For most fanbases, three consecutive playoff appearances by their team would be viewed as a pretty good accomplishment that would merit some optimism. However, with three straight losses under his belt and an overall 0-5 playoff record on the books, Marvin Lewis received a lot of heat by 2014. Many were shocked he hadn’t been fired following an inexcusable blowout home playoff loss to the Chargers. Many called for Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer to take over for Lewis, but he was not offered the job, so he left for Minnesota – go check out how it’s been working for him. The same heat was starting to go towards quarterback Andy Dalton, as many fans started calling for his backup to be the starter – spoiler alert, 2014 is when AJ McCarron arrived.
Our fun facts for the week – American Sniper was the year’s highest grossing film, but I’m going to expand on that for a moment. The film, arguably Bradley Cooper’s best, grossed just over $89 million in its opening weekend. Let’s compare that to a film also released in 2015 called United Passions – this film, a French drama (though it’s an English-spoken film), grossed $918 during its first weekend. No, that’s not a typo – I did not mean to type $918,000. An astonishing $918 was grossed in its first weekend.
Also, this was the year the ice bucket challenge was popularized in an effort to raise awareness of ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And finally, an incident occurred at a Kanye West concert where the artist stopped performing in the middle of the song Good Life as he noticed not everyone was standing. The person he was stopping for, in particular, was in a wheelchair… because Kanye West.
Now then, onto the 2014 Bengals who finished a pretty solid 10-5-1, which wound up being good for second place in the AFC North and the fifth-seed in the AFC playoffs. This was a pretty good record in general, but especially so when you consider this team wound up decimated by injuries, which played a part in an offense that was not as good as it was capable of being.
The year’s Draft has largely turned out to be a dud, though there is still hope for first round selection Darqueze Dennard, a cornerback out of Michigan State who most thought was a steal for the Bengals at 24th overall. Other selections included running back Jeremy Hill, center Russell Bodine, quarterback AJ McCarron, and linebacker Marquis Flowers.
Hill – outstanding rookie season aside – was mostly a bust and no longer with the team, Bodine was a below average lineman who is now in Cleveland, and Flowers is actually managing to turn his career around. Following very limited use in Cincinnati, he is now with the Patriots, set for a big role after collecting 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks in limited time last season.
As for McCarron, we will be referencing him a lot over the coming few weeks despite the fact he’s no longer with the Bengals. For his rookie season, he was on the shelf with injuries for the entirety of it.
The 2014 campaign got off to a great start with a 23-16 home win over the Ravens. This game didn’t come without cost – tight end Tyler Eifert, who had started to garner Gronk-level expectations (maybe not that high), endured a nasty elbow injury that ended his season. He had three catches for 37 yards in the first half before his injuries, looking like a dominant force over the middle.
Victories over the Falcons and Titans took the Bengals into their Week 4 bye week feeling good at 3-0. However, they’d come back out to go 0-2-1, including an ugly 43-17 loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. That was the game that featured the infamous “We’re onto Cincinnati” rant from Bill Belichick. Leave it to the Bengals to assure everyone that the Patriots were, in fact, NOT past their time.
Skipping ahead, the Bengals walked into Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on a Sunday night in December of 2014 in what was the NFL’s regular season finale. The game was going to decide the AFC North champion, as the Steelers entered the game 10-5, while the Bengals entered 10-4-1. We know how this story ends – Steelers win, and take the division with them, as well as a home playoff game.
The Bengals, on the other hand, were set for a matchup with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s Wild Card round. I’ll preface this – this playoff team was unlike the teams that came before it. This team entered Indy without AJ Green, Marvin Jones (who missed the whole season), Vontaze Burfict, and of course, Tyler Eifert, among others. So depleted were they, the Bengals ended up using Rex Burkhead very heavily as a receiver in various formations throughout the game.
This may not seem so bad given where Burkhead stands in the league now, but at the time, he was, at best, the team’s third running back – say what you want about Marvin not recognizing talent, but the point is that they were forced to use him because they had so few options.
As we know, the game was never really close, as the Bengals lost to the Colts 26-10. Another very pedestrian performance from Dalton did not help things – he went 18/35 on the day with 155 yards… no scores.
As had been the case in the seasons prior, many fans were just defeated after another playoff loss. Sure, no one really had great expectations given the injury bug biting hard, but it didn’t change the fact that the Marvin Lewis era, now over 10 years, had no playoff wins on its resume.
One key factor to note in 2014 was the uncharacteristically average play of Andy Dalton – he threw for an okay 3,398 yards, but only had 19 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. Again, part of this can be contributed to injury – he didn’t have Marvin Jones at all, he had Eifert for one half, and Green missed three regular season games, parts of two others, and the entire postseason game.
Speaking of Green, he still had a solid season, if a little underwhelming from an overall standpoint considering his talent – he caught 69 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns. It was up to Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham to pick up the slack. Sanu caught 56 passes for 790 yards and five scores, while Gresham stepped back into the starting tight end role to the tune of 62 catches for 460 yards and five touchdowns.
It was the running game here in 2014 that carried this offense – rookie Jeremy Hill was outstanding, running for 1,124 yards on an amazing 5.1 yards per carry, and scored nine touchdowns. It turned out to be, by far, Hill’s best season in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, second-year man Gio Bernard ran for 680 yards on four yards per carry, scored five times, and he caught 43 passes with two touchdowns.
The defense, despite losing Mike Zimmer, was decent in general, though not one of the better units they had been in the past. Linebacker Vincent Rey burst onto the scene with 133 tackles in Burfict’s absence, while Reggie Nelson registered 99 of his own, as well as four interceptions. George Iloka and Adam Jones accounted for three picks apiece, and Carlos Dunlap notched eight sacks, continuing his trajectory up the defensive end ladder.
And next week, we have finally arrived at a season that is probably the top of the list in infamy. A promising start to the season wound up getting derailed by an injury to Andy Dalton, and of course, we will be covering the playoff game we would all like to forget… a game that, after watching, forced me to stare blankly at me television for nearly an hour after it ended.
Tune in next week for the wildest season we will cover!
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…
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