Cincy Jungle Mailbag: Playoff Chances, Gruden's Future and More Mike Brown Debates

(Editor's note: This is the third installment of a weekly series 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 post will likely morph in its layout and content over the next few weeks, so we are excited to see where it takes us and you -- the readers. This is meant to be 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 bengalanthony@gmail.com, or send him a "tweet" @CUIBengalsFan.)

Well, the exciting and somewhat unexpected 2011 season for the Cincinnati Bengals has culminated in a Wild Card berth where they'll face off against the Houston Texans for the second time this season. With the variety of articles and opinions that were posted this week on Cincy Jungle, it made this week's mailbag feature pretty easy to sound off.

With the Bengals making the playoffs, many are wondering what the chances of them making a run is this year. Recently, our own Jason Garrison published an article in which he debated Josh Kirkendall (thanks a lot for the invite, fellas) about the Bengals chances this season as opposed to the other playoff seasons in the Marvin Lewis era. Jason maintains the opinion that 2011 is their best shot that the team has had to get their first playoff win in two decades. Josh maintains that 2005 was the best shot that the team has had to make some postseason noise. I see both sides of the argument here.

We Bengals fans seem to hold a special reverence for the 2005 playoff squad--and with good reason. They were an exciting, young group that exploded onto the NFL season that year. They could move the ball at will, with a dominant offensive line, an elite quarterback, a bevy of receiving talent and a pounding running attack. On defense, they were opportunistic, but still lacked any semblance of consistency. While I think that the Bengals could have beat the Steelers that day, it's not a forgone conclusion that that was their most winnable playoff game in the Marvin Lewis era.

There are reasons that make me doubt that the Bengals could have hung on for the win, even with a healthy Carson Palmer. For instance, the Bengals defense was ranked 22nd in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed in 2005. Does anyone remember the safeties that year? That would be Kevin Kaesviharn and Ifeanyi Ohalete. Yikes. Furthermore, the two teams had split the regular season series that season. The Bengals victory came on the heels of three Ben Roethlisberger interceptions. It's unlikely that he would have had that type of game again.

We also know the makeup of the character of this team. We've heard about the meltdown at halftime with Chad Ochocinco and the coaching staff. And, since this game, we also have seen the true colors of players like Ochocinco, Palmer and the troubled Chris Henry (RIP). This was a talented but mentally soft team. Lastly, the two teams entered the playoffs on two completely different notes--the Steelers had won four straight (and four more in the playoffs for a total of eight consecutive wins) and the Bengals had lost two straight. Still, there's no doubt that the outcome of this game would have been different had Palmer not been injured. To what extent we'll never be sure, but we just have to learn to let this game's outcome go at some point.

Now here the Bengals are, backing into the playoffs as some are claiming. So, with Jason's and Josh's argument, my take is this: this 2011 playoff game is the most winnable in terms of the team they faced, but the 2011 Bengals are not the most talented team amongst their playoff predecessors. That makes this game really hard to predict. The Texans come in limping, but the Bengals come in as a team that hasn't played great football over the past eight weeks. I guess the better question is: "which team is happy with just making the playoffs?", and that answer will point you to the victor.

Regarding the possibility of Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden being the "favorite" for the Jacksonville head coaching job, you all weighed in with a similar response. First of all, I have to give props to commenter "shibacle" once again, as he nailed a great Monday Night Football take of Jon Gruden:

[Chucky voice]

"I gotta tell ya Jaws, I really like this guy Jay Gruden. I spent all week watching VHS tapes in a Motel 6 while blasted on Johnny Walker, and this guy, Jaws, this guy can flat out coordinate an offense. If I’m making a list of coaches this spring, this guy’s on it. His playbook is just out of this world. This guy Gruden…he really brings the wood, Jaws."

Hilarious. But, on a more serious note, commenter "eric nyc" nailed it with his take on the Jay Gruden situation. He and I share the same thoughts on Gruden being a supposed leading candidate for the Jaguars head coaching gig:

I've got to be honest...

I’m not as enamored with Jay Gruden as a lot of people. You can credit him for not putting too much on Dalton’s plate too soon, but ultimately his game plans have been very vanilla – again, in part to protect Dalton, but it is what it is. And just like Dalton, his offense would have had almost no success if it wasn’t for the All Universe performance of AJ. And even with that, it still ended up being an offense ranked 20th in the league and just abysmal in the red zone.

I don’t entirely blame Gruden for this. I think a lot of it is Marvin dictating scheme ("You are going to run on first down. Every. Single. Time.") and the whole rookie thing and the lockout thing and yadda yadda yadda. But I dont’ think Gruden came in here and performed any miracles. AJ was the one doing that. We were all SO sick fo Bratkowski and Carson and Chad that when we got rid of all three of them at once and started seeing some wins go up on the board, we started nominating them all for sainthood right away. Dalton has been "successful" because he’s REALLY smart. Nothing about Gruden’s offense has been that complicated. I would imagine if we had to replace him next year, we would find an OC who runs a similar system and part of the job description would be "Your’e not dismantling the playbook that we’ve already installed. That’s your foundation."

But i agree, the idea of anyone hiring Gruden as a HC after one mildly successful season as a coordinator is silly.

People are pointing to Gruden's stint as G.M./Head coach in the UFL and the championships he won there, but I still don't think that that experience, coupled with only one year of true NFL coordinating experience makes him an ideal NFL head coaching candidate. In my humble opinion, the Bengals offense haven't been world-beaters this season. He's done pretty well with a rookie quarterback and wide receiver, but there's still a lot of conservativeness in the play calling, as well as inconsistency in terms of performance. If I were an NFL team looking for a coach I'd want to see more on an NFL resume than what Gruden has. Then again, guys like Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris have been given head coaching gigs with very little, if any NFL coordinating experience. Stranger things have happened.

I guess I'm curious why the young NFL Coordinators are such hot commodities for head coaching jobs in the NFL these days. I'd look at Jeff Fisher as a number one priority if I were searching for a head coach and then maybe to an Eric Mangini. Every team seems to be searching for the next Sean Payton, but they seem to forget that the road that Payton has led is paved with the dead careers Josh McDaniels, Todd Haley , Steve Spagnuolo and the like.

Lastly, we couldn't have one of these mailbags without a mention of Mike Brown. Our own Dave Wellman, (AKA "BeerRun") gave out his final report card on Bengals owner Mike Brown for the 2011 season. There were a lot of varying opinions from you all on this subject, and one in particular caught my eye. From commenter "Animal Like Football":

Let me be a little more specific.

I feel like you are overreacting to my comments which I was making sort of tongue-in-cheek, so let me at least explain why I’m not that excited about Brown’s year before you lump me in the "some people" category.

It doesn’t seem right to me to ignore the first half of the year, which featured a trainwreck of key players leaving the organization (which most would attribute directly to Mike Brown) and then turn around and give him an "A" for decisions that most of us don’t even think he was making. I gave him a "C" when I voted. I think that’s fair.

I’d give Marvin Lewis an "A." Zim an "A." Gruden an "A" Heck, I’d give the entire team an "A" on the year for pulling out a brilliant season despite the hurdles that they had to clear. Yes, Mike Brown has made some good moves this year, but he also put the team in a really bad position to start the season. That’s not "A" work in my book.

This was a response to a back-and-forth with another CJ commenter, but I think you get the gist. Yes, Mike Brown deserves credit for trading Carson Palmer, dumping "T.Ochocinco" and hitting on the first two picks in the draft. But, something tells me that that was more of an effect of his staff putting pressure on him to make these decisions. He was steadfast on not wanting to trade Palmer until a bombshell of a trade fell into his lap. If it became public knowledge that Brown had declined this type of trade for one of his disgruntled players twice in four years (Chad in 2008, Carson in 2011), a full-blown mutiny from the fans would have ensued and I don't think the Bengals would be in the playoffs as they are right now.

Regardless, Brown, Marvin Lewis and company deserve a lot of credit for molding this staff and roster to what it is today, as well as making changes to the medical staff. I can't give Brown a standing ovation quite yet, though, as he has yet to put a team on the field that can consistently beat the AFC powerhouses (Baltimore, Pittsburgh), nor has he fielded a team that has one a playoff game or made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Part of me wonders if this surprisingly exciting season of 2011 has a bittersweet element to it.

It could mean one of two things. First, Brown gave more power to Lewis et al in the organization and it's with that that we're seeing a productive season. He sees this and is actually turning a corner where we'll see an indoor practice facility and an ample replacement(s) for Jim Lippincott. With a few more successful drafts, this could be a budding dynasty. Or, with this "success" this season, it means we'll see more of the same in the way that Brown operates and he concludes that "his way" still works. Maybe the power he supposedly gave Lewis was merely a charade and we'll just see more "flash in the pan" seasons. I hope for the former and not the latter, but only time will tell.

Keep commenting and send those tweets and emails my way!

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