One loss leaves so many others with a multitude of questions. I suppose that saying "one loss" isn't really doing the situation justice, given that the Bengals have been one-and-done for three straight years in the Andy Dalton era and five overall in Marvin Lewis' tenure. The loss on Sunday shook fans to the core, as it seemed to be such an attainable victory, thus the anger and need for the masses to call for heads.
Where did Bengaldom take their anger? Why, to Twitter of course. I was privy to getting much of the ire towards the team, some of it was just conversation being created by followers of mine, while some of it was through me provoking ideas that I sent out on social media. Some were so intriguing that I had to get them on Cincy Jungle to share.
Here's the first one, which centers around Mike Zimmer taking the reigns as head coach and getting rid of Lewis:
This has actually been a morphing idea for the past couple of years now. One camp wants the team to move Lewis upstairs into an executive/General Manager type of role and slide Zimmer into the team's head coach. Matt just wants Zimmer and Lewis to leave. It's a good idea in theory, but would it work here?
I don't believe it would be the cure-all for a few reasons, unfortunately. First of all, nobody truly knows how effective of a head coach Zimmer actually can be. Most believe he will be a good one (as do I), but there is no head coaching track record in his resume. Yes, his defensive units have consistently been solid, if not great, but the fact remains that there isn't any concrete evidence that he would be a good head coach other than conjecture and with his fiery personality.
The main reason I believe that it won't work for the Bengals though is because he has been a long-time assistant here. The players in the locker room have known "Zim" as one of the team's assistant coaches and it might prove difficult to get everyone to look past his inferior role to Lewis and suddenly give him the respect that a head coach deserves. The fire and brimstone act might still work with his defensive players, but the other sides may have a tough time now answering to a guy that just last week was a coach that had little interaction with them overall.
I like the idea of Zimmer being Cincinnati's head coach in lieu of Lewis, I just don't love it. I think a fresh start from a coach that hails a winning organization outside of the PBS walls is a better route. The Brown family is already known for their nepotism around the league--they don't need more fuel to that fire.
As for Lewis being either fired or moved, it simply won't happen. Owner Mike Brown trusts Lewis and loves him in his role as head coach of this team and his consigliere on major personnel decisions. I'm sure that Brown doesn't like the three straight first round losses in the playoffs, but I'm confident that the Bengals owner will continue to defend Lewis' job with those appearances being unprecedented for the franchise and that one included a division championship.
The scary proposition then becomes if both Zimmer and Jay Gruden leave to get other head coaching jobs. There is a distinct possibility that running backs coach Hue Jackson and linebackers coach Paul Guenther could go with either one of those coaches for coordinator positions with the team that hires them--especially if they don't get the opportunity to move up the ranks in Cincy. That would leave the Bengals' coaching cupboard barren and the team might then take multiple steps backwards from the previous three.
+Another topic of conversation that I proposed on Twitter is the possibility of a new quarterback for the Bengals, be it a backup or one to compete with Dalton. I opened up the conversation with the idea of trying to lure Sam Bradford to the Queen City and it was met with some negative comments. I mistakenly thought that Bradford was a free agent this season, but in fact he isn't one until after next season.
That in itself causes an interesting conversation though. Most signs are pointing to the Bengals giving Dalton another shot as the starter next season, which is the final year of his contract as well, so tracking both players' progress in 2014 could be worthwhile. Bradford has had his injury woes, but the lack of offensive help, be it on the line or at the skill positions, has stunted his growth in St. Louis. He has/had enough talent to be the No.1 overall pick just a few years ago.
The other name starting to surface quite a bit with the Bengals is Patriots backup, Ryan Mallett and many fans on Twitter asked me about him as well. Shortly after I received those, I saw some interesting tidbits from Albert Breer of the NFL Network.
Another thing to remember for Cincy: My understanding is, 4 Gruden, it was down to Dalton & Mallett w/that pick. Mallett might be available.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 6, 2014
By now, you know the story--the one about the war room tug-of-war between the staff and management arguing about taking Dalton or Mallett. Because of his immobility, Dalton's fit for Gruden's scheme and Mallet's train-wreck of a pre-draft experience, the Bengals went with The Red Rifle. Mallett has been riding the pine behind Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady in New England.
Mallet has the talent that had teams wondering if he would be a first round pick back in 2011 and not that he was going to supplant Brady, but Mallett has underwhelmed in the preseason where most of his work has come. His arrival in Cincinnati would be solely based on potential as well as what he did at the University of Arkansas four years earlier. He has the size and the arm, but is a fit for the system? Was the pre-draft situation just jitters and overblown, or is it a sign of his immaturity and lack on mental toughness?
The question with Bradford and/or Mallett will be with their respective costs. Bradford will likely cost more in the pocketbook because of his previous draft status and performance on the field, even if it has been limited because of injury. Mallett will cost more in the way of draft picks, something that Brown and Lewis covet heavily. They may or may not be available for the taking this season, but could be floating out there next season and might be even more appealing after they see the results of Dalton's fourth season.