(Editor's note: This is a weekly article where Cincy Jungle's own Anthony Cosenza will answer emails and "tweets" sent to him, talk about Bengals topics of the week, and/or respond to our reader's comments that were posted on the site over the course of the week. This is a more interactive article involving our readers, so feel free to email Anthony any topics and/or questions that you'd like to see kicked around on this feature at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send him a "tweet" @CUIBengalsFan.)
The surprising and exciting 2011 season for the Cincinnati Bengals has come to a close with a resounding "thud". Though it was nice to see the team in the playoffs for the third time in the last seven years, they still looked unprepared for the big stage and unfortunately put forth their worst performance of those three recent postseason appearances.
With the playoff loss and the end of the season, all Bengals fans are naturally looking to the offseason and pointing to what the team must do to improve itself and finally get that elusive playoff victory. Many of you have already begun sounding off on what roster moves you'd like to see happen for the 2012 Bengals, so I also thought that that would be a good topic to chime in on.First, some closing thoughts about Saturday's Wild Card loss to the Texans. Jason Garrison posted a clever series of five articles Sunday, in which he showed the spectrum of emotions that Bengals fans could be feeling after this tough loss. In the last article of the series, one dealing with acceptance, there was a particular comment that stuck out to me from commenter "quickslant":
I, for oneAm still angry. How could this team be so ill prepared going into this game. So called hc candidates under marvins leadership totally flopped. They beat us w the most vanilla gameplan i have ever seen. Plyers need to make plays too. Rey m im looking at you. He didnt miss much but he needs to make a play. Crock and pacman are scapegoats, but not one defender stepped up yesterday. I cant say any different of any offense or special teams player. Tait had absolutely nowhere to go on punt or kick returns. No running holes, we missed open wr’s.
Agreed. We writers here at Cincy Jungle were hard-pressed to find any semblance of a Bengals MVP in this game because of the lack of a clutch performer. For a game that seemed to be between two evenly matched squads, the end result didn't show it, save for the first one and a half quarters. In fact, the game turned on a dime late in the second quarter. The Texans drove down for a score and on the ensuing Bengals possession, they got the big interception from J.J. Watt right before the half. The team went into the locker room deflated and were never the same the rest of the day.
I am of the opinion that a team is a reflection of their head coach. Bill Belichick's Patriots are tight-lipped, business-like professionals. Rex Ryan's Jets are cocky showboaters. These reflections could both work for and against these teams. Aside from not having his team prepared for the atmosphere of a road playoff game and not instilling the ability to overcome a disastrous play, Lewis looked downright rattled on Saturday. His team looked the same. He made two questionable challenges and their negative results definitely affected the psyche of the team. Challenging plays (or deciding not to challenge them) have long been a criticism of Lewis' coaching ability and that knock was on full display Saturday.
The biggest head-scratcher stems from what led to the play of the game. Tied at ten points each with around a minute and a half to play until halftime, Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden decided to be aggressive. This was a odd change from the Lewis that we all have come to know over the past nine seasons, as he's almost always conservative in this type of a situation--sometimes to a fault. I'm sure that we would have second-guessed Lewis' decision to be aggressive at that point, but with a rookie quarterback deep inside of his own territory on the road in a hostile playoff atmosphere while nursing a tie, it hardly seemed like a time to be uncharacteristically aggressive. It was just a bad decision in a string of them by Lewis in this game and the rest is history.
I think that all of Bengaldom is now wondering if Lewis is indeed the coach to get them that playoff win, as he's now 0-3 in the postseason with the Bengals. No one can deny what Lewis has done for this team--namely rebuilding it three times and taking each rebuilt squad to the playoffs-but with some of the other glaring needs on this roster, the team can't afford these types of in-game mistakes by the head coach if they expect to win in the postseason. Something to chew on: in 2003 when the Bengals were looking for a new head coach, they narrowed their search down to Tom Coughlin and Marvin Lewis. Electing to hire Lewis, he's gone 0-3 in the postseason, while Coughlin has won a Super Bowl and had another playoff victory last weekend. Did they make the right choice?
What should the Bengals do to improve themselves this offseason? With Josh Kirkendall's "bring them back" and "don't bring them back" articles earlier this week, his would-be decisions brought out some colorful commentary from our readers. In watching the Bengals during the last half of the season, it became painfully obvious what the weak areas of this team are.
Both sides of the ball need work. On defense, the following positions need to be addressed: safety, cornerback, and defensive tackle. A number of these positions can be address in-house. Re-signing key players on the line like Pat Sims (boy, was he missed on Saturday!), Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker would be good ideas. I suppose that bringing back Robert Geathers wouldn't be a bad idea either, but he'd have to come back on a completely different contract than his previous one. I still think that they need to look at getting another big-bodied defensive tackle somewhere. They went light on the number of true defensive tackles in 2011, and when Sims went down with an injury, the run defense was exposed.
In the secondary, Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones are musts. Jones shouldn't be higher than a No. 3 or No. 4 corner, but depth at that position is key. I think the best move is to draft another corner within the first two rounds of the draft. Depending on his growth you could start him opposite Leon Hall or let him be mentored by Hall and veteran Nate Clements, as his finishes out his contract here. With the trio of receivers that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have, having four capable cover men is crucial.
Nelson has really rejuvenated his career in Cincinnati and is one of the better safeties they've had over the past decade or so. It's apparent that Chris Crocker's career has passed him by and he shouldn't be here in any other role than that of a backup. Because of that, many fans are clamoring for the Bengals to draft a safety high and while that might be a good idea, I wouldn't be surprised if they hand Crocker's job over to Taylor Mays--especially if Mike Zimmer stays in Cincinnati. After all, the Bengals not only traded to get him from the 49ers, they contemplated trading up to get him in the 2010 draft.
Really the only positions that seem set on offense are tackle, center and quarterback. While A.J. Green has been a star in the wide receiver corps, his counterparts seemed to have let him down. Jordan Shipley coming back next year definitely helps, but who will man the outside? Fans seem to be mixed with their feelings about Jerome Simpson. As commenter "BengalFan024" points out, this basically is Simpson's rookie season seeing as how this was his first year as a full-time starter. But, as commenter "JCompton41" eloquently retorts ("that's crap"), Simpson has been with the team for four years and still hasn't seemed to find the consistency that this team needs.
Picking up guards via free agency and the draft should be priorities for the Bengals. Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn aren't the answer. I'm sure that ownership and the coaching staff will point to a low sack total when referring to not making a change in the interior of the line, but that's more of an indication of Dalton's scrambling ability than good guard play. I still maintain the opinion that Andre Smith should be plugged in at right guard with Anthony Collins (if re-signed) flanking him at
Many Bengals fans are disenchanted with Cedric Benson's lack of production and the attitude that comes with it. Though Benson may fit the bill as a "bell cow back" or an "AFC North type of runner", he isn't a West Coast Offense running back. Now, we have some indicting comments from offensive coordinator Jay Gruden about Benson. When we published this story, commenter "GoffChile" had an excellent post regarding this situation:
Benson is a proto-typical "bell cow"...…between the tackles type back. The type of back you have if you run an "Air Coryell" style offense like we had when Palmer was quarterback. You counteract the deep threat, which loosens the safeties up, with a potent inside running game. This isn’t our offense anymore. Benson is a remnant from an offensive scheme that is long gone. Sure he wants the ball, but in our offense, you have to be able to pass block, catch passes out of the backfield, etc. These aren’t Benson’s strengths.
A true running back suited for this offense can do a little bit of everything: run between the tackles, use their shiftiness to go outside, and catch the ball out of the backfield. LeSean McCoy is the perfect example of this type of player. The Bengals really have one running back that's a "dual threat", and that's Brian Leonard. Save for Leonard and possibly Cedric Peerman, this is a position group that needs to be overhauled. Whether it's Lamar Miller, Trent Richardson (who I have my reservations about), or someone else, they need playmakers in this group.
Speaking of Bernard Scott, what exactly is he bringing to the table? I, like many Bengals fans, became frustrated with the perceived lack of usage of Scott after 2009. In that season, Scott had a 100-yard rushing game and a kickoff return for a touchdown that season as the Bengals used him as a backup running back and kick returner. He was averaging 31.5 yards per kickoff return and 13.4 yards per reception in 2009.
Since then, the return duties have been stripped from him and he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry with his career-high 112 attempts in 2011. Fans asked for Scott to be utilized more in this offense and the truth is that he was. He had career highs in attempts and receptions while rotating duties with Cedric Benson. The fact that he had career lows in both comes slightly expected because of the tendency of an average to drop with more touches, but not to the extent that it did with Scott. The big eye-opener was that the Bengals "speed back" only had 2.9 yards per reception. Some blame can be placed on the offensive line here, but this is simply an unacceptable stat because the screen pass should be a staple play in the West Coast offense.
While the Bengals could look at drafting a player relatively high to replace Benson, should Scott be under the microscope as well? I am of the opinion that they should at least be exploring the possibilities. For instance, if the Bengals were to hypothetically land a player like Michael Bush or Mike Tolbert in free agency, they could look at drafting LaMichael James out of the University of Oregon. Though James isn't looked at as an every-down back, he brings an enormous amount of big-play capability with his speed and versatility. At Oregon, James was their feature back who also lined up as a wide receiver many times and made numerous big plays. He's just the type of player that this offense needs. If he's there in the late second or third round, I'd think that the Bengals would have to think about grabbing him.
I like Scott and what he brings. However, 2.9 yards per catch and 3.4 yards per carry in a West Coast Offense and a rookie quarterback isn't getting it done. This offense needs a legitimate homerun threat, whether it's Scott or a player like James.
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