What Losing Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden Means for the Bengals in 2014

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 15, 2014

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Now that the Minnesota Vikings have hired Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be their new head coach, the Bengals have found themselves down both of their coordinators from the 2013 season.

Jay Gruden, the former offensive coordinator, is now the head coach in Washington, with the Bengals tapping Hue Jackson, their 2013 running backs coach, to replace him. Another promotion from within also occurred to replace Zimmer, with linebackers coach Paul Guenther named his replacement later on Wednesday according to CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora.

This isn't about Gruden and Zimmer jumping ship after the Bengals have gone one-and-done in the playoffs for the past three seasons. This is more about teams recognizing the coaching talent the Bengals have developed and rewarding them accordingly. And the result may just be the most seamless coaching transition the Bengals could have hoped for.

Much like on their player roster, the Bengals have a lot of coaching depth. That's why the Bengals were able to go in-house and promote Jackson on the same day Gruden accepted the job in Washington and why the same happened with just as much expediency with Guenther. 

Linebackers coach Paul Guenther has been with the Bengals since 2005 and is expected to replace Zimmer as defensive coordinator.
Linebackers coach Paul Guenther has been with the Bengals since 2005 and is expected to replace Zimmer as defensive coordinator.Handout/Getty Images

This continuity is ideal. The Bengals don't have to find someone to coach their defense or offense who is unfamiliar with their players or who wants to change the scheme around significantly, two things that could derail what the team has spent the last three-plus years building. 

According to ESPN.com's Coley Harvey, Jackson has already assured Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton that the offensive terminology already in place won't change. Guenther's presumed promotion means the team won't stray far from the bruising 4-3 defense that Zimmer has worked six seasons to build. Rarely does a team experience so much change that doesn't quite feel that way.

In 2013, the Bengals ranked 10th in total offense, averaging 368.4 yards per game. They tied for sixth in scoring, averaging 26.9 points per game and second in red-zone touchdown percentage, at 71.4. On defense, the team ranked third in yards per game allowed, at 305.5, tied for fifth in points per game allowed, at 19.1 and ranked 10th in red-zone touchdown percentage, with teams scoring touchdowns against them in the red zone just 50 percent of the time.

Key Bengals Stats, 2013
Off. YPGOff. PPGOff. RZ TD%Def. YPGDef. PPGOpp. RZ TD%
via ESPN and TeamRankings.com

There's little worry any of these impressive numbers will get significantly worse in 2014 based on coordinator changes alone. 

Things will be a little different for the Bengals in 2014, however. For one, the promotion of Jackson means the Bengals will focus more on running the ball, something that Gruden was as inconsistent at doing as Dalton was on a near-weekly basis as a passer.

Though the Bengals averaged a ninth-ranked 29.8 rushing attempts per game in 2013, that was out of balance with their passing, which they did an average of 37.5 times per game. Expect to see a lot more of Cincinnati's running backs in 2014, which would be a good solution to Dalton's often erratic performances. 

Defensively, the changes will be more minor. There may be a different tone to practices, given the departure of Zimmer and his notoriously gruff demeanor. But Guenther has been under Zimmer's tutelage since 2008 and with the Bengals since 2005. He is as much an architect of Cincinnati's defense as Zimmer himself. There should be no expected drop-off in talent or performance now that he's been handed the defense.

Expect Hue Jackson to put more emphasis on the run game.
Expect Hue Jackson to put more emphasis on the run game.Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

While other teams generally face the possibility of sweeping changes when they lose one coordinator, let alone both, the Bengals are not in this situation. Their ability to promote from within helps breed continuity in the organization and assures that the players won't have to alter their routines nor learn new playbooks.

Ultimately, the Bengals are in just as good a position heading into the 2014 season as they were in 2013. That's not to say that Guenther could prove to be the wrong man for the job or that Jackson won't be able fix Dalton's problems as a quarterback, but as things stand presently, the Bengals are not in a bad situation.

In fact, this seems to be the best-case scenario that could have come from the team losing both its coordinators. Few other teams are built to handle changes such as these and make them appear insignificant. After all, it only follows that the deepest roster in the NFL should boast the same depth in its coaching staff.