Over the course of the next few weeks I will be looking back at the Bengals 2018 season. I will go position by position discussing the highlights along with the moments fans would like to forget heading into 2019. There will also be speculation about the potential future of each position.
The Cincinnati Bengals can and will only go as far as quarterback Andy Dalton will take them. Dalton started the 2018 season off to a hot start, guiding the Bengals to a 4-1 record through the first five weeks. Throwing for 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions (4 of which came in one game) in that span, Dalton was leading a potent Cincinnati offense averaging a little over 30 points per game. After a Week 5 come back against Miami, Dalton and the offense came back down to earth. They could no longer cover up the defensive deficiencies.
Dalton wasn’t a liability for the offense after that 4-1 start but he wasn’t playing like a potential Pro Bowler like he did through the first five weeks. Mediocrity came storming back, and combined with poor play calling and constantly playing from behind, caused the offense to sputter. The season ended for Dalton in Week 12 against the Cleveland Browns with a thumb injury. As a result, he only finished the season with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while throwing for 2,566 yards. While the Bengals offense wasn’t as good as it should have been with Dalton at the helm, we all got a taste of how ugly it can get without a solid game manager like him running the offense.
With Dalton out for the season, back up quarterback Jeff Driskel stepped in. Driskel is a fantastic athlete and has the ability to extend plays with his legs. Unfortunately when he was forced to throw the football, things usually went bad. He came out and showed everyone how lucky the Bengals are to have a league average quarterback. Struggles with accuracy, reading the defenses, and pocket awareness doomed Driskel. With all that being said, he stepped into a bad situation and performed admirably as a leader. Not for lack of effort, Driskel just isn’t good enough to be a starting quarterback.
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As long as former head coach Marvin Lewis was in town, Dalton had job security. While director of player personnel Duke Tobin maintained faith in Dalton, a new head coach could mean a new quarterback. Reported new head coach Zac Taylor could very well look to bring in his own quarterback and start over. Dalton is definitely good enough to lead this team back to the post season. But so far he has not been good enough to win when he gets there. Taylor–currently a quarterbacks coach for the L.A. Rams– may think he can get more out of Dalton than anyone else. He could also decide that he needs “his guy” at the position.
If Cincinnati decides to move on from Dalton the question becomes free agency or the draft? Also, Dalton would be an extremely valuable trade piece as a potential above average quarterback. Possible but unlikely trade scenarios include Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Foles would bring a Super Bowl ring with him and Tannehill could reunite with his former quarterbacks coach in Taylor. In my opinion, Foles is a slight step up and Tannehill is a poor-man’s Dalton.
As of now the only free agent quarterback worth a look for Cincinnati would be Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater would be a massive upgrade and potential long term answer at the position for the new coaching staff. If the Bengals want a bridge option for a season or two, Tyrod Taylor and may be the best choice until they draft a new guy.
I don’t expect Cincinnati to draft a quarterback this offseason but I would not be entirely shocked to see it happen. Some people are even predicting it to happen in their mock drafts. Ohio State alum Dwayne Haskins is the best prospect in the class and would fill the stands with both Bengals and Buckeye fans. A one year starter, Haskins could come in and sit behind Dalton for a year or another bridge quarterback the Bengals bring in.
The 2018 season was a forgettable one for Cincinnati quarterbacks. The potential of this Bengals’ offense was on display for the first five weeks. The scary truth of what Dalton is without a great play caller was on display after that. Keeping Dalton, drafting his replacement, trading him, signing a bridge guy, there are multiple possibilities. The future at quarterback is cloudy in Cincinnati for the first time in almost eight years.