The 2013 season is one of those seasons I’ve been both looking forward to examining, as well as dreading it. While the fairly recent 2008 and 2010 seasons were torture to sit through as fans, the 2013 Bengals brought on a new kind of pain – after four playoff losses had already dragged Marvin Lewis’ reign as head coach through the mud, it was this fifth one that really put a lot of fans over the top. This team was brilliant and fun to watch for the entire regular season, only to have the biggest gut punch of a playoff loss (until this point, at least…. We’ll get there) crush the remaining optimism in the hearts of a good chunk of the fan base.
This week’s fun facts are a little different than usual – you won’t be finding any music chart toppers or highest grossing movies this week. No, 2013 had some incredibly obscure facts/occurrences for our entertainment. First, 2013 marked the first year since 1933 that no Loch Ness Monster sightings were reported… which came as a highly disappointing finding for the conspiracy enthusiast in me. Next, the Google site went down for roughly a five-minute period in August of 2013 – it took roughly 40% of internet traffic with it, an astounding number for just one site, no matter how gargantuan said site is.
And of course, a little hiccup from PayPal that most of us would like to have been on the receiving end of. The company – erroneously, of course – deposited $92.2 quadrillion into a user’s account. I’m not entirely sure what happened next, but I would assume that the man/woman in this case instantly woke up from their dream.
Now then, onto one of the more impressive teams of the Marvin Lewis era. This team went 11-5, including 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium, and came out of the regular season as AFC North Champions.
They were mostly quiet during free agency, as per usual, but they did make something of a splash by signing longtime Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison. The 2013 Draft wound up turning out some good players for the Bengals, even if one in particular realized his potential after leaving the team. Much to my chagrin at the time, the team grabbed Tyler Eifert 21st overall, adding him to a corps that already included Jermaine Gresham.
They also used another one of the Raiders selections they received as part of the Palmer deal to draft Giovanni Bernard 37th overall, giving some lightning to BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ thunder. Safety Shawn Williams joined the Bengals in round three, while running back Rex Burkhead was drafted 190th overall. As most of us have realized, he’s done more in New England in one season than he ever did with the Bengals – a large fan contingent blames that on the coaching, not on Burkhead himself.
Cincinnati, despite an opening weekend loss to the Bears at Soldier Field, came out of the gate pretty hot, starting the season 6-2. Those six wins included victories over some strong teams, including the Patriots, Steelers, and Packers. Two consecutive overtime losses – one of which came via a safety on Halloween in Miami (only the Bengals, folks) – halted the momentum a touch, but not for long. The Bengals’ lone blemish in the final six games of the season came at Heinz Field, culminating in the aforementioned 11-5 record.
The division title set the Bengals up with the AFC’s third seed in the playoffs, meaning they would host the sixth-seeded San Diego Chargers – a team they had defeated in San Diego only a handful of weeks prior. Going into the January 5 showdown, even the experts were finally showing the Bengals some respect, as most of them predicted a Bengals victory.
Before we get into the game and the stats on the season, I feel compelled to tell a small anecdote. Once the Bengals reached the 5-0 mark at home that season, I recall looking at my dad and saying, “They’re going to go unbeaten at home and drop the opener in the playoffs… I can feel it.” The sad part of being a fan in Cincinnati is that I know I’m not the only one who had that thought during the season.
Stories aside, we all know how that cold, snowy day in Cincinnati ended – the Chargers, fresh out of their warm weather environment, dismantled the Bengals in every sense of the word, crushing the dreams of the team and fans, 27-10. Another mediocre-to-subpar performance in the playoffs by Andy Dalton took on the brunt of the punishment from fans, but the fact is I recall one thing about this game very vividly – the Bengals were destroyed in the trenches.
The offensive line was constantly overpowered by the Chargers’ front four, while the Bengals’ star-studded front four on defense was no match for the Chargers’ offensive line. Ronnie Brown, long past his prime with Miami, ran for 77 yards on just eight carries, while he and Danny Woodhead each scored a touchdown. The loss really cemented the sour taste of the Marvin Lewis era in most fans’ mouths, while this was what really fueled the fire directed at Dalton.
But, there will be more on both of those fronts as we move down the line. Dalton – say what you want about him during the postseason – was very good in 2013, throwing for 4,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. That’s definitely more picks than you want to see, but a 4,000+ yard season and 30+ touchdowns blew a lot of critics away.
Veteran running back Green-Ellis was largely disappointing in year two as a Bengal, going for a modest 756 yards on a very disappointing 3.4 yards per carry, but he did score seven times. The rookie Bernard racked up 695 yards on 4.1 yards per carry, scoring five touchdowns of his own. Bernard also caught 56 passes, second most on the team, for 514 yards and three scores.
The receiving corps really had two stars, one of which was, of course, star receiver A.J. Green. He caught 98 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns, arguably his best season in orange and black. Second-year wide out Marvin Jones only caught 35 passes, but 10 of which went for touchdowns – the sixth-round receiver managed to catch four in one game against the Jets in 2013. This began his ascent up the NFL ranks, which has now landed him with a lucrative contract in Detroit.
The rookie, Eifert was fairly underwhelming in his 15 appearances, only catching two touchdowns. While he was a rookie, his red zone effectiveness was largely considered his strength, and it was never really on display.
Mike Zimmer continued to put himself on the map as a head coach target by throwing out one of the league’s better defenses week in and week out. Vontaze Burfict made a team-high 131 tackles, while Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick each collected three interceptions. Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry each had solid seasons along the front four, making 7.5 sacks apiece, while star pass-rusher Geno Atkins had six of his own before a major injury ended his 2013 season on Halloween.
Sadly, this marked the beginning of what some may view as a revolt against the Bengals in general. The playoff struggles had now dragged on for 20+ years, and with Marvin Lewis being one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league, it was a constant belief that his hot seat should’ve been on fire.
Next week brings a new issue to Cincinnati – sure, the playoffs will be on the agenda, but an injury-riddled team will at least give Marvin an excuse.
The Bengals fans guide to Super Bowl LIII
It’s been 30 years since the Cincinnati Bengals last played in a Super Bowl. A heartbreaking 20-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the Bengals most recent shot at glory, and while Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams showcases how far Cincinnati is to breaking that drought, there are plenty of things for Bengals fans to focus on inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Keep an Eye on the Incoming Head Coach
Zac Taylor is taking the reins from Marvin Lewis in what will be the first head coaching change since I started watching Bengals games during that magical 2005 season. The 35-year old Rams QB coach joins six other “young, offensive-minded” hires from this years coaching carousel. For Bengals fans, they are hoping he’s a cut above the rest, despite being the last to ink a deal. Bengals faithful should pay close attention any and every time the CBS production crew decides to show him in action on Sunday.
This is the biggest game Taylor has been a part of since entering the NFL coaching ranks with the Dolphins back in 2012 and it will be really interesting to see him handle a moment all Bengals fans hope he can relive sooner rather than later in Cincinnati. No one on the outside of the Rams organization really knows how involved Taylor is with setting up the gameplan, but he has clearly had a very positive effect on Jared Goff since taking over his tutelage in 2017.
How he interacts with Goff in between plays and coaches him through mistakes could go a long way in determining how he will help Andy Dalton (or Ryan Tannehill?) return to his 2015 form. Zac Taylor might not be the most experienced coach getting a chance this year but the results with Goff prove he deserves this opportunity.
Pre-snap and Play-Action
There are still questions as to who will call plays and control the 2019 Bengals offense, but in saying that fans should expect a lot of carryover from this Rams system that has willed their way to Atlanta with pre-snap communication and play-action passing. It’s no secret that Goff and Rams head coach Sean McVay communicate right up to the 15-second cutoff during every play.
McVay can read the defense, then call something to match their formation and he often times uses motion to accomplish that. Former Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was allergic to this kind of communication and the offense ranked 32nd and 26th in his two seasons because of it. Expect Taylor to have his voice in the Red Rifle’s ear plenty on Sundays.
In terms of play-action passing the Rams used these plays as the cornerstone of their offense, calling them 34 percent of the time with devastating effect. LA’s 9.0 yards per play on these calls ranked third in the NFL and they averaged 1.9 yards per play more than regular calls. On the flip side, Cincinnati ranked 13th in the league calling play-action on 24 percent for 1.5 yards per play more than all other calls. It’s not rocket science, play-action works wonders in today’s NFL and Taylor is expected to bring that mindset with him to the Queen City.
Todd Gurley: The Receiver
Player A: 55 targets, 43 receptions, 296 yards, 6.9 yards per catch, 1 TD
Player B: 81 targets, 59 receptions, 580 yards, 9.8 yards per catch, 4 TD
Yes, I know Joe Mixon had a stellar year running the ball (1,168 yards, 4.9 yards per carry) but he was totally mismanaged in the passing game and his Player A numbers reflect that. Player B, well I’d say he was used correctly and will continue to be used that way on Sunday. Despite his two costly drops in the NFC Championship Game, Todd Gurley is still one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.
A big reason why he’s so productive is the way LA puts him in an ideal position to make big plays, whether it’s a wheel route down the sideline or a throwback screen off of…. play action, this coaching staff does all they can to help him gash defenses. So far in Mixon’s career, I’ve barely seen any of that, it’s similar to putting a governor on a 66′ Cobra. Keep an eye on how the Rams use Gurley’s receiving skills to their advantage and imagine Mixon on the other end of those throws.
This One’s For Whit
Every Bengals fan should be rooting for the new head coach to bring a Super Bowl winning pedigree with him to his new digs in Cincinnati, but if that wasn’t enough, we should all be rooting for Andrew Whitworth.
Likely on his way to back-to-back All-Pro selections Whitworth is one of the best players to ever play the tackle position and was a consummate professional during his 11-year stint in a Bengals uniform. He notched his first playoff win 13 years into his career and why not knock down all of the playoff milestones in one run. I know who I’m rooting for come Super Bowl Sunday.
Enjoy the holiday.
An Open Letter to Marvin Lewis
Dear Mr. Lewis,
I have been contemplating sending you this letter for quite some time, and I hope it finds you well. You don’t know me, but I am a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. The second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers remains as the first time I can remember experiencing heartbreak. I have, quite literally, hated Joe Montana for what he did to my then 12 year old self, for 30 years now. That said, my fandom has endured. Admittedly, as I was in college in the late 90’s, I was not as honed in on every move my Bengals made. So many losses, so little time. Sure, I loved Jeff Blake, Corey Dillon, and Takeo Spikes, but I had finals to take and parties from which to recover. But then something happened. Something unexpected. Mike Brown hired you as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. Marvin Lewis – the legendary architect of one of the greatest defenses in the history of the league – was coming to be our coach! The excitement was palpable, and you were brimming with confidence. It was a swagger not seen around here since the days of Sam Wyche.
As the years passed, you began to place your stamp on the team and the city. The Marvin Lewis community fund is an outstanding work of art, and a tribute to your dedication to the people of Cincinnati. Kudos. On the field, the likes of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson, and TJ Houshmandzadeh, made being a Bengals’ fan fun again. They became must see TV, if not in person appointment viewing. Cleveland was a guaranteed two wins. Baltimore was almost two. Pittsburgh was likely a couple of losses, but the wins were sweet, and the losses were respectable. I’d look forward to your post-game interviews, and your Monday press conferences. There was useful information to be gleaned from them. Things that the average fan would miss as they had long turned off the broadcast and moved on with their lives. Not me. I am a loyal fan, remember? I don’t break down tape or have some hot draft take, but I love my Bengals, and I follow them closely – you included.
I need to take a moment to give you some props on the transition from the Palmer-era to the Dalton-era. That entire thing was a mess, what with Carson forcing his way out, you hiring an unproven offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden, and then drafting/starting a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton. And all during an NFL lockout. I still remember predictions of the team going 0-16 that year. Somehow, some way, you guided this team, not only to a winning record, but to the playoffs. I am not sure if I have ever been more impressed by an NFL coach. You completely rebooted the franchise, and had a whole new cast of characters for us to get to know. Dalton, AJ Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Clint Boling, and Andrew Whitworth. Young talent, ready to take on the AFC North. Two wins versus Cleveland – check. Almost two wins versus Baltimore – check. Still two losses to Pittsburgh – yeah, most of the time, but division titles weren’t out of reach. The playoffs became an annual event. This is where I need to touch on the obvious…
I do not understand your philosophy when it comes to playoff games, and for that matter, night games, games against Pittsburgh, Monday Night Football games, and any other game not at 1 pm eastern. You seem to have think and preach that these games are just the same as any other. No need for extra emphasis. No need for extra hype. No need to bring an extra chin strap because it’s just another game. After watching 16 years of this approach from you, I humbly disagree. Your teams are consistently outplayed, out-coached, and seemingly unprepared for the spotlight of these match-ups. At some point, would it not make sense to try a different approach? Maybe call it Pittsburgh week? Maybe say this Sunday night game is going to be huge for us? Maybe say that your team is chomping at the bit to play on Monday Night Football? It’s got to be better than just another game – just another loss.
I know you love this city and this franchise. I genuinely believe you want to win – for Mike Brown, and for the fans. That said, I think that it is time to move on with your life’s work. You gave it your all. You got more out of Mr. Brown than anyone ever thought possible. You raised this franchise to a level of respectability that no one could have predicted. You have done good work. It’s just not enough. There is no shame in that. And if I am being honest, you just do not seem to enjoy this anymore. Your press conferences, that I used to look forward to hearing, are all the same. Short, full of disdain for the people asking questions, and random giggles that make no sense. The fire and energy after 16 years of being an NFL head coach have faded. Why not let someone else give it a shot? We both know Mike Brown isn’t going to fire you, so why not walk away? Do what’s best for the franchise, and make them look for a coach. Last time, it brought us you!
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your next adventure.
P. S. Please take Hue Jackson with you. Thanks
Blog of Football Sorrows: Week 13
Today I officially changed the name of this game recap blog. It just fits. To be positive about this iteration of the Bengals is to be a master of the mind that I cannot comprehend (aka delusional).
They’re done. I didn’t think they had much hope for the playoffs before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The injuries are a problem, but they aren’t the problem. The offense has been stale for weeks thriving on an identity-less scheme filled with dink and dunk passes and zero creativity. They now have four games left. The Raiders seem winnable, but with the hope of starting over, do we fans want that? Do we want there to be a glimmer of hope in management’s eyes? I don’t. I want change, and that doesn’t happen by winning any remaining games, this year. Lose em all, blow it up, let’s start fixing the problems that have been ignored for too long.
Jeff Driskel, to no fault of his own, was meh. Which is much the story of 2018. The game plan, in the beginning, seemed to be for him to get momentum built through screens and flat routes…but then they kept the training wheels on. Second quarter, third quarter…it kept going. The Bengals fell behind on the scoreboard and their answer was to run more crossing routes and short outs? Cincinnati ran RPO plays…and only passed. They asked an athletic quarterback who can move to stand tall in the pocket and fend off pressure from a defense with its ears pinned back matching up with a bad and battered offensive line. Kind of like James mentioned on the post-game pod, how bad is Cedric Ogbuehi that the answer to filling in for Cordy Glenn is the starting left guard and not your former first round pick, who is actually supposed to be a left tackle? So the coaching game plan was to tell Driskel to grin and bear it behind an uninspired line with uninspired play calling? But, you know, Marvin Lewis says “We’ve got to do our jobs better. The players have to execute the game plan the way it is coached.” What? The game plan hasn’t changed in 10 years! Different personnel, different opponents, different circumstances, same stale, boring, dull, lifeless, clueless plan. I get sick to my stomach when I listen to Marvin do a press conference.
The only thing left is the future, whatever may come. I know that is bleak. Not one of you reading these words can say, with a straight face, that you can see a different coach roaming the sidelines in 2019 who isn’t Marvin or Hue Jackson. We know. We know there isn’t going to be any change, and that’s why the stadium is empty. That’s why the orange in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium was Bronco orange and not Bengal orange. The sound at the end of the game? Cheers and applause, because anyone still there was a fan of the visiting victors. There’s no one left to boo because they’ve been booing for so long they’ve lost interest. It is understood that the most likely outcome this season, if change comes at all, is that Hue takes the reigns. We’ll go from a boring, uninspired, regularly out-maneuvered coach to a joke of a coach. So how can anyone care? I looked at tickets before the game. You could have sit 12 rows back in the endzone for $35…and I said no. Why? Because the joke that is the visual of the stands at PBS is the last thing we fans have left to tell ownership to get their rear in gear and fix this. Will they? You tell me…
Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonBengals on Twitter for more angst Bengals content.