Sports fans want it both ways; they want their team to win, but they also want to be entertained. Marvin Lewis doesn't care about entertainment. In fact, he'd prefer every game this season to be just like the one against Cleveland: slow, tedious and uneventful, but a victory nonetheless.
The last two weeks have been a bore, with the only excitement coming in the form of a Bengals meltdown in Oakland---not quite the thrill we fans had in mind.
Against such dismal opposition, we expected a demonstration of might and superiority. Instead, it seems like the Bengals are playing with one hand tied behind their backs to make it a fair fight.
The coaching staff continues to experiment on their team, further exploring the question of whether they really need to pass at all to win in the NFL. Tinkering with Larry Johnson has already produced some encouraging results and Marvin looks to have acquired a premium insurance policy on the cheap. Bernard Scott is really becoming snug in his role as a change-up back and, with Cedric Benson's return on the near horizon, this Bengals team is ready to do battle into the snowy winter months.
The recent obsession to bolster the running game feels like an overreaction from all those failed years of relying so heavily on Carson Palmer's arm.
From the outside, it seems the passing game isn't getting its fair share of attention during the week's preparation: Carson was less accurate than in weeks past, pass protection was sloppy and Laveranues Coles still hasn't found a decent rhythm in the Bengal offense. It's possible that introducing LJ to the offense and working him in required more of the coaches' time and took them away from investing much to the passing game. Even if that is the case, it doesn't excuse the offensive line from poorly protecting Palmer on the limited passing plays that were run on Sunday.
The line has earned gobs of well-deserved credit this season and is agreed by most to be a primary reason for the team's turnaround, but they've been shaky the last two weeks and pass rushers are getting to Palmer more than ever. The Bengals were called for 18 penalties in those games---six against the offensive line. Paul Alexander may want to brush up on hand placement and technique with his men this week to cut down on some of those costly holding penalties; those kinds of self-inflicted setbacks will not work against the better teams remaining on the schedule.
On the bright side, the defense continues to establish themselves as one of the best in the league. The defensive line stays in their gaps against the run, and the linebackers and secondary flow to the ball carrier on the outside. I've seen an improvement against the screen pass since the Texans fooled them on multiple occasions, and the corners haven't been beaten deep in many weeks. A skeptic can point to the lack of a consistent pass-rush, but sacks are secondary on this defense to stopping the run and limiting the big play. Mike Zimmer was able to create pressure on Brady Quinn by sending Morgan Trent on corner blitzes---once resulting in a sack---but the front four do a better job of containing a quarterback than they do sacking one.
Another encouraging sign of improvement came from the leg of Shayne Graham. After blowing an easy one in Oakland, Golden Graham nailed a 53-yarder before halftime, proving to doubters like myself that he is capable from 50 or more yards. He did have a kick off roll out of bounds but we'll look the other way on that one in the face of his two key field goals.
I know it's tough to swallow, but winning with field goals is the real objective for this team---touchdowns are bonuses, but not scripted in the game plan. The recipe for Bengal wins is as bland as porridge: run the ball, use clock, play good defense, kick field goals, yawn, win and go to sleep.
Easy as that.
So as you feel underwhelmed with 200 rushing yards and 17 points, try to remind yourself that the Bengals are winning and that was our wish all along. We just wanted to win; it didn't matter how. Remember saying that?
Well, this is it, even if it is just...this.
Mojokong---Careful what you wish for