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A solemn Marvin Lewis met with the media Friday at 1 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium and preached better execution and preparation on offense, but did not immediately announce any changes to the staff or starting personnel.
That changed soon after, when it was confirmed by The Enquirer the Bengals let go of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, who took over for Hue Jackson in 2016. The club made the change official at 2:30 p.m.
Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor will assume play-calling duties. He is the lone member of the offensive staff to have that experience, serving as the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator from 2014 and through most of 2015.
Lewis did not meet with the media after the move, but the team released a statement.
“Ken Zampese has done a tremendous job for us for my 15 years here, and I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach. But I feel it best for the football team to breathe new life into the offense, and that’s why I am making the change. Bill Lazor has great experience in the league and as a coordinator, and I feel Bill can progress our offense the way we need. We have a lot of talent on offense, and we need to keep working to take full advantage of the personnel we have.”
In the 50-year history of the franchise, Zampese is the first coordinator to be dismissed in season. Previously, other coordinators had changed positions due to head coaching changes.
In 2004, Lewis took over defensive play-calling duties from coordinator Leslie Frazier but Frazier was not fired in-season.
Zampese had been with the Bengals for 15 seasons, coming in with Lewis in 2003 as the team’s quarterbacks coach.
Cited by Lewis as someone who could keep the momentum of 2015’s offensive pace going due to his familiarity with Andy Dalton and long tenure under three different coordinators, Zampese’s unit struggled mightily in 18 regular-season games under his direction.
After 0-2 start, the Bengals scored a total of nine points and totaled 516 yards of total offense without a touchdown.
During his initial press conference on Friday, Lewis was asked if all things were on the table regarding staff or personnel changes, and he originally said, “We have to get better but I’m never going to come in here and tell you anything we’re going to do with one another. What we do is private to us.”
When asked if he’s committed to Zampese, Lewis smiled.
“Again, I told you. I just answered. It’s a nice try though.”
Lewis was asked a followup “so no changes?”
“We’re not going to discuss any of that in here.”
Instead, Lewis preached his theme of better execution.
“It involves everybody, it involves all of us,” Lewis said of the lack of execution on offense. “It’s how we formulate our plan, how we execute our plan, how the plan is called all the way through. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right things with our people and attacking the opponent as well.”
It has been a rough 18 regular-season games for the offense under Zampese, who was promoted to the position before last year after Hue Jackson took the head coaching job in Cleveland.
In 2016, the Bengals finished 13th in total offense (they were in the top 10 before season-ending injuries to A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard in late November) and 24th in scoring. The team struggled mightily in the red zone, scoring touchdowns 53.7 percent of the time, 18th in the league.
They are 0 for 6 in six red zone trips this year, coming away completely empty on half of those.
In 2015, the Bengals scored touchdowns at a 65 percent clip, which was No. 6 in the NFL. In 2014, the Bengals were 10th in the red zone in scoring.
Oddly, those coordinators and head coaches who Zampese worked for prior to his promotion in 2016 felt that the red zone and planning for success within it was one of his greatest strengths as an offensive mind.
But the problems continued into 2017 for the Bengals.
The first team offense was on the field for nine possessions through the first three exhibition games but produced one touchdown and 13 points against two turnovers by Dalton (including one in the red zone) and three punts. One drive ended the half in Washington.
In those preseason games, the Bengals first team offense ran 68 plays and gained only 337 yards (4.95 yards per play). They were 1 for 3 in the red zone, with their lone touchdown coming in Washington.
Then against Baltimore in the opener, 58 plays were run for 221 yards (3.8 avg.) with no points and a 0 for 3 in the red zone.
Thursday night in the 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans, it was more of the same, as the Bengals ran 62 plays for 295 yards (4.8 avg.) and were 0 for 3 again in the red zone.
The Bengals became the first since the 1939 Philadelphia Eagles to open a year with two home games and not reach the end zone.
One of the reasons for the offensive funk the club has been in to start this season is that Dalton has put together two of his worst performances in years. He was better on Thursday night than a disastrous fiveturnover Week 1 game against Baltimore, but through two games Dalton has completed just 55 percent of his passes.
Lewis insisted Thursday night that not only was Dalton’s job safe, but he didn’t feel the seventh-year quarterback had regressed.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton talks with former offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. Zampese was fired Friday after the Bengals’ offense struggled in its first two games.