This was a season that Leo Tolstoy could write over 1,000 pages about and tell you in the end that there is no making sense of it no matter what perspective you take. To answer the grand question of what went wrong is either stupidly obvious or so complex it would take psychiatrists and astrophysicists to break it all down for us. Nonetheless, I will try to unravel this conundrum for us all, or go mad in my attempt
The easy answer is that team ownership sucks -- no need to dig up that old horse and whip it again. If you can't win on top, you can't win on bottom; nuff said. And while all of that remains true, it still doesn't explain why this year crumbled like goat cheese before our very eyes.
The other villain's name that springs to the lips is our longtime pal, Bob Bratkowski. Here is a man that has glided along seemingly unscathed by poor performance for the past three seasons. While he's had excuses every other year -- some valid, some not -- this season was set up to be his best and instead, he laid a dinosaur egg and excused himself. This answer has more teeth than the ownership rant, and will be explored further later on, but even Mr. Brat can't be entirely responsible for a 4-12 season...can he?
The Bengals' defense -- fresh off of a top-five showing a year before with all the same players -- had long stretches of wild inconsistency and generally lackluster play which contributed mightily to the season's collapse. To let them off of the hook because we like their coach would be imprudent. Explosive plays and inopportune meltdowns plagued what I once thought to be a blue-collar, rough-and-tumble kind of defense.
It's true that the group as a whole was hit by an extraordinary amount of injuries and cornerbacks were brought in from the scrapheap late in the year, but the bigger problem was relying on too many big-money players that had mid-money seasons. Some of the young, high-ranking draft-picks are stuck in one mode which looks good for a rookie, but considerably less so as a second or even third-year player, and the aged free-agent veterans brought in from elsewhere look depleted and at the end of their road. Ending 24th in points-allowed will never do, but in defense of the defense [rim shot], they were faced with crappy field position many times thanks to turnovers by the offense and below-average special-teams play.
The kicking carousel that began after Shayne Graham split town, seemed to slow once Mike Nugent cemented his way onto the roster. Then, during an onside kick, Nuge blew up his knee and the kickers began to spin again. The punting was a letdown, the return team looked docile, and a lack of Kyries Hebert was felt throughout the entire season.
Everyone gets a slice of responsibility pie on this team. Playing in the NFL is difficult for each individual that makes up an organization. The competition is immense and wins are at a premium. It's easy for me to criticize other people doing their jobs when I have no idea what it's really like to work as them, however, dishing out the reason for their failure as no more than a difficult schedule is as lame as a three-legged race horse. I'm not stubborn enough to say that it has no bearing on a team's final record at all, but even three more wins doesn't bring them even close to a playoff year. In a nice and accurate sample size, the Bengals ended 2-4 in their division which is a schedule they must play every season. Winning a third of the time is not the sign of a winner, no matter what the league. Therefore, there will be no further credence given to the strength-of-schedule answer in these future musings as to why the Bengals are so bad.
In the following, both coordinators and each position will be reviewed of their 2010 performance and will also be evaluated for the future. These postings will come in three installments -- offense, defense, and conclusion -- and we will determine what went wrong this season and ways to fix it in 2011 -- if any exist. We'll get to the bottom of this thing, even if it is a rank rabbit hole to find yourself in.
Mojokong -- the accidental crusher of snails.