2-3. When I looked at the Bengals' schedule going into this year, I figured that 3-2 would be the worst-case scenario for them getting through to their bye week, 4-1 was my hope. If you had told me that this roster would have been 2-3 at this point, I would have told you that you were taking crazy pills. So what are the issues with this team, outside of the obvious (cough, Bratkowski, cough)? I live in Southern California. There is a local Sports Talk radio program that I listen to that is based out of San Diego. Given the Chargers' record this year, along with their expectations for 2010, you can imagine what the callers were saying to the host about their team. I called in and told the host that I saw a lot of similarities between the 2010 Charger and Bengal teams, in terms of underachieving, coaching issues, etc. The one thing he said to me about the Bengals that stuck out is that they have a "lack of offensive identity and don't know who they are yet". Pretty profound for a San Diego radio host who probably could care less about the Bengals (outside of the week prior to them playing each other). He was optimistic that the Bengals could turn things around this year, despite their schedule. In my title, I've expressed three major problems that I see with the Bengals this year, with a lot of smaller problems within them. I'll go through what I mean by these--bear with me.
Unpreparedness: One needs to look no further than the last two weeks and week 1 for examples of this. But I began to think harder on this one. Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 3-5 in season openers. Unacceptable. Couple that with a recent article on this blog showing the Bengals' struggles after a bye week, and it's jaw-dropping. This comes down to simple preparation, or lack thereof. With the lack of preparedness by Bratkowski and his players, comes this lack of "offensive identity". They wanted to pass better but stay a running team. When they pass for big plays and a lot of yards, they've lost. Regardless of how Benson has ran the ball, the results have been mixed. Beyond all of this, preparedness breeds confidence and the "clutch" performances. The Bengals rarely have these.
Stubbornness: This may not be as obvious. What I mean by this is basically a general cockiness by the coaching staff that they refuse to make any necessary changes at positions that are struggling because they are hell-bent on proving that they are correct on their decisions. They want to show everyone that the money they've invested in their starting Defensive Ends, Antwan Odom and Robert Geathers, was well-spent. It absolutely wasn't. They want to show everyone that they can make Michael Johnson into a SAM/DE hybrid. He isn't at this point. They want to show everyone that Roy Williams Chris Crocker are better than average in coverage and that they didn't need to draft a safety high. Whoops. Jerome Simpson will be a good pro and has better long-term payoff than a guy like Dezmon Briscoe. How many catches does JS have this year? They make sure that Benson is happy getting enough carries, that they don't get the ball to Bernard Scott--arguably their most explosive offensive weapon. Perhaps the biggest gaffe in the "stubbornness" department is how they treat rookies/younger guys. In my opinion, when you draft a guy in rounds 1-3, he better be starting or contributing relatively heavily within his rookie year and no later than his second, barring injury. Well, here we are and Chase Coffman isn't on the 53-man roster, Simpson can't get on the field, Carlos Dunlap can't either and the coaches REFUSE to start Andre Smith. My problem? With the exception of Tight End (thank God for Gresham), those positions are struggling. What they have in there isn't working. With Odom out, it's time to activate Dunlap and see what he's got. He is huge and was a force at Florida. Let him play and see what happens. Six sacks through five games and you don't want to see what your second-rounder can do? What about Andre Smith? I REFUSE to believe that Dennis Roland is a better option than Smith, regardless of what shape he's in. But, hey, let's continue to teach him "how to practice and do things the right way", on the bench while our QB gets sacked and/or throws INTs. Good plan.
Inconsistencies: This is pretty simple. They don't know who their Kick Returner or their Punt Returner is. They throw last years guys out there and give them two tries. If they don't do anything, then it's Pacman time. I am of the opinion that those two positions are a "get-in-the-groove" type of spot, where you have to feel things out a couple of times to make a big play. I find it hard to believe that Cosby and Scott have "lost it" over one season and aren't good at their positions anymore. Put them back there and let them do their thing for the ENTIRE game. If they decide that Jones is their best option, that's fine, but STICK WITH THE CHOICE. I realize that this viewpoint contradicts the point above, but this is a different area with a different problem, in my opinion. The running game has struggled this year. It excelled last year after struggling in 2008. What did 2009 have that 2008 didn't and 2010 doesn't? A true Fullback. People go back and forth about the value of the position. People complained about Jeremi Johnson. Look at the results in 2009, guys. It's noticeable in the running game. Regardless of how you value the position, the bottom line is that if you're going to tout your team as a "Running Team", you MUST have a true Fullback on the roster.
Underacheiving: The three previous points lead to underachievement. The Bengals are underachieving in nearly every phase right now. The only pleasant surprises have been the play of Terrell Owens, Kevin Huber and Mike (Ted) Nugent. The Defense isn't as clutch and has zero pass rush. The running game is inconsistent and is the passing game. All in all, this team looks like it's on its heels.
There's still light at the end of the tunnel. The Bengals still have a very talented roster that hasn't experienced many injuries. They've beaten a very good Baltimore team already, so they have the ability to beat good teams. The season is still relatively young and they have 4 divisional games left to make hay. Most inportantly (and perhaps the first step towards success in 2010), they have had the bye week to make changes/corrections to the problems I listed above.
I realize that this was relatively long-winded, so thanks for reading.