With four more games in the books, it's time again to take a look at how Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown's offseason decisions have worked out once the footballs started flying. The first quarter report card, which gave Brown a B-, can be found here.
As I wrote then, in the run-up to the 2011 season, Brown made or signed off on a handful of key decisions whose outcomes would significantly impact the team. With half the season to look at, how do his choices stand up now? Let's take a look -- with the caveat that these are just Q2, not final grades, and things could (and almost certainly) will change -- for better and for worse.
Decision No. 1: The Head Coach. Brown was widely mocked for bringing back head coach Marvin Lewis after a 4-12 campaign in 2010, and the disastrous press conference announcing the move (pictured above) didn't help a bit. But his faith in Lewis has been vindicated through the first half of the 2011 season. The Bengals are 6-2 behind a rookie QB, a rookie WR and a defense cluttered with guys like Carlos Dunlap, Rey Maualuga and Frostee Rucker, whom ever other team in the league dismissed as unworthy. Unlike past years, when Marvin would stand on the sideline with a blank, thousand-yard stare as Chad Ochocinco or Carson Palmer or someone else screwed something up, this year he's animated. Sideline shots during last weekend's game against the Tennessee Titans showed an angry, vocal Lewis laying into his offense after a slew of holding calls cancelled out solid gains.
The big question about Marvin Lewis has always been whether he can take the team to a championship level. That's still undecided, but there's no question that he's coaching his heart out this season. I don't think it's a stretch to say that, so far, this is the best Bengals fans have ever seen out of him.
For retaining Lewis I gave Mike Brown a B- after the first quarter. For the second quarter, that grade is an A.
Decision No. 2: The Offensive Coordinator. Swapping Bob Bratkowski for Jay Gruden was the football equivalent of trading a White Castle hamburger for a porterhouse steak. Nothing against sliders, love 'em myself, even had 'em for Thanksgiving dinner once but that's another story, and now I've completely lost track of this sentence just like Brat always seemed to lose track of games while he was hiding up in the booth like it was the old pay toilet at the Reading White Castle. There! Sentence rescued! No, wait, it still sucks. Sort of like the Bengals offense for most of the last decade: it seemed to be going someplace interesting but never quite got there.
Gruden has done a very nice job making lemonade this season. Unlike all too many previous Bengals' OCs, he didn't pick a system and try to cram players into it. Instead, he took a look at what players like Andy Dalton could do and said, "yeah, let's do that!" So we've ended up with the oddball hybrid of TCU and the WCO, with more of the latter being installed as the weeks go by. On the flip side, the Bengals still need a lot of work on offense. They finished the 2010 season ranked 20th, and through the first half of 2011 are ranked 22nd. But that is by no means all Jay's fault; given the fact he had all the prep time of a chef on Chopped and a rookie QB, it's more than a little amazing they've held serve compared to last season. And they are showing improvement as weeks go by.
In the first quarter, Mike got a C+ for dumping Bratkowski and bringing in Gruden. Time to bump that up to a B.
Decision No. 3: The Wide Receiver. Chad Ochocinco hasn't had a catch in the last three games. That's 0 for 0 for 0. A.J. Green is on pace for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's having a better rookie seasons than we have ever seen before. Not much more to say here, except that Brown's first quarter grade of A goes to A+.
Decision No. 4: The Cornerback. Of all the decisions Brown made, the jury remains out the furthest on this one. Johnathan Joseph has slowed down a bit in Houston, only picking up one more interception in the last four games, while Nate Clements has increasingly demonstrated a level of veteran leadership and savvy no one really expected. And the two teams are both in the top five in terms of pass defense, with the Bengals only giving up about 27 more yards a game through the air than Houston.
It's tough to argue that Clements has been an upgrade, but he hasn't been a drop-off, either, and his leadership has been a plus. In the first quarter, Brown got a C as we waited to see how things shook out. I'm inclined to advance that to a B for the second quarter.
Decision No. 5: The Quarterback. After Mike Brown traded Carson Palmer, I wrote a post I never put up just because the gang at CJ was going gangbusters and I didn't think they needed my help at that point. But it seems appropriate here, now:
Wow. Seriously? What the...? When did...? How much...? Holy Monty Haul, Batman! What the hell did they put in Mike Brown's coffee and can we double the dose starting tomorrow?
How about that Brown, eh, folks? How ya like him now?
Ginormous props to Brown and the entire front office for the best day ever so far this year.
My favorite line from twitter today came from Artrell Hawkins' feed: "mike brown running down queens Blvd w raiders draft picks...Raiders "thief! stop thief! Come back thief!"
Carson Palmer had better work out in Oakland or Al Davis' ghost will haunt him, his children and his children's children until the end of time.
Damn. How about that Mike Brown, folks? I'm still in shock.
Well, so much for the boring bye week.
I've never been so happy to wipe egg off my face in my life. In fact, I'll spring for another carton for Mike to pitch right now. He got me, and every other Bengals fans who demanded Carson Palmer be traded ASAP, with a spoiled, ostrich-sized stinker, and our only response ought to be: "Thank you sir, may I have another"?
If Mike had put Palmer on the block after the lockout and gotten a bidding war going, could he have gotten as much as he did today from the Oakland Raiders? Maybe. We'll never know.
If he'd stuck to his guns and waited for the season to play out, and the 2012 QB draft class to settle, could he have gotten as much? We'll never know.
What we do know is that he waited...and he won. Today, Mike Brown is Boromir standing atop the ruins of Osgiliath proclaiming that this land has been reclaimed for Gondor. And when he drinks his toast with Marvin Lewis, there's no mad Denethor to interrupt the festivities and send him to his doom, because the only madman here is him. And he's our madman.
Today is a good day.
Mike Brown's QB grade was a B in the first quarter. Now? A+.
Overall, that puts Brown's GM grade for the second quarter at an A-, up from a B- in the first quarter. Let's hope he keeps improving.