Cincinnati Bengals fans hadn’t stopped wringing their hands over the two-year extension for head coach Marvin Lewis when the organization announced less than 24 hours later it also was retaining offensive coordinator Bill Lazor despite the team finishing last in yards and 26th in points.
But one of the key elements to Lewis’ return also was a deciding factor in bringing back Lazor – a strong finish.
Beginning with a 30-16 victory against Cleveland in which the Bengals rolled up 361 yards, Lazor’s offense showed considerable improvement over the final six games of the season.
In those six games, the Bengals topped 350 yards four times after doing so only once in the first 10, and they did it in the process of losing both starting tackles in addition to being without starting running back Joe Mixon for two contests after he suffering a concussion that caused him to miss the final three quarters of another game.
Equally as important as the way Lazor’s offense finished was how it began, in an emergency scramble mode when the team fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese and promoted Lazor after the Bengals failed to score a touchdown in their first two games.
The Bengals ended that drought on their first drive with Lazor in control, going 79 yards in 10 plays to take an early 7-0 lead at Green Bay in Week 3.
“I’m grateful for Coach Lewis and (team owner and president) Mike Brown for the opportunity to do this, really, in the way that this job should be done,” Lazor said. “When Coach Lewis and Mr. Brown came to me and asked if I would take over the offensive coordinator duties two weeks into the season, I think I knew what most of the challenges were. Every place has its obstacles, and I think I knew what they were.
“When I decided to do it,” he continued. “I was determined to serve them — serve the players — not to count the costs for me, or heed the wounds that would come, as you know, or to ask for the reward. Just to serve.”
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Lazor heads into the offseason with a chance to create his own offense, rather than come up with tweaks and twists on the fly.
Some of those adjustments produced noticeable improvement over the final six weeks. Here is a look at the offensive averages for the first 10 games compared to the final six, two of which were against playoff teams Pittsburgh and Minnesota while another two were against playoff hopefuls in Detroit and Baltimore that the Bengals eliminated.
Average yards per game: 265.6, 305.13
Averaged rushing yards: 68.0, 114.3
Average passing yards: 197.6, 191.0
Average points: 16.9, 20.2
Lazor made it clear Wednesday, as he sat beside Lewis for the entire 40 minutes of a press conference, that the offense plan he puts in place for 2018 will be just as much about revolution as evolution.
“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. “There will be some things that probably will be needed to be done differently — totally differently. And there will be some things that you may say today are our strengths that should be built upon. I think there will be some of both.”
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Making changes to a system that Andy Dalton has been running since he came into the league in 2011 could make quarterback uneasy.
And Lazor said that’s a good thing.
“There are times when each of us, in order to grow, need to be pushed and need to be uncomfortable,” he said. “Andy wants to be great, so he’ll accept that challenge if we make him uncomfortable at times.
“I think we are in a position where we can go forward and start from the beginning in a way that we think takes full advantage of the talent that we have,” Lazor added. “And I think there is talent here — that’s why I was excited when I had the opportunity to come back and help and join the staff, and stay full-time. There are players here that have proven that they can be successful in this league.”