What is the reason for the Bengals futility recently. What is the common uniting thread over the past decade? I can only think of 2 things - Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis. I think by now no one in the sports world perceives Mike Brown and his effect on the Bengals as positive. That will always be a negative.
But what about the other common thread? The man who has been with us a decade? Marvin Lewis. Some people think we would be better off were it not for him. That we would be back in the late 90s or The Lost Decade as Daugherty would call it. Its a scare tactic for sure. Don't change things or then we will be as incredibly bad as we were before. Keep Marvin Lewis because at least we will then be mediocre.
But I can't believe that scare tactic anymore. My wife is an Orioles fan and she was heartbroken with the loss of the O's to the Yankees in baseball. Her reply to me after the game was that it makes it so much harder when the Yankees spending consistently DWARFS other team's salaries. The NFL has a salary cap - a mechanism by which fairness is ensured and certain teams can't buy every single good player. The NFL also has a draft that rewards worse teams with the first pick in the draft. Parity. Equality. This more than any other sport. I can't buy into the fear tactic when teams actually can become good teams.
I look at teams rise like a phoenix from their years, maybe a decade, long ineptitude. The Aint's, The Sucs, the Ma'ams, etc. Those names aren't used anymore. They had their moment in the sun and seized it. All of them won a Super Bowl. Other teams besides have at least won a playoff game. But one nickname has persisted - The Bungles. In fact, I believe a lot of really good, young players are becoming Bungled.
And I wonder why? Obviously the one constant of Mike Brown is hurting us. But it is a given. Much like taxes. You can't do anything about it - it will always be there. But, again, what about that other constant.
I believe Marvin Lewis is actually deserving of quite a lot of blame. I have never ever ever felt like we could go into a game and feel like we would actually dominate a team convincingly. In fact, I am the opposite and worried we will lose to the worst team in football much like we did today. I don't think I have ever been confident of a Bengals win since he has taken over. We make people like Eric Zeier have the one single best game of their entire lives. When scrubs can open a can of whoop ass on your team - you worry a lot.
You say "all teams lose tho". I hear that - but all teams also have their day in the sun. That year that they actually feel confident like they will crush the other team convincingly but maybe have a couple bad losses. Not the Bengals.
So I have identified Marvin Lewis as the problem. The question then is "why?". Why is he a problem? And I believe I have the answer - his personality. He is the leader of this team. More so, than even Mike Brown. This guy is the guy from which all other things are based. And thus why we are losers. Looking at it simply - his personality is indicative of the personality of this team.
Look at how Marvin Lewis handles himself. That breeds a culture around an organization - especially one that is a decade old. Motivation. Have we ever seen our players play like there is a fire lit under their butts? Literally playing out of their heads? En fuego? Have we seen our teams come out fired up and ready to go? The answer is a resounding "NO". Flat. Unmotivated. Lost. Physically pushed around.
We obviously don't know how Lewis interacts with players. But look at how he shares the blame for a bad play with everyone rather than the player deserving of the blame. Its always that same tired line of all 11 have to be on the same page. Do you think he will call out Brandon Tate for his bad play? Or Maualuga? Did he call out Nate Livings last year? There is no consequence and bad players are not held accountable. People are rarely benched. Taylor Mays was a 2nd round draft pick that was let go after one season. Do you think the Bengals would ever have let Maualuga go after one season? Of course not. Even after almost 4 years - he is still on the team. Livings was a starter for a whole year. Other teams get rid of dead weight. Cutting them. Benching them. Or at the least saying that a bad play was their fault. Lewis does none of those things. Younger players are not tried in place of bad veterans. As if them just being older somehow makes them better. Or having a certain number of years means they used those years wisely and actually learned something. Do you think we will give up on Brandon Tate, yet? Look at Jerome Simpson - we didn't ever cut him. He played out the entirety of his contract. And with that, he also held our future hostage. Even Sean Brewer (yes, I went there), was on this team longer than he should have been. Personally, I think he should have been let go in preseason.
Sure Mike Brown's cheapness means players will play irregardless of how good or bad they actually are. But Lewis enables it as well. He could at least call them out. Or bench them for a game. Newman probably is too old and slow to be any good. Peerman played lights out and has done everything this team has ever asked of him - yet still doesn't get the support to at least be tried. Even when we know BJGE is not the answer.
But here is the biggest thing why Marvin Lewis and his presence means the Bengals always lose - his mindset. He is the guy in charge of the game plans. The roster and who starts and who plays. The decisions in critical game situations. How conservative or free wheeling our plays are called. To put it simply - I think Marvin Lewis has been trying to put a square peg into a round hole. He wants the Bengals to be a defensive, grind it out, win by attrition, FGs, and field position kind of team. This isn't conjecture - this is truth. Exhibit A is play calling. Always the very long FG instead of going for it. Punting it and pinning them deep. When we have the lead - its about taking your pedal off the gas and playing it conservatively.
We have a better pass blocking line than a run blocking line. Better receivers than running backs. Even our running backs are good receivers. Yet we still try to futilely run. Marvin Lewis is going to treat every team he coaches as if they are the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Eventhough we don't have Jamal Lewis and his line or Ray Lewis and his defense. Our defense is like a sieve. Yet our gameplans, play calling, and in-game decisions are based as if Ray Ray in his prime was out on the field for us. Its as if he thinks there is only one formula for success. And that formula is a conservative one.
That conservatism is why the Bengals have been mediocre to bad for a decade. We have all the talent in the world on this team. But its not utilized properly. I think other coaches would salivate at the opportunity that Lewis has. One of the brightest young minds in OC. The best WR in football. A TE that is an athletic freak. A DL that literally scares other teams. There is enough there to be a really good team. It just needs to be used well. And for that to happen, Lewis will need to break his paradigm.
But there is the most damning thing - it won't happen. It hasn't happened in 10 years, why will it happen now? A tiger doesn't change its stripes. When push comes to shove, and his back is to the wall - we all know the call Lewis will make. As do most other opposing teams. He is predictably stale and conservative. Conservatives never win though. Ever. The only constant in life is change. We can try to keep things as they are - but that will never ever work. We have to change with the times and adapt and evolve.