A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article posing the question "Are we prepared?" for the possibility of the Cincinnati Bengals disappointing us again. Well, sure enough, here we are feeling disappointment again with the realization of another season ending poor performance from the Bengals.
This post-season looked to be different. They had come into the playoffs wining seven of their final eight games of the regular season as the Houston Texans were losing three of their last four games. The Bengals had knocked off AFC North big brothers Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens to finish the regular season, which many said had to be done in order for the Bengals to considered a legitimate contender. The Bengals were brining heavy momentum into the playoffs which can carry teams to the "Promised Land". And many prognosticators had picked the Bengals to finally end the playoff slide with a victory over the Texans. But then they kicked off. From there, things took a turn for the worse.
During the last half of the season, the Bengals canny and efficient defense was tops in the league allowing a miserly 13.5 points a game. But the offense, which was averaging nearly 28 points a game during the previous six games, became detached in the last two games against the Steelers and Ravens producing only one touchdown in those victories. The offensive struggles, which continued against the Texans, prevented the Bengals from grabbing a game that the Texans were clearly trying to give them.
The Texans offense racked up 420 yards and possessed the ball nearly 39 minutes of the game; the Bengals had 198 yards total offense and 21 minutes time of possession, which should translate to a Texans blow-out. However, their offense struggled to get into the end zone, settling for four field goals and one touchdown clearly offering up the game to the Bengals. But the Bengals sluggish offense was unable to oblige the offer.
Having come into the game knocking off their big brothers to end the regular season, the Bengals sent a message that they would no longer be taken lightly. People stood up and took notice. It looked like a changing of the guard in the AFC North was about to occur. Losing to the Texans only showed that those two victories were nothing more than an aberration and possibly little had changed.
So who is to blame for the late season offensive struggles? Jay Gruden, the offensive guru who came to Cincy with a reputation of creativity and high scoring teams? Or the players who failed to execute? What changes would need to be made in order for the offense to consistently produce?
Early in the season Gruden had the offense running trick plays and the no-huddle offense that kept opposing defenses guessing. As the season progressed, however, he got away from that and began calling vanilla type plays making the offense predictable. This happened just a couple of years ago under Gruden’s predecessor Bob Bratkowski who was later relieved of his duties. Have we gone back there again?
Gruden has been on national tour this week conducting interviews for a number of head coaching positions. If he does not get hired by one of those teams, he will be back next season. Yes, this provides continued stability to the team and allows Andy Dalton to progress in his development as the franchise QB. But some changes would be necessitated so the offense doesn’t become bogged down and unable to score when necessary.
So once again, we are dealing with disappointment and left to wonder what could have been. Yes, there is always next year; but hasn’t the past 22 years taught us something… saying "wait ‘till next year" is getting monotonous.