengals' new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson has vowed to help get the team back to a physical, run-filled brand of football.

But will the Bengals actually exhibit such an identity?

The statistics show that if Jackson's previous stops as an offensive coordinator or head coach are any indication, the Bengals might not really run any more than they did the past three seasons under Jay Gruden, who vacated his post as offensive coordinator Thursday to become Washington's new head coach.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Giovani Bernard
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesSigns point to an efficient ground game for Giovani Bernard and the Bengals under Hue Jackson.
Those stats do also show that if past trends continue, the Bengals will pass a little less than they have recently, while also rushing for a higher yard-per-carry average.

"We know we need to run the football. We want to run the football," Jackson said during a news conference Friday. "That's where it starts."

Before arriving in Cincinnati as a defensive backs coach in 2012, Jackson spent time coaching Bengals receivers from 2004-06. He also was an offensive coordinator at Washington (2003), Atlanta (2007) and Oakland (2010). In 2011, the Raiders promoted him to head coach before firing him at the close of the regular season. This past season, he was Cincinnati's running backs coach.

Along with harping on the need to run the football, Jackson admitted that he wasn't planning to get away from the pass, citing the need to avoid running a predictable one-dimensional system in today's NFL.

"We have some very talented players on the outside," Jackson continued. "We have to give them opportunities to make plays. We're not going to shy away from having to throw it when we need to. But in order to win and be a very good offensive football team, you have to be able to run the ball, and that's going to be a starting point for us."

Let's take a look back at Jackson's past run-pass balance as a play-caller at his earlier stops, and compare it to where the Bengals are coming from these past three seasons under Gruden. Specifically, we're looking at the rushes per game, passing attempts per game, and yards per carry.

First, here are Jackson's combined numbers in those statistical areas in his first two offensive coordinator stints. In two years leading the Washington (2003) and Atlanta (2007) offenses, his teams totaled:

Pass attempts per game: 33.8
Rushes per game: 25.2
Rushing yards per carry: 3.9

Next, the totals in those categories from Jackson's two Oakland (2010-11) teams:

Pass attempts per game: 31.7
Rushes per game: 30.3
Rushing yards per carry: 4.7

Next, and perhaps most importantly for this exercise, the totals from all four of those seasons (2003, 2007, 2010-11):

Pass attempts per game: 32.8
Rushes per game: 27.8
Rushing yards per carry: 4.3

Finally, a look at what the Bengals did under Gruden in the same categories the past three regular seasons (2011-13). Also included (in parenthesis), Cincinnati's averages in passing attempts, rushing attempts and rushing average per carry during the 2013 season. The Bengals this past regular season passed for nearly six plays more than they ran per game. They also ran nearly two times more per game this season compared to their three-year average:

Pass attempts per game: 34.0 (in 2013: 36.7)
Rushes per game: 28.5 (in 2013: 30.1)
Rushing yards per carry: 3.86 (in 2013: 3.6)

So, to summarize, if trends from Jackson's play-calling past continue, expect the Bengals to run slightly fewer times per game under Jackson as compared to this season. Also, don't be surprised if they have runs that have more impact under jackson than what they did under Gruden. There seems to be a better chance in Jackson's system to have more long runs than the Bengals have been accustomed to seeing.

Consider this. In Darren McFadden's third season, Jackson's lone year as the Raiders' offensive coordinator, he rushed for 20 yards or more 14 times. The next year, through just seven games before an injury sidelined him, McFadden had eight rushes of 20 or more yards.

In 2013, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for four such carries. Moral of the story? Even if the Bengals run a time or two less under Jackson, they will be more efficient in the ground game, having more explosive plays than they have had recently.
CINCINNATI -- Among the many responsibilities and obligations Hue Jackson will be taking on as the Cincinnati Bengals' new offensive coordinator, few may be as important as those that pertain to motivating his quarterback.

All this week, days after the team endured yet another premature postseason exit, concerns around Who Dey Nation have primarily revolved around Andy Dalton. Rightfully, his play has been questioned. The play of the offensive linemen and skill players around him has been questioned, too. A widespread belief arguing the end of Dalton's days as the franchise's signal-caller has surfaced, too. Change there, those arguing that point said, needed to come to make the offense better.

Change has arrived on offense. Just not that form of it.

With Thursday's news that Jackson would be promoted from running backs coach in the wake of Jay Gruden's departure to serve as Washington's head coach, the Bengals made it clear they felt it was time to get back to one of football's ancient truisms: using the run to dictate the pass.

Dalton
Dalton
So where does that leave Dalton? He'll still be a key part of the offense, Jackson contends, but it will be up to Dalton to start performing more consistently.

"Everybody's got to play better than they've played around Andy, and Andy has to continue to grow and get better at what he's doing," Jackson said.

Who does Jackson believe ought to help Dalton's growth? The coach himself.

"My charge in it all is to do everything I can to make sure when he gets to the game, be it in the classroom, out on the practice field and then on game days, that he can play free and without any hesitation, which will allow our offense play the same way," Jackson said.

To that end, part of Jackson's charge is to be the quarterback's primary cheerleader, critic and football confidant.

"I'm going to be the guy that pushes Andy, and Andy will push himself," Jackson said. "Andy is made of the right stuff and now we can see if we can get him where we want him to be."

Dalton was a little concerned Thursday morning about where exactly it was that Jackson wanted him in the system. So much so that when the two had their first conversation as offensive coordinator and quarterback, Dalton wanted to make sure the same terminology that he knew from Gruden's scheme would stay in place.

"His first question was if we were going to change the vocabulary," Jackson said. "We won't. We will tweak it and make it better."

Added head coach Marvin Lewis: "Same language. Same playbook. Same thing. ...He knows our nomenclature, our verbiage. We're not going to change out of that verbiage."

Those claims by Jackson and Lewis apparently were good enough for Dalton. In a statement released Thursday, he said he was excited to see the offense develop under his new coach.

"He's a coach we all know and respect, not just the running backs, and he'll bring a little different perspective that can help us move forward," Dalton said. "He's been around a lot of places in college and the NFL, part of some great offenses. So it looks very good to me, what we've got going forward."

Since Jackson and other coaches aren't permitted to work with players until voluntary workouts and OTAs and other league-sanctioned practices begin later this offseason, he's hoping Dalton and other players heard his message Friday. The Bengals will not only be physical runners next season, they also will play with an edge and competitiveness that hasn't been seen wholesale on their side of the ball in quite some time.

"This is my opportunity to talk to them through you," Jackson said to reporters. "I hope guys take a break from football, but also think about what we are chasing. Watching these [remaining playoff] games I'm sure is going to get them fired up. I'm sure they will chomp at the bit."

Among Bengals players, Jackson wouldn't mind if Dalton was the most perturbed while watching teams he beat once this season like the Colts, Chargers and Patriots continuing to play. That's because he knows he won't be happy witnessing them marching on through the playoffs.

"Me and Andy have to be joined at the hip, and the way I speak has to be the way Andy speaks," Jackson said. "He might say it a little different now and then, but the message will be clear. It has to be clear and kind of one voice. It can't be three, four or five different voices because all of a sudden you start to play that way; very inconsistent."
CINCINNATI -- On the Monday following the Cincinnati Bengals' abysmal offensive showing in a 17-6 loss at Cleveland in September, then-offensive coordinator Jay Gruden let reporters in on a little secret.

After four weeks and a 2-2 record, the Bengals still had no offensive identity.

[+] EnlargeHue Jackson
David Kohl/AP PhotoNew offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a more abrasive coaching style than predecessor Jay Gruden.
"That's probably our biggest fault right now is that we're still trying to get one," Gruden said in late September.

It doesn't appear it will take the 2014 Bengals four regular-season games to find one. Heck, it may not even take them until training camp or OTAs to discover one. According to newly promoted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the next set of Bengals already have an identity; one it took the 2013 group several games in order to find.

Under him, Jackson said, the Bengals' offensive philosophy will be simple: run the ball, play physical with the offense and be violent.

"What I need to do is unleash these guys," Jackson told reporters inside the Bengals' locker room Friday, following a news conference announcing his promotion. "We're going to try and create an environment for these guys to be great. That's what [head coach] Marvin [Lewis] is all about. We know we need to run the football. We want to run the football. That's where it starts. That's what he preaches."

It's also what Jackson believes.

For Cincinnati's offense, that's a good sign.

"In order to win and be a very good offensive football team, you have to be able to run the ball," Jackson said. "That's going to be a starting point for us."

Jackson was promoted Thursday from running backs coach to offensive coordinator after Gruden left to become Washington's new head coach.

Gruden's lack of calling for running plays was at the foundation of the Bengals' offensive inadequacies in the playoffs the past three seasons. In their three first-round playoff defeats combined, the Bengals handed the ball to their running backs on just 25 percent of all plays. While they were markedly better at doing that this past regular season -- handing off 36.3 percent of the time -- they still weren't close to the type of offensive balance they said they wanted to achieve. His philosophy? Use the pass to set up the run.

Jackson wants to run to open opportunities for the pass, and he wants to do so in a way that keeps his quarterback comfortable, confident and at ease.

"You have to be able to run it, but you also have to be able to throw it," Jackson said. "And sometimes you have to be able to dictate when you want to run it. That's the kind of football team we want to be. We don't want anybody to stop us from doing anything. There will be times when people do slow us down, but at the end of the day, we want to be a physical unit."

For the new offensive coach on a team that threw the ball 31 times in a fourth quarter it entered trailing by only seven, Jackson was saying all the right things Friday.

One of the right things Lewis said had to do with Jackson's often fiery on-field demeanor. HBO's cameras gave a sneak peek into just how much of a motivator and comedian he can be with players. On last summer's "Hard Knocks," he was constantly riffing on players during training-camp practices.

"Hue is going to bring that energy," Lewis said. "It's his charge. It's exciting for him. ...That's what you're excited for, because you know the guys, you know what we're good at, you know what we need to get better at and you're excited about that."

Bengals fans ought to be excited about the fact that under Jackson, a more physical offense, with a real identity, should hum right along.
In more ways than one, it's a brand new day in Cincinnati.

Another chapter begins Friday morning when team position coach Hue Jackson gets introduced as the team's newest offensive coordinator. Called upon to replace the now-departed Jay Gruden, Jackson will be tasked with helping take Andy Dalton to the next level, while taking some pressure off the quarterback by using the weapons around him even more.

Once a receivers coach, a defensive backs coach, an offensive coordinator, a head coach and most recently running backs coach, Jackson clearly has an extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of the X's and O's. Now it'll be about strengthening his rapport with the Bengals' Jimmys and Joes. Specifically speaking, his task the next few weeks will involve making sure the Andys, A.J.s, Giovanis, BenJarvuses and Jermaines who will be playing for him are all on the same page.

It's doubtful much of the terminology will change in the Bengals' system with the internal hire. Their philosophy will be tweaked a bit, but no major overhauls should be coming. Expect Jackson to say as much when he meets with reporters for the first time in his new role.

Many of the reviews about Jackson's hiring have been good. Only time will tell how well it pans out.

As expected, this Friday's Morning Stripes are all about Jay, Hue and the next steps for the Bengals. OK, maybe not "all." There's also one look back into Cincinnati's past. But we'll get to that in a moment:
  • Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson kicks off our look at Jackson's promotion with this rather lengthy item that contains comments from Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth and former Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. One of the first things Jackson likely will do, Houshmandzadeh said, will be to challenge A.J. Green to step up and be even better.
  • Other current Bengals are happy for Gruden's opportunity and are excited about working with Jackson. Some tweeted support for Gruden on Thursday, while Dalton released a statement that expressed his satisfaction with preparing to work with Jackson. Dalton also wished Gruden well, as did Green, who spoke with reporters Monday in anticipation of a possible Gruden hiring elsewhere. Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer has both players' comments.
  • More change will soon be heading Dalton's way at home. His wife, Jordan, posted messages to Twitter and Instagram on Thursday indicating that she was pregnant. She even provided a picture of an ultrasound. The Enquirer has embeds of both social media postings.
  • In this 25th year since the Bengals' last trip to the Super Bowl, longtime fan Rob Weintraub has this nique look for Grantland at the innovation the 1988 team possessed en route to reaching the big game. This is long-form at its finest, so carve out a good block of time before going through it.
A few quick observations from Thursday's news that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is leaving the Cincinnati Bengals to become head coach of the Washington Redskins, and that he will be replaced as OC by Hue Jackson:
  1. With respect to Jackson being promoted, I like this move.
  2. Jackson
    Jackson
    I like this move so much that, as you can see in this particular blog, I believe the Bengals' entire offense will benefit from the switch. It was clear after a third straight postseason failure that some change needed to come. In my opinion, personnel wasn't the issue. The scheme, mainly when it came to the postseason, was the issue. While Gruden had good game plans for the regular season, he just didn't draft up the same blueprints -- or have enough confidence in them, at least -- for the postseason. That really was the Bengals' only offensive problem. In some cases, the type of offensive ineptitude the Bengals showed in their past three playoff appearances would lead to calls for the head coach or offensive coordinator to be fired. (Actually, those calls have come anyway.) With owner Mike Brown in control, though, you knew head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't be let go. But if a change needed to occur, Gruden might have made for the perfect scapegoat to get fired. For that reason, think of this particular offensive coordinator switch as a much cleaner change than the alternative.
  3. This change ought to promote an added emphasis on the run. In the past three playoff games, the Bengals handed off to their running backs on just 25 percent of their plays. That is far from balance. During this past regular season they were closer, running the ball with their running backs on 36.3 percent of all plays. With Jackson's reputation as a coach who likes to run, and another season of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard playing together, expect Cincinnati to get back, in both the regular and postseasons, to the running game.
  4. It was smart for the Bengals to promote from within. As is the case with any type of coaching change, the Bengals will need a little time to adapt to a new system. The good thing for them, though, is that with a coach who was already on staff, the terminology shouldn't need changing. The same types of calls and checks that were used under Gruden can remain under Jackson. Even though some things will get tweaked, the foundation of what the Bengals will try to get done shouldn't.
  5. Another reason it was smart to promote from within and to do it so quickly: Cincinnati could be losing a second assistant in the coming days or weeks, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The longtime assistant could be headed to Minnesota or Tennessee as a head coach, and you have to imagine the Bengals would rather hire from outside for one position and not two. By adding Jackson right now, it gives them a chance to fully focus on Zimmer's replacement if and when that time comes.
  6. Lastly, I must say this about Jay. I like him. A lot. He's one of the calmest, funniest, most even-keeled personalities I've met in my brief time covering the NFL. Don't get me wrong, he can be an intense guy -- that's a gene that football coaches are apparently born with -- but he's not his brother. You'll see Jay Gruden get angry, but you won't see that same glare that former Tampa Bay and Oakland coach (and current ESPN analyst) Jon Gruden often had. I also genuinely believe Jay Gruden is a good coach. One of the things he'll have to do in Washington is make sure to trust his gut and instincts. The moment he second-guesses himself or starts overthinking, he's in trouble. It will be interesting following this chapter in his coaching career. I wish him all the best.

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