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Nothing is as it seems when Marvin Lewis coaches a football team.
Despite his best efforts to remain steady and consistent, Marvin Lewis is a trickster. His teams play opposite day, or in this case opposite year, annually moving in a different direction from the season before. Sometimes the change comes in wins and losses, and sometimes it comes with an identity switch.
We Bengal brethren grew accustomed to watching a more prototypical AFC North team in the past few years. One that solidified playoff spots with defense. Yet once again, the tides have seemingly turned as a wave of offensive innovation has the Bengals looking potent despite a modest collection of talent on that side of the ball. Meanwhile, the defense needed three games before getting out of bed and looking like their old selves again.
Within these pages, the gentle reader can find numerous espouses of Marvin Lewis' program. The long-tenured head honcho has pretty much seen it all here in Cincinnati and at this point, he has the details of the modern NFL game in clear focus. His coaching staff is arguably unparalleled across the league. Together, for the first time since 2005, these men are putting on a product that appears smarter and a step ahead of their competition. The opener was the total opposite. The team looked weak and unprepared and a figurative bomb of concern and worry exploded within the Bengal fan base following such a bloodbath. The following three, though, were offensive symphonies orchestrated masterfully with flicks of trick plays and swoops of logical calls. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the playfulness of Jay Gruden's scheme reminds me very much of the Sam Wyche days.
These topsy-turvy Cincinnati Bengals have the same players on defense, yet they're far worse than a year ago, while the offense lost a handful of what many considered serviceable players and they are much improved. Furthering the nonsensical pattern, individual players are playing at the caliber many of us expected, on both sides, but the two groups as a whole are not. It's goofy, I know.
It wasn't surprising that the team loaded up on multiple veteran corners and that turned out to be slow and injured. Rey Maualuga is empirically proving our suspicions of just how overrated he still is. Taylor Mays remains a brainless hitter. These things we know.
We also know that Geno Atkins is great—best pass-rushing tackle in the league—and even the visually impaired can see the impact Carlos Dunlap has on the game when he's healthy. One admitted unknown variable, however, is Vontaze Burfict. The experiment so far has come up roses and he may just be the best rookie on the team.
Likewise, on offense, close Bengal observers knew what they had there too.
A.J. Green is All-World, no need to gush there any further. He's made of hall-of-fame stuff and it's already showing. Jermaine Gresham still has not broken out. While many of us hoped he would by now, we had to see it to believe it and I am still not sold.
Then there is Andy Dalton. The outside world has a hard time trusting that Andy Dalton is a good quarterback. I think he has improved in every game this season and his accuracy is notably accomplished for a second year slinger. He must slay the dragon of beating a playoff team, yes, but the way he's playing, that won't be long now.
Another guy the sports kingdom is just now getting around to, but one we have enjoyed for a while is Andrew Hawkins. What a perfect player for his role. Plays hard, makes very limited mistakes and is smallish. Easily a crowd favorite. No wonder Jordan Shipley became expendable. Baby Hawks makes all of his plays.
The biggest surprise from the offensive players has been within the interior linemen. The backup, the rookie, and the guy-off-the-street were under the microscope for a week or two due to their unfamiliarity of the situation. Like all good linemen, they have become an after-thought fading seamlessly into the background. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander deserves a lot of credit for the trio's stability and production.
Marvin Lewis seems especially proud of this year's team. He appears calm, assured. Could he have known that the output of his two major units would be flip-flopped from last year, or is he simply resigned to the nutty nature of the NFL? Either way, he has simply rolled with it, going 3-1 in the process. If this trend continues, the Bengals will end up described as a juggernaut, outscoring teams for wins. Hard to believe...or is it?
Mojokong—the words write themselves.