Welcome to this week's Six-Pack of Hu-Dey. Today Jay McDonnell joins us. I (Josh Kirkendall, the Alpha Male) discusses why the Bengals should give Marvin Lewis a contract extension, why Leon Hall should be grouped with the league's elite cornerbacks and I ask whether the team's three-tackle rotation at right tackle should be changed.
Jay says that it's time to cut Daniel Coats, that it's time for Bob Bratkowski to become less predictable and that fans of our divisional foes (ah hum, the Steelers) should give a little respect to the Bengals this season.
Let's get to it.
The Bengals give Marvin Lewis another contract extension after this season. I believe in two things. If the moon had never existed, the complex living organisms that exist today simply don't exist either. I also believe that Marvin Lewis has developed a talent rebuilding teams. Theoretically, it would be nice that rebuilding projects were spaced out more with the Bengals and that the train keeps rolling year, after year, after year. Realistically, even organizations that pump out winners like the Patriots or the St... St... St... Steelers need periods to rebuild themselves. Marvin Lewis is now in his seventh season, finishing his second rebuilding project. This, just perhaps, could be his masterpiece.
After going 1-11-1 in 2008, the Bengals have remarkably won 13 of their next 16 games. These changes include, but are far from being limited to, a deep understanding of the team's personnel. Most notably, Lewis revised the team's entire philosophy to a powerful rush offense and a tremendously performing defense. This will be his second rebuilding project after taking on a team that was 2-12 in 2002 and delivering four straight non-losing seasons and a playoff appearance in 2005.
I really believe that Lewis, like any NFL player, is getting better every season. I'm not just talking about his record either. Controversy is being handled with ease. Adversity is a distant thing of the bitter past with this team. Even his draft picks are improving. And when the team is down and out (ala, 2008), they unified and matured like we've never seen, into this group that we're damned proud of in 2009.
Lewis' existing contract expires after the 2010 season -- the same time the CBA expires, which may be a factor in NOT giving him an extension. The Bengals' biggest mistake would be letting two people leave Cincinnati, namely Mike Zimmer and Marvin Lewis. Lewis could arguably be the most important of the two. After all, he's the face of this franchise.
Is it time to for Andre Smith to get his first start or is the three-tackle rotation working? Okay, I get it. Why mess with chemistry? Let's read into the facts. The Bengals are 9-3, sport the league's sixth best rushing offense and have allowed only 22 sacks (which is tied for eight-best in the league). Quite honestly, the Bengals offensive line is the most improved unit, of any unit, on this team. They deserve tremendous credit for the team's transition into one of the best AFC teams that's dismantled both teams that played in the 2008 AFC Championship game. Personal note: I still like writing that.
One of those success stories on the line is Dennis Roland, who has come from undrafted free agent, to starting right tackle, to the biggest guy in human history to go into motion causing safeties and outside linebackers to say under their breath, "oh f**k." Also, in truth, Roland is an accomplished run blocker, if not one of the better run blockers on this team.
But where he's strong with the rushing offense, he's weak in pass protection. At times he appears slow against defensive ends with a quick inside step. This also leads to the lack of communication or awareness when a stunt brings an outside linebacker or safety on a blitz. Slowly Anthony Collins has quietly won more playing time, especially on passing downs.
From our understanding, Andre Smith's playing time is growing. They started him slowly with basic packages and plays. As they expand the playbook for Smith, he'll keep experiencing an increase in playing time. Cincinnati's use of the jumbo packages (putting three, sometimes four offensive tackles on the line) has led to Cedric Benson's best rushing this year. Whatever the Bengals are doing with the offensive line, it's working.
So the question is should the Bengals keep doing what they're doing, or should they give Andre Smith his first NFL start soon?
Should the national media put Leon Hall in the same class as Darrelle Revis? The other day I had a healthy helping of Hamburger Helper that did a Flozell Adams on my stomach. With an older copy of ESPN shouting "hey, I'll help you kill some time," I flipped to an NFL report. Like it was destiny, I kid you not. One of those reports called Leon Hall "the irreplaceable cornerback". Look at the numbers of the receivers that he's shutdown.
As I said, it was an older copy so that's where the list ends. We could go on and presume that Hall is strictly covering the opposing team's best wide receiver, but that would be factually incorrect. Leon Hall mostly lines up on the left and the opposing offenses can shift wide receivers anywhere on the field. Furthermore, when the Bengals call zone, he's not always covering a receiver; rather a specific area on the field. However, we do know that in the past four games against the Steelers, Raiders, Browns and Lions, only two receivers gained 80 yards receiving or more (Santonio Holmes with 88 yards and Calvin Johnson with 123 yards).
The Jets' Darrelle Revis is widely considered the best cover cornerback in the league. He leads everyone with 28 passes defensed with five interceptions. Hall is second with 22 passes defensed and four interceptions. At the rate that Leon Hall is shutting down opposing wide receivers he should without a doubt be considered in the elite group of cornerbacks in the league.
Want to know the most scary part? Johnathan Joseph could theoretically be in the same elite group. Third in the league with 21 passes defensed and five interceptions, Joseph is developing a nasty habit of being one hell of a tackling cornerback -- kind of in the league of Charles Woodson. Well, close to it at least.
Would it be a stretch to say that the Bengals have the league's best cornerback duo?
A decision needs to be made about Daniel Coats. At the start of the season the kicking game struggled, which cost the Bengals valuable points, putting the game in doubt and forcing us to constantly check our blood pressure. When executing an extra point or a field goal, the snap was either too high or mishandled due to a bad snap causing Shayne Graham to get out of sync. This led to missed field goals or extra points, weighing heavily on the outcome of the game. So to solve the problem the Bengals released Brad St. Louis and brought in little known long snapper Clark Harris to take over these duties. This seems to have largely solved the problem with the kicking game.
At the same time another problem exists with Tight Ends not being able to catch the ball, specifically Dan Coats who has dropped more passes in the end zone than any other receiver on the team. When he does catch it, the ball is prone to squirting out only to see it recovered by the opposition. These drops and fumbles have cost the Bengals as much as Brad St. Louis ever did.
The Bengals set the standard by releasing the usually reliable St. Louis, sending a statement that poor play is not acceptable. But somehow, they see fit to hang onto a tight end that cannot catch a ball that hits him in his hands over and over again. Yes, the tight end position is thin with Ben Utecht being released and Reggie Kelly out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. That however is no excuse for hanging onto a player that is extremely inconsistent and costing the team valuable points. J.P. Foschi seems to have taken on the opportunity and showed that he is not only able to block, but able to catch and hang onto passes. The precedent was set with the release of St. Louis; with Foschi showing his worth I think it is time for the Bengals to continue their message that mediocrity is not acceptable. Cut Dan Coats.
It is time for the predictable Bratkowski to become unpredictable. Despite the Bengals 9-3 record and mostly the same ingredients of an offense that once established a reputation as being an explosive offense in the past, the Bengals have only one game this season where they routed a team by more than 20 points. The defense has been the unit doing the heavy lifting while the offense seems to only do what is necessary to win the game. To some extent that is fine, until they run into an offense that is able to put up points and quickly (read: the Minnesota Vikings). There appears however to be a reason the offense has not been as explosive as first thought.
In this article published on Cincinnati.com, Bob Bratkowski acknowledges that he is “getting a little too ‘run on first down, run on second” in his play calling. Really? When did he find this out? How many of us see his play calling develop a pattern that causes teams to load eight in the box on a weekly basis? Does he not see this and want to make some kind of adjustment?
This kind of play calling makes the Bengals offense predictable allowing the opposing defense to load up the box, trying to force the Bengals to be one dimensional. But so far, teams have been unable to accomplish this on a regular basis. There is a thought process that you keep calling the same play until the defense stops it. I am not saying this should continue, but I am sure Brat does this because it works and he will probably continue to do this until someone stops it. However, since Brat has recognized this problem I hope he is able to adjust and open up the passing game showing opposing defenses that predictability is no longer an issue.
How about a little respect from our division foes? My wife and I live in an area that somehow seems to have more Pittsburgh Steeler fans then those who support the local team, the Washington Redskins. We work with several Steeler fans as well. These fans are as loyal as any. They will defend their team no matter the record and performance. But when the discussion turns to how the Bengals have surged ahead of the Steelers, they immediately run behind the 6 Super Bowl Championships and how they won two of the past four. They even cite how they qualified as a wild card team in 2005 and went on to win the Super Bowl, never mind the fact that Carson Palmer had his knee torn up by the Steelers.
The results of this season are not new to those fans; they have suffered through tough seasons following Super Bowl appearances dating back to 1996 against the Dallas Cowboys. Now that the Steelers are struggling and their fans are watching their playoff hopes fade, those fans seem to refuse to accept the fact the Bengals are the better team this season. The Steeler fans my wife and I have come across have shown a bit of arrogance and seem to expect to make the playoffs despite the heavy odds against them. With their current record of 6-6, a playoff appearance seems slim.
The Bengals have the AFC North pretty much sewn up with the magic number being one. Ask any Steeler fan though, and they will tell you how they are going to make the playoffs because of the soft schedule remaining. Well, I have some bad news for those Steeler fans that visit our fair web blog to read what we may have to say. The Steelers are not going to make the playoffs. After losing four straight games and giving up 4th quarter leads in three of those games, the vaunted defense has proved itself unable to protect a lead. This, of course, does not bode well for the defending Super Bowl Champs any chance their fans insist they still have to enter the playoff club in 2009.