I wanted to come on here and spew vitriol on Sunday and Monday. I'll be honest, I'm still furious about how the season ended (There may be a little extra sting since I dropped $233 on tickets for me and my significant other). It was only the second loss that I've experienced in person, but it was the first time I actually left a game early. Luckily, that choice kept me from seeing Ronny Brown break that last TD. My anger, in combination with my alcoholic intake on Sunday, may have pushed me into some sort of quasi-Incredible Hulk mode, but substituting orange for green.
However, it seems to be the consensus around here that there are three major parties responsible for the loss.
Marvin Lewis: A lot of us are calling for his head. Admittedly, I was one of them. However, today I am not. The main thing people are citing that he is bad about is "not getting players prepared/pumped up", or the old adage "we came out flat." Even though I only played football up to a high school level, players do not need coaches to get pumped up. If you do, you don't make it to the NFL. Players do not need help focusing at the task at hand. Do you think Marvin has to slap Vontaze Burfict across the face to get him going? These guys are adults, and they know their jobs. Most of the players that donned stripes perform well, and perform well consistently. They do this not because Marvin gets them to drink 12 packs of Hu-Dey beer he's been hoarding. They do it because they are good players. Just because a certain player isn't outwardly emotional like you'd expect (coughAJ Greencough), that doesn't mean they are not focused or prepared.
Conversely, Marvin has done a lot of good while he has been here. This organization is now respected throughout the league for the product that is put on the field and how the front office has performed. Marvin Lewis is directly responsible for both of those things. You cannot blame him for four turnovers. You cannot blame him for a banged up defense finally crumbling. It's blatantly illogical. And yes, I'm aware of his postseason record. 2005: Carson got hurt. 2009: We got out-muscled by a much more physical football team. The last three years: I'll get to that.
Jay Gruden: By the way I've described Marvin, you may have thought "This guy is going to defend everyone" as you rolled your eyes. Nope. Not me. Here's my first guy to blame, and he gets a lot of it. Jay's offensive game plan was utterly horrendous. Not only in this game though, but throughout the year. For whatever the reason, Gruden feels as if the middle of the field is off limits, despite the fact that our QB has obvious arm-strength limitations, and the fact that four of our biggest offensive weapons excel in shredding the middle of the field (Gio, Baby Hawk, Gresh, and Eifert). Speaking of our tight ends, has any one coordinator ever underused such a blatantly talented and mismatch provoking set of personnel ever? We have two physically gifted tight ends, that when they touch the ball, good things happen every time (except when Gresham fumbles). They accrued 465 and 441 yards over the season, respectively. Not only did neither of them eclipse even 800 yards, they didn't even manage to accrue 1000 between themselves. It's not their fault either, as they rarely, if ever, seemed to be a focus of the game plan.
Our tight ends, especially when combined with Hawk and Gio, should help to alleviate a lot of the issues with Dalton's arm strength. If you are limited in arm strength, the middle of the field becomes your friend. It takes a lot less to complete a ten yard pass around the hashes than the sidelines, in terms of arm strength. It's particularly maddening when you have the perfect personnel to aid this.
Gruden has been making the mistake of tailoring players to his style, instead of the opposite. Even with a moderately gifted talented QB like Andy Dalton, this smorgasbord of weapons that may as well have an address in the middle of the field, are misused and underutilized, and it's a damn travesty.
I would also like to take a moment to say that it is time for Ken Zampese to go as well. I do hope that Gruden leaves, and I hope that he takes Zampese with him.
Andy Dalton: As we watch the conclusion of the playoffs, we all see the talent level of the quarterbacks remaining, and that's what we all aspire to root for. It is not wrong to want that. It's too early to say that we do or do not have a player on the rise in Dalton. While his stats have improved each year, when compared to historical marks that he is matching, surpassing, or being compared to, you have to keep in mind that modern passing stats are bloated in comparison to their precursors. Alternatively, we've made the playoffs three years in a row with this guy. If you look at the stats from the first few seasons of Peyton Manning or Drew Brees' careers, you'll have some hope that things can continue to improve. At the same time, don't expect that either. For every Drew Brees, there are hundreds of guys that we have no idea exist. Don't put your faith in something becoming an outlier.
I admit, that even I was calling for Andy's head just 48 hours ago. Obviously, the guy has physical limitations physically. We are all aware of them, so I'm not going to re-hash them here. So what's the difference between Andy and Drew Brees, or Alex Smith, or Nick Foles? In my opinion, it is coaching and the offensive system that these players are put in. Each of those quarterbacks have been put in a system that takes advantage of the QBs strengths, as well as the strengths of the talent around those QBs, while hiding the weaknesses each may have. Andy has not had that opportunity. I feel that in a system administered by a coordinator that understands our offense's strengths and weaknesses, Andy will step forward. I'm not saying he will be Drew Brees, but I am saying that he will be better than he could ever hope to be when Jay Gruden is part of the picture. Even withing our own organization, we have a coordinator in Mike Zimmer who took a struggling player in Rey Maualuga, and put him in a position that emphasized his strengths, minimized his weaknesses, and the guy had a great season. That just goes to show the difference between a great coordinator and an average or bad one.
***This is me telling Josh that I would like to be considered to write for CJ in the future. That is also the most awkward sentence I've ever composed in my life.***