CINCINNATI — The Bengals made the first step toward digging out from their historically bad start Friday, firing offensive co-ordinator Ken Zampese a day after they again failed to get into the end zone.
Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor was promoted to co-ordinator, a spot he held with the Dolphins in 2014-15. He didn’t expect the shake-up.
"When you’ve been in this league long enough, you see a whole bunch of different things happen," Lazor said. "Not many of them are shocking anymore. You come in the day after a tough loss and try figure out how make it better. Obviously, it took some different turns."
The move was announced an hour after coach Marvin Lewis declined to talk about changes in response to a 13-9 loss to the Houston Texans at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night. Cincinnati (0-2) has yet to score a touchdown in 25 possessions this season.
The Bengals are the first team since the 1939 Eagles to open a season with two home games and fail to score a touchdown , according to information from the Elias Sports Bureau shared by ESPN. They lost to the Ravens 20-0 on Sunday, the first time in their 50-year history that they were blanked in a home opener.
An offence that was supposed to be much better with the addition of rookie receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon has significantly regressed. The Bengals decided not to wait until their bye — four weeks away — to make a rare in-season coaching switch.
Zampese was Cincinnati’s quarterbacks coach for 13 seasons before moving up to co-ordinator last year when Hue Jackson went to Cleveland as the head coach. The offence lost its flair and creativity last season, when receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard missed significant time because of injuries.
The offence was back to full strength but struggled to get first downs against the Ravens and Texans, leading to Zampese’s firing.
After the loss on Thursday night, Green questioned why the team’s playmakers weren’t more involved in the offence at critical moments. Green had a 50-yard catch amid three defenders in the first half, but got only two receptions for 3 yards in the second half.
"When it’s crunch time, though, we have to get our playmakers the ball," Green said . "It’s as simple as that."
Lewis avoided talking about the co-ordinator’s spot during his media availability on Friday, but said the coaching staff needs to do a better job of using players.
"It involves all of us," Lewis said . "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."
Lazor was fired as the Dolphins’ co-ordinator as part of Dan Campbell’s staff overhaul when he became interim coach in November 2015. He came to Cincinnati last year as the quarterbacks coach after Zampese was promoted to co-ordinator.
Lazor doesn’t have enough time to make structural changes in the offence. The Bengals’ next two games are at Green Bay and at Cleveland, and his focus will be week-to-week.
"Especially when something like this happens during a season, you can’t go much beyond that," Lazor said. "We’ve got a real tough task at hand. We’ll let the philosophy work its way out as we go."
One likely change will involve the running backs. Zampese alternated Bernard, Mixon and Jeremy Hill by series. None of them has gotten into a flow in two games — Bernard ran 12 times for 50 yards, Mixon 17 times for 45 yards, Hill 12 times for 43 yards.
"I haven’t done three (running backs) probably in the past, splitting it equally," Lazor said. "But that’s where we’ve been so far."