If Bengals fans are anything, they're dynamic. Today is a special posting; one united with several other Bengals blogs. Dave Wellman from Stripe Hype, Showtime from Who Dey Revolution, Eric Gambill from BengalsZone, and Mickey Mentzer from Who Dey Fans all joined into brief discussion about 2008, and what to expect through 2009. Thanks to those that contributed, and recognition to Adam (Bengal Stripes) and Matt (BengalsGab) who wanted to contribute, but couldn't. We're going to continue efforting contributions from other bloggers to solidify the foundation of the tremendous talent associated with Bengals bloggers, who are strong and unique in their own right, to help bring different perspectives, if not some serious barroom brawling banter.
1. What were your impressions of the 2008 season?
Dave Wellman (Stripe Hype): In 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals made roughly the same impression on me as a fat guy doing a belly flop off the high dive makes on the water: ouch. I had hoped that lost seasons like this were a thing of the past, but a string of poor personnel decisions on the offensive line finally caught up with the club, and their too-clever-by-half cuts at the end of camp -- namely Willie Anderson and, if only for his ability to pick up a freakin’ blitz, Rudi Johnson -- compounded the problem. When those calls in turn resulted in Carson Palmer going down, the Bengals were done. Not all was gloom and doom, though. Fourth round tackle Anthony Collins demonstrated that he belongs in the league. Keith Rivers looked solid before getting hurt, so at least we don’t have another first-round bust to add to the Bengals’ litany of woes. Pat Sims was a pleasant surprise, at least to me. Cedric Benson deserves a new deal. And when healthy, Andre Caldwell flashed some ability. And Chris Henry made it through the season without getting arrested. So there’s talent on this team. The challenge is getting it all on the field and going in the same direction at the same time.
Showtime (WDR): My impressions with the 2008 season are fairly simple. This team is a few things away from being a contender. The only problem is that these few things are very, very hard to obtain and/or fix. First of all, a pass rush. I know, I know, the defense finished 12th in the official NFL stats. Truth be told, I was rather encouraged by their play all year. Leon Hall, as maddeningly inconsistent as he is, is nothing less than a serviceable starter. I'd like to see Joseph make the leap next year and become a top shelf NFL corner. Duke followed up a solid rookie campaign and proved himself worthy of being an NFL starter. Keith Rivers looked better than I thought he would before going on IR. Pat Sims flashed some signs of being a starter with upside (put it this way, if I had to choose between Sedrick Ellis or Keith Rivers and Pat Sims, which is essentially what we would have given up to get Ellis, I'm picking Rivers/Sims every time). However, we're paying two defensive ends like they are top 15 at their position. Neither of them are anywhere close to that. When John Thornton leads your team in sacks, you've got a big problem. How do we fix it? I don't know. Those two contracts are a huge albatross. Drafting another DE at six and paying him elite money, giving us three elite money defensive ends while having no defensive ends that are truly elite, seems foolhardy. It seems like this would be a place to draft some guys in the 2nd-4th rounds, then cross your fingers and hope one of them or Geathers turns into a force.
The other problem I'll talk about for now is the offensive line. Really, I could go all day. For brevity's sake, I'm not going to talk about pass protection. I have a feeling that will get worked out with an offseason of film study and the return of Carson. The run blocking is a whole 'nother issue. Football Outsiders has a stat called Adjusted Line Yards. Essentially, it attempts to isolate line play from running back play and, in general, the quality of the offense around it. For 2008, the Bengals were dead last (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol2008). Their stats go back to the 2000 season, and the 2008 Bengals were in the bottom five in this stat for all seasons dating back to that time. Clearly, this is a major problem that must be addressed.
How is it fixed? Again, I don't know. It will take more than on offseason to figure it out, to be sure. Andre Smith, the best run blocking LT to come out of college in years, would have been nice. That's a pipe dream at this point, however. Michael Oher was a little disappointing as a senior but has the potential to be a Hall of Famer. Eugene Monroe is possibly the most NFL ready of all the LT prospects. Also, it would be nice to sign a veteran starter at center.
Mickey Mentzer (Who Dey Fans): Joke. The first half it seemed the Bengals were mailing it in. There were opportunities to win some big games early in the season and the play calling and execution was terrible.
Eric Gambill: (Bengals Zone): It was a rough year to be a Bengals fan. That said, I didn't expect much more than an 8-8 team going into the season, which wouldn't have gotten us to the playoffs anyway. There was a silver lining, however, and I think the Bengals leave this season with a much clearer picture of exactly what steps need to be taken next. They have a real chance to turn this thing around with the right moves this offseason.
Josh Kirkendall (Cincy Jungle): I drank the Kool-aid early, finding myself exponentially more frustrated until I felt watching these games become a major drag. It was nice to see wins to close the season, but this season was a summation of every frustration ranging from an ineffective training staff, a meddling front office, and questionable coaching decisions.
2. How do you view the Bengals 4-3-1 record in the second half of this season? Is it false hope that brings no change? Or good momentum heading into the off-season?
Mickey: I think for any other team this would be a good thing. Cincinnati teams have a habit of doing just enough at the end of the season to bring the fans back the next year with hope. I don't know if the Bengals did enough this year to have people excited for next season, but I do think with some solid free agents and a good draft I will have some hope. I think the biggest thing that happened at the end of this season was show the Bengals and fans that there is some talent here outside of the big name guys. Chad and TJ did nothing the last two games and the Bengals still managed to win.
Showtime: I can't imagine how anyone would view the 4-3-1 end of the season as anything other than an awful schedule. Just before this team "got things together" with the three game winning streak, they proved they were worlds away from the class of the conference with a 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh and a 34-3 loss to Baltimore. They followed that up with a 35-3 loss in Indianapolis. Funny how things come together against an inconsistent Washington team, a Cleveland team playing their third string quarterback, and a Kansas City team that was competitive but lacks talent. Is it nice to win games? Sure. But to look at the last 8 games as anything other than a positive ending to an awful season would be a huge mistake. Not building for the future, not a sign of things to come with this team. Just a happy memory.
Eric: I'm sure it provided a bit of a confidence boost to the players, and it's never a bad thing to win games. That said, the wins and losses themselves are meaningless, and the motivation they provide will fade rather quickly. The biggest positive I saw throughout the last 8 games was the emergence of several players that I hope to see play a larger role on next year's team. Chris Crocker and Cedric Benson were two obvious standouts that must be re-signed. The young guys on the offensive line showed a great deal of promise, and Pat Sims showed some flashes of the DT we've been needing for years. Andre Caldwell also gave us a glimpse of what he can provide in the future. Several others could be mentioned, and it was the emergence of these players that I'll take away as the biggest positive of this season, and of the last 8 games in particular.
Dave: I’ll go with momentum. After their horrible start, it has to be better for the players and coaches to go into the offseason on an up note. I see no indication that anyone inside or outside the organization believes that a few wins over poor clubs at the tail end of a bad year indicates a corner has been turned. Some might point to the lack of change in coaching or management as a sign of that, but there weren’t likely to be any changes on those fronts, no matter what the record, and I’ve said that since before the season. Marvin Lewis was never on the hot seat and Mike Brown was never going to step down. And that wasn’t going to change if they went 0-16.
Josh: I'm a fence-sitting centralist on this. While it's nice that the team finished 4-3-1 (I do love it when they win), it's also true what every one else says in that it brings a level of complacency that the front office keeps their "change" limited.
3. A report surfaced late during the season that the Bengals were looking into the direction of hiring a general manager. If they hired you, what's the first move you'd make?
Showtime: My very first move would probably be to make sure my payroll check cashed. Assuming it does, which may be a stretch, my first personnel move would probably be signing a quality, veteran center in free agency. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure who would be available, not that we know that information at this point. This allows you to develop someone behind the veteran, as well as solidifying what is probably the worst starting position on the roster.
Eric: I would make re-signing TJ Houshmandzadeh my first priority. If the Bengals continue their late season focus on running the ball into next year, then having a receiver to help us convert those 3rd and 2s, 3s, and 4s will be essential. TJ has established himself as one of the best in this area, and with an offense in transition, the continuity that TJ provides will be a huge asset in 2009.
Dave: Right now? Find a pro personnel guy who’s been paying some attention to college ball this year and get him in-house ASAP. With the collegiate season over it’s too late for new scouts to do much good but I would plan on hiring some later in 2009.
Mickey: My first move would probably be to fire the O coordinator Bob (Soul Patch) Bratkowski. His play calling and offensive schemes has not changed since the 2005 playoff year. However the offensive players have changed and he has failed to adapt to those players. The Bengals are not a system team like the Patriots. They need to build around the players that are there if we are going to win now. next I would make a run at Haynesworth and try and team him and Odom up again.
Josh: Rebuild the entire scouting department, fire Bratkowski and "convince" the team to build the training staff from the ground up. That would be a good start, at least.
4. What position would you address first in the 2009 NFL Draft?
Eric: Offensive line would most likely be the pick unless there was a defensive talent on the board that just couldn't be passed up. I want to see a running back taken at some point, but the past few years have shown that productive NFL RBs don't have to be taken in the first. Or the second for that matter. I think a solid LB would be nice to pair with Rivers, and I'm never against depth on the defensive line. Another pass rusher or big body to put next to Pat Sims can only help.
Dave: Depends on how the first five picks fall out. OT is the obvious choice, but the top tackles could fall quickly this year, and its actually a pretty good draft for o-linemen. If the top 2-3 tackles are off the board at six, that means the Bengals should have a shot at a blue-chip linebacker. Rivers was a good pick last year, but he’s not the kind of playmaker who keeps offensive coordinators up at night. So if not OT, give me Aaron Curry, Rey Maualuga or James Laurinaitis, and I’ll address offensive line at the top of the second.
Mickey: Line, preferably O line but would take either. Stay away from the skill positions.
Showtime: As far as the sixth pick goes, it's far too early to tell. We've still got some bowl games, the Senior Bowl, the combine, and a world of time before late April. Some names to think about:
Michael Oher/Eugene Monroe - If you feel either of them is a franchise left tackle, you almost have to do it. Levi Jones, as good as he was in 2005, is nearly worthless. If you decide to go this route, I'd trade Levi for whatever he's worth the week of the draft. Aaron Curry - I really like him but I'm not sure you can fit him and Rivers effectively in a 4-3. Not that I'm opposed to going with a 3-4 and putting them in there.
Rey Malaluga - I don't like him for us. I think we need a game changer on D and I'm not sure he's it.
Brian Orkapo - He's a freak but he wasn't great until this year. Also, paying 3 DEs top flight money when two aren't top flight and one is unproven is a little less than ideal.
Taylor Mays - I know it's not the best fit, but I can't quit imagining him in orange and black. We'd have a potentially elite secondary. If we hit on a pass rusher later in the draft (or, heaven forbid, free
agency), the defense could be a top 6 type unit.
Michael Crabtree - He's a luxury pick for us and I'm certain we can't afford that. However, he'd be the best player on the board at that point. I'd be mad as hell on draft day, but I'd probably be willing
to fork over $100 for his jersey in October.
Beanie Wells - Please. No. Please.
Josh: You live and die with the offensive and defense line. I wouldn't have a problem if we drafted those two sides, 3-4 spots, every draft.
5. Should the following people stay, or go? Marvin Lewis, Bob Bratkowski, Mike Zimmer, Entire Training Staff, Chad Johnson.
Dave: Stay. I put the lion’s share of blame on the front office, not him.
Mickey: Stay, I don't put as much weight in him losing the team as others.
Eric: Stays. He's taken this team to the playoffs, and he'll do it again with the right personnel.
Josh: Stays until his contract runs out. I think it speaks measures on how well he got these guys to play, stay together. Next step, a winner. If that doesn't happen, then let his contract run out.
Dave: Go. His playcalling is hopelessly predictable.
Mickey: Gone. I can't believe he is still here.
Eric: Stays. He's made a lot of enemies lately, but he's shown that he can run a successful offense in Cincy. With the offense in the state that it's currently in, I don't think changing the system they're running is going to benefit anyone.
Josh: Gone. Gone. Gone.
Dave: Stay. He did a great job with not a lot to work with this year.
Mickey: I really liked what I saw from the D this year.
Eric: Is it too early to sign him to an extension? You can debate how legit the 12th ranking is all you want, but he has the players playing with an intensity that we haven't seen in years. I can't wait to see what he does with this unit in the future.
Josh: Zimmer was the Bengals best off-season acquisition.
Entire Training Staff
Dave: Go. This team has too many injuries every year.
Mickey: Do we have one? The misdiagnosis/misunderstanding of injuries is a joke. Why was Palmer not on IR this year?
Eric: Can you trade trainers? I hear Pittsburgh has some spots available.
Josh: I would say gone, but I fear they'd tweak a hamstring.
Dave: I wouldn’t object to trading him, but I doubt he has anywhere near the value he had last offseason.
Mickey: Stay, when the Bengals win he is great.
Eric: I think we got a glimpse this season of what life without Chad would be like around here. And, while I missed the explosive plays and excitement that he brings when he's playing well, I have to say that Cincy would be just fine without him. A lot of NFL teams have won the Super Bowl recently, and none of them have had Chad Johnson on their roster. If he behaves, then I'm happy to have him around, but if the right offer comes along, I'll be listening.
6. What do you expect in 2009?
Eric:Assuming Carson stays healthy, I expect the Bengals to be contending for a wild card spot next year. It's going to be an up and down season with a lot of growing pains, but with an overall positive feel. On the other hand, if Carson's not healthy...well, I'm not ready to think about that just yet.
Mickey: I am nervous, it seems the rest of the division is improving. Even Cleveland is cleaning house and the people they are talking about bringing in are scary. The Steelers and the Ravens are far and away better than this Bengals team and I don't know that the Bengals can do enough in the offseason to close the gap enough to be competitive.
Dave: Hard to say. Is Carson’s elbow going to be all better, or is he going to pop up in the news around, say, March as needing surgery? Do they fix the o-line, or do something stupid like take Beanie Wells or Michael Crabtree at 6? Do they get a real center -- either through the draft or free agency -- or do they hand the job to yet another project like Santucci or Cook? Do they get more help for an emerging defense (good idea)? Etcetera, etcetera. I think that the Bengals could actually bounce back rather quickly simply by 1. fixing the o-line; 2. getting Palmer back, and; 3. inking Benson. Throw in a real fullback to replace Jeremi Johnson (Coats is not the answer) late in the draft or in undrafted free agency and this offense will get off the schnide quickly. The D isn’t as good as its 12th-place finish, but is headed in the right direction. Add more talent, whether in free agency or the draft, and it will be able to hold up its end of the bargain if the offense comes back.