After months of recapping the last 20-something Bengals seasons, we’ve finally reached the most recent one… and unfortunately it’s far from the most interesting. Much like 2016, the 2017 season was something of a test for most Bengal fans to get through. An offense that only two years prior was one of the most talented units in the league was a shell of its former self. Receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones had departed following the 2015 season, and an already-deteriorating offensive line would lose left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler after the 2016 season. Why do I make that point? Well, it was the dismal offense that really defined the Bengals in 2017.
Before we dive into that, let’s re-visit the oh so long ago year 2017 and some fun facts about it. We are all witness to a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, and it was the first time it had happened coast-to-coast in 99 years. Unbelievably, fidget spinners took the world by storm in 2017, and finally, the Star Wars franchise returns to theaters again to be the highest-grossing film of 2017 with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Again, like 2016, the 2017 Draft didn’t yield much in the way of immediate results, but is going to really shape the 2018 squad. In their first four picks, the Bengals selected wide receiver John Ross, controversial running back Joe Mixon, and defensive ends Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. All stand to have big roles as we approach the 2018 season.
The criticism of this draft was that the team made no real effort to address a mediocre-at-best offensive line. Their lone move was a fifth-round draft pick named J.J. Dielman, a center out of Utah. Outside of that, the Bengals re-signed Eric Winston and Andre Smith, veteran tackles whose best days were largely behind them.
The Bengals kicked off at home against a division foe, the Baltimore Ravens in front of an excited Cincinnati crowd, ready to watch some football again. What they got was not exactly football, at least not from the Bengals – they were dismantled 20-0, complete with five turnovers from Andy Dalton.
Game two wasn’t much different, as a second straight horrible offensive performance saw the Bengals defeated by the Texans, 13-9. After consecutive horrible performances that yielded zero touchdowns from the offense, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was fired, with quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor stepping in as his replacement.
There were some immediate results, as the Bengals came out firing at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, taking a 21-7 lead into halftime. Ultimately, however, the considerably-better culture that was the Packers took over, and in what seems to be vintage Bengals, they coughed up the large lead and lost the game, 27-24 in overtime. This sent Cincinnati to their first 0-3 start since 2008.
The Bengals would score victories over the Browns and Bills to enter their bye week at 2-3, and at least gave fans some semblance of hope, even sitting a game under .500. However, the Bengals came out of the bye week flat, dropping three of their next four games, and six of their next nine overall. Following a Week 15 thumping in Minnesota that sent them to a 5-9 record, it seemed that there could be no doubt that this would be the final season of the Marvin Lewis regime. The city began to ponder who would be at the helm in 2018.
And then the next two weeks happened. The Bengals stunned two fringe playoff teams, the Lions and Ravens, respectively, to finish 7-9 behind a strong final two games. Much to the dismay of probably 75% or better of the fanbase, Marvin Lewis was re-signed following the end of the season. It’s this writer’s belief that Weeks 16 and 17 of 2017 saved his job.
Despite a rocky start and the overall lower-tier offense in general, Andy Dalton actually didn’t have too bad of a season. He threw for 3,320 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. A.J. Green, as usual, benefited from Andy’s relative success, posting 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns.
Amidst another injury to Tyler Eifert that ended his season after two games, an unlikely ‘hero’ emerged at the tight end position, that being Tyler Kroft. Kroft notched only 404 yards, but had a solid seven touchdowns, being one of Dalton’s go-to guys in the red zone.
The big headline – or lack thereof – of the receiving corps was rookie John Ross, who had himself a forgettable first run in the NFL. Ross did not catch a pass, but did have one rushing attempt… which he fumbled. He ended up appearing in only three games.
On the rushing side of things, it seemed the loyalty to Jeremy Hill was in full effect at the beginning of the season, as he started seven games, though he only ran the ball 37 times for 116 yards. He wound up on IR to end the season, handing duties over to Giovani Bernard and rookie Joe Mixon.
Bernard was his usual effective self, as he averaged 4.4 yards per carry, had 458 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and added to those numbers with 43 catches for 389 yards and two scores there. Mixon was pedestrian overall in 2017 – he ran for 626 yards and four scores, though his yards per carry left a lot to be desired at only 3.5. He did catch 30 passes for 287 yards on top of the running game.
On defense, this unit was actually pretty good, but is largely overlooked as people remember the offensive struggles. William Jackson III emerged as a potential star in the NFL, particularly in Week 3 when he picked off Aaron Rodgers and ran it back 75 yards to pay dirt. It was his only interception of the season, but he did have 13 passes defended and found himself usually containing key wideouts in the league.
Rookie Carl Lawson was very impressive as he stepped into the NFL with an 8.5 sack season. Veterans Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap (newly extended!) had 9 and 7.5 sacks respectively, and cornerback Darqueze Dennard led the team in tackles with 83.
And there you have it folks! The NFL season begins this week, which means our journey down memory lane has come to an end! Thank you all for enjoying the journey with me, re-living the lowest of lows in the 90’s (and the end of 2015), as well as enjoying the highest of highs (Palmer’s 2005).
Don’t worry, you can still catch me on Locked on Bengals, beginning later this week as I give you five bold predictions for the Bengals in 2018. See you then!
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.
A lot of Bengals fans (myself included) wondered before the year why a young team with so much talent was pegged with worse Super Bowl odds than our in-state neighbors.
In the eyes of Las Vegas, it didn’t matter that the Bengals rallied to end last season at 7-9 with a signature victory over the Baltimore Ravens. It didn’t matter that the Bengals made legitimate offseason moves to sure up the offensive line. It didn’t matter that Bill Lazor was given a whole offseason to install his system or that Teryl Austin was bringing a turnovers-or-bust mentality with him from Detroit.
It. Didn’t. Matter.
The only thing that mattered was the face of the franchise returning for his 16th year. Marvin Lewis is and always will be the reason people around the NFL don’t take the Bengals seriously and it’s become both a blessing and a curse.
When Lewis arrived in 2003, he inherited what many considered to be one of the worst franchises in pro sports at the time. The players were using old jock straps, it was a dark time in Bengals history. Though to Lewis’ credit, he rebuilt this franchise into something fans could actually be proud of.
They became competitive, they got to the base of Championship Mountain, but that’s not good enough. Of the six coaches in the NFL who’ve been at the helm for at least a decade, Marvin Lewis is the only one without a Super Bowl trophy.
As of Nov. 28, Cincinnati has lost five of their past six games, their defense is the worst in the league, the offense can’t operate without A.J. Green, and they’ve fired one coach in waiting while rehiring another. That go-ahead score against Pittsburgh in mid-October feels like it happened in 2015.
The Bengals might not have moved on from Marvin, but I have, there’s nothing else I need to see following that 35-20 beatdown this past Sunday. ESPN has pegged Lewis with a 60 percent chance to be fired and though this might be for nothing, here are two head coaching paths the Bengals could choose to down in January.
Anyone But Hue Jackson
That’s really all that needs to be said. Hue Jackson is a great POSITION coach, but he has proved over a large sample size that he is inept as a HEAD coach. Jason La Canfora reported before the Browns game that Jackson has a real shot to replace Lewis if he steps down or takes a front office role.
Fans would be less excited about this than retaining Lewis, especially if he’s in the building overseeing nine of the 10 or 11 losses this team is headed for. Who are we kidding here, this is Lewis’ best friend and if anyone has shown the ability to persuade Mike Brown over the last 16 years, it’s Marvin Lewis.
Jackson is the clear frontrunner if a coaching change ends up happening.
A former Bengals player from 1995-98, This is the home run hire for Cincinnati. Bieniemy is in his first season as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs and I don’t have to throw stats in here to prove why that’s been a success.
As a former player for the franchise, Bieniemy has that familiarity that Brown always looks for in new hires. He could come in and immediately offer a fresh perspective on this roster, answer the Andy Dalton question, and start to move this organization into a new era.
Bieniemy has primarily coached running backs before taking over for Matt Nagy this season and some great ones at that: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt have all learned and thrived under Bieniemy. Imagine his expertise paired with the talent of Joe Mixon.
Oh and for those concerned with the “lack of coaching experience” after just one season as an OC, just look at the past two guys to hold Bieniemy’s current spot. Doug Pederson went from Chiefs OC to winning a Super Bowl, Nagy has turned the Bears from a laughing stock to a contender in his first season. Those expectations might not be fair for Bieniemy, but the blueprint is out there for Mike Brown to make a championship hire.