After rolling out to a 3-1 record in the first four games of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals completely collapsed, going 0-4 in Q2 and reducing their playoff hopes to a pipe dream. Particularly galling is that three of the losses were to teams with serious issues of their own -- Cleveland, Miami and Pittsburgh -- who found ways to compensate for their weaknesses and overcome what looked like a better Bengals squad.
Looks, as they say, can be deceiving, and that was the case with the Bengals over the last four games. Much of their abject failure to capitalize on a fast start can be traced back to offseason decisions made regarding coaching, free agency and the draft. The front office's good performance in 2011 appears to have been an aberration; its usual reverse Midas Touch has returned.
I'm not going to delve deeply into the details because it's too depressing and you all know it already anyhow. Free agency turned out to be a joke. The team lost Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene and failed to replace their production. Rome alone had nearly 100 more yards through the first eight games of 2011 than his alleged replacements, Brandon Tate and Armon Binns, have combined so far this year. Rucker and Fanene had double the tackles and triple the sacks this time last year of Devon Still, Wallace Gilberry and Jamaal Anderson. Of their major outside free agent signings, only Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis has seen significant playing time, and more Bengals fans would rather that he hadn't. The only thing that keeps the FO's grade above F right now is the role of injuries and the unusually smart call to re-sign Reggie Nelson. FA Q2 grade: D.
The draft class has been a similar disappointment. Ten picks, mostly shot to hell at this point. Kevin Zeitler has been an ace, and I suppose credit must be given to Still for at least getting on the field, but of the remaining eight guys we have seen at most flashes. Few have even been able to get on the field, and then not for very long. Even if you count undrafted college free agent Vontaze Burfict, this year's rookie crop has been remarkably unproductive so far. All that said, I find myself issuing the same "gentleman's C" as last time because it's hard to judge someone when they are sitting on the sidelines. And that brings me to...
Coaching. In the offseason, the front office extended Marvin Lewis. Let me preface my comments on the second quarter coaching performance by saying that in them, I am taking Lewis recent advice to heart. Specifically, I am going to try my best to be a bigger sick.*
(* You know what word that's supposed to be, right? Substitute accordingly. Family site and all that.)
That's just great advice, isn't it? I mean, you can apply it so broadly not just to sports, but to life in general. Work have you down? You just need to be a bigger sick. Wife or girlfriend on your case? Obviously you aren't a big enough sick. Pulled over by a cop for speeding? It's sick-embiggening time! Whatever you're doing, wherever you're doing it, everything can be improved by acting like a big sick! It's the Marvin Lewis way.
You know what I would pay money for? A t-shirt with Lewis' face on it, blown up so it covers almost the whole front of the chest. Above that face in small type would be the words "Act Like A" and below it in giant letters would be "SICK." I envision the day when 60,000 Bengals fans show up at PBS wearing a shirt with Lewis' face and "SICK" in giant letters.
Let me spell it out for you, Marvin. Your team hasn't lost four straight because your QB doesn't act like a sick. It's lost for straight because you suck at judging talent and you won't put your best players on the field. Year after year we see guys show up in December and play well -- Dunlap and Simpson spring to mind -- and then hear you mutter about how you probably ought to have played them earlier. Well, duh. Now we hear the same rumblings about Sanu, that he can't get on the field because he isn't a great practice player. Hey, he looks pretty good when you let him on the field in regular games! It's a conservative, cowardly approach -- unless of course you've already fallen in love with a player, and then we get snafus like Taylor Mays, thanks to your mad talent evaluation skillz.
Is this being enough of a sick? I'm not sure. I do feel better, though. One last thing: Fire Marvin Lewis. Every day the front office doesn't is another F for FAIL. Front office coaching call grade: F. Final second quarter grade: D.