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Anthony Cosenza and Jason Garrison discussed the future of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, the team itself and the AFC North.
Jason: Anthony, what is your honest opinion about Marvin Lewis as the Bengals head coach?
Anthony: Great question--it's always a polarizing subject. The Bengals organization and their fans owe A TON to Marvin Lewis for what he's done for this team in his 11 seasons as head coach. The 11-12 years of Bengals football before Lewis arrived was downright horrendous and unwatchable and Lewis has made the team competitive almost every year and has four playoff appearances under his belt--three within the last four seasons. But, there are so many things with Lewis than makes you want to tear your hair out. He, like his team, often seem to shrink under the brightest lights. He's 0-4 in the playoffs and hasn't been able to get the team "over the hump" and take the next step in going far in the postseason. All in all, I think Lewis has done a good, but not great job as their coach. He has the trust of owner Mike Brown and his family, and that is huge. Lewis has a nice foundation built going forward, but if they can't get it done when Lewis' contract expires after 2014, they might need to look in a different direction, as tough as that is to say. What about your thoughts, Jason?
JG: I think with Lewis you win some and you lose some. I don't think he's near the head coach that John Harbaugh or Mike Tomlin are but I'm also terrified of what will happen when he gets fired or moves on. Lewis has slowly but surely wrestled quite a bit of control away from Mike Brown and made some very good decisions, especially when it comes to the draft. He has been able to build the Bengals up from almost nothing and has made them a credible threat in the eyes of the other 31 NFL teams.... and he's had to do that twice, once with Carson Palmer and once with Andy Dalton. I think he would make a great general manager, but we know that Brown will never give that title up. What scares me is where all that control will go if and when Lewis leaves. Does it go to Brown or to a new head coach?
AC: Great question. If Lewis were to move to an internal role (which I also don't think that that happens because of the stubbornness of both Brown and Lewis), I think he'd maintain a lot of control and sway. If Lewis left altogether, I'm sure that Brown would keep much of that power. Then we might be looking at what the Bengals had to do in 2003 when they brought Lewis in.
In a recent article I posted here on CJ, I referenced the Bengals having a "window of opportunity" and that all teams who have a window in the NFL is limited. Do you agree with that? If so, do you see the Bengals just entering that window or are they already in the middle of it?
JG: I think the Bengals' window is just opening. Andy Dalton may not be the most physically gifted or fundamentally sound quarterback but I think he does a hell of a job when the game is on the line and with a better running game and a couple more receivers, I think the sky's the limit. The defense is already where (or almost where) we want it to be. I remember in past teams, before Dalton, when the team either had a good offense and a bad defense or a good defense and a bad offense. They're close to putting the whole thing together. I really do think the team's best days are ahead of us.
AC: I agree. Year three in the Dalton/Green/Gruden era is huge though. They need to get some speed in the backfield and settle the No.2 wide receiver spot. I personally would like to see the team grab a speed back with hands in the draft to fill that hole and then look at getting both a veteran and a rookie wideout this offseason. What do you think?
JG: I agree. This is the year that will tell us a lot. The first year they overachieved, the second year they probably did as well. This year there is no excuse for not being successful (within reason... obviously major injuries to key players are excuses). This is the season where Dalton has plenty of experience and is somewhat seasoned and so are the key players around him. The third year of Green, Dalton and Gruden together should, in theory, be a big one for the offense. If it's not huge and they struggle, much like they did at the end of the season, I, along with many other fans, will justifiably start to get really nervous that it may not happen with the group that we have now.
AC: What do you think about the future of the AFC North going forward? The Ravens improbably made the Super Bowl this year, the Bengals are entering their window, the Steelers will be the tough Steelers and the Browns have assembled an All-Star coaching staff. What are your thoughts?
JG: The Browns are going to be in the basement again moving forward, but not with 5-11 records anymore and I think they'll claw their way up soon. The Ravens are going to definitely be losing one, possibly two, future hall of fame defensive players, and one of which, Ray Lewis, has been the heart and soul of the team since 1996. That will hurt them, but offensively they can be scary with Ray Rice and Torrey Smith, especially if Joe Flacco is on. The Steelers, in my opinion, are going to be looking at tough times ahead. They're old, both on offense and defense, and they can't seem to solve their offensive line problem and keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy. They also have salary cap issues, keeping them from being able to re-sign their best players to long-term deals. However, they have a great coach, which definitely counts for a lot. The Bengals could go either way. I'd like to think that they will consistently battle with the Ravens for the top spot in the AFC North while the Steelers and possibly even the Browns fight for a wildcard spot at best, but I can also see them falling right back down to where they were before the team was forced to start over in 2011 -- one good year, two bad years, one good year, two bad years and so and so forth. That's not going to get them anywhere. Either way, I think we'll soon see many analysts agreeing that the AFC North is the toughest division in the NFL.
AC: I keep thinking that the Browns are on the rise, but they never seem to put it together. If they determine that Weeden is their quarterback and he improves, they could be dangerous. I also keep thinking that the Ravens and Steelers will cave in for a few seasons because of their roster's age. Because they are both quality organizations that are run very efficiently, they are always in it. Again the third year with Dalton and the Bengals is huge and will determine who the division's best team will be going forward.