After our disastrous playoff loss, there's been a ton of finger-pointing and commentary on who's the problem. Is it Andy Dalton? Is it Marvin Lewis? Is it Jay Gruden? Is it (God Forbid) Mike Zimmer? We can't hope to answer all of those questions objectively. What we can hope to do is provide some statistical perspective for some of the rubrics that have been bouncing around here.
Rubric #1: "It's time for Marvin to go!!!"
Just for perspective, here's a list of average number of regular season wins by AFC teams since Marvin took over as HC in 2003:
- Patriots: 12.5 wins/year
- Colts: 11.4 wins/year
- Steelers: 10.1 wins/year
- Ravens: 9.5 wins/year
- Chargers: 9.5 wins/year
- Broncos: 9.4 wins/year
- Bengals: 8.2 wins/year
- Titans: 8.0 wins/year
- Jets: 7.8 wins/year
- Chiefs: 7.2 wins/year
- Jaguars: 6.9 wins/year
- Dolphins: 6.9 wins/year
- Texans: 6.8 wins/year
- Bills: 6.3 wins/year
- Browns: 5.1 wins/year
- Raiders: 4.8 wins/year
So, the Bengals have been the 7th most successful AFC franchise in the 11 years that Marvin has been HC. A couple of cogent observations: In the 11 seasons before Marvin Lewis, we won 4.7 games/year. That's right, we were WORSE than any team in the AFC over the past 11 years. We would be looking up at the Raiders. Take a deep breath and think about that. Obviously, no playoffs, no winning seasons, nothing. Year after year of futility. You may not like our playoff performances to date under Marvin....but it sure beats a 5-win season.
If you think Marvin's gotten stale, think again. The Bengals have averaged 10 wins in the "Andy Dalton" era. Since 2009 (the last 5 years, a good chunk for "recent history"), the Bengals have 4 playoff appearances and 2 AFC North Titles. If you're going to replace Marvin, who, exactly do you think you're getting that will replicate that kind of success with this franchise. It's easy to say, "Fire the man!!" It's a bit harder to say who should be taking over that would be a clear improvement. (My take-- unless you can get Marty Schottenheimer or Joe Gibbs...or resurrect Bill Walsh....you should probably just be quiet now.)
Also, note who we're in a division with: No other AFC division features 2 top-5 teams. Basically, you have to give credit to our division rivals. They're good and it makes it much harder for us to succeed on a regular basis. (The team you really have to feel bad for is the Browns. Only the AFC North features 3 top-half teams, meaning that where the Browns finish year after year really isn't surprising. People can go on and on about the mistakes the Browns make--- but they're in the worst environment possible for sustained success.)
On another side note, if you could pick a division to play in, it'd be the AFC South or AFC East. Except for the Colts and Patriots, every one of the team in those divisions work out to be mediocre to bad over the last 11 years. Not only have the Colts and Patriots been gifted with 2 of the best QBs of the last 20 years (more on that in a bit), they've been playing in divisions that stinks on ice. When your toughest competition is the Titans...or Jets....you've got a great shot of making the playoffs...every year.
So, to sum up point #1: AFC North is not an easy place to win games. Marvin and his regime is a vast improvement over the prior 11 years. We were not very good in the time prior to Marvin.
That brings us to Rubric #2: "Marvin can't win the big game. We're always losing to the Steelers and Ravens!"
First point: As shown, the Steelers and Ravens win a lot of football games, so you'd expect, on average, to lose to them more often than you win. In the Marvin Lewis era, the Steelers win 63% of the games they play. The Ravens are only slightly worse at 59%. That means an average team could hope to go about 40% against these guys on a regular basis. We've got to be much worse than that, right?
WRONG. While Marvin isn't stellar against the Steelers (he's 7-15, a winning clip of 32%), he's very good against the Ravens. He's 12-10 against them (55% win percentage.) Combined, he's 19-25 against our two main rivals, a 43% winning percentage. That's right where we should be, statistically. I think a lot of folks think back to the pre-Marvin Lewis era when we beat the Steelers 7 times in those preceding 11 years...yes, during that time, we out-performed our expectations against the Steelers-- but given how bad we were, that's easy to do...and how about the "Good Old Days" against the Ravens. They cleaned our clock 6 straight times from 1998-2000, and we had one win against them in 5 years before Marvin.
That brings us to Rubric #3: "Marvin can't win the big game. He can't win a playoff game!!"
On the surface, that's right. You can't debate Marvin's 0-5 playoff record. It can, however, be explained. In the Playoffs, the whistles get hidden. You don't call penalties on marquee players (Derrel Revis in his extended mug-fest of WRs in 2009? Perfectly expected!). You don't call penalties on marquee teams (Steelers vs. Seahawks Superbowl anyone?). The game changes. It becomes more QB driven. Your performance in those games is more directly tied to how your QB performs, especially early-game. Don't believe me?-- here's the factors that Football Outsiders think best tie to success in the playoffs since 2006 (regular season metrics, mind you): Offense 1Q, Pass Offense Weighted, Offense Winning Small, Pass Offense Second Down, Pass Offense Third Down, Pass Offense Red Zone. Having an elite passing offense sure does help these days.
In only one of Marvin's 5 playoff seasons was he carrying an elite pass offense into the playoffs (By elite, I mean top-8 -- since that's 25% of the league. I've used FO's DVOA metric to determine who was elite that year.) ....and that one year where Marvin had a top-5 passing attack in the playoffs...all together now....2005. (Curse Kimo Von Oelhoffen and Hines Ward at your leisure.) 2006 was probably our worst missed opportunity-- Carson was #3 by the advanced metrics and was getting better as the season went on. (Curse Shayne Graham at your leisure.)
Contrast that with Bill Bellicheck: He's had an elite passing offense for 9 out of the last 11 years....or Peyton Manning, who's been elite every year he's played in the sample.
While we can decry Marvin's lack of success, I think tougher questions need to be asked of the Patriots (No Superbowl wins since 2004--- Spygate anyone?), and Peyton Manning (one Superbowl win.) You could ask very hard questions why they haven't won more than they have. (...and by admission, some folks have done that. If either Peyton or Manning wash out this year-- except against each other -- expect some pretty negative articles about the failure.)
Net, Marvin has shepherded deep teams to the playoffs using a balanced offense and stingy defense. All we've needed was for our QB to get hot at the right time (ala Joe Flacco). It's safe to say that didn't happen to the 2009 version of Carson Palmer, and the current version of Andy Dalton. Exactly how many playoff games do you think you're going to win when your starting QB goes, on average: 22 for 40 for 216 yards, while throwing no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. (Yes, that would be the AVERAGE stat line for our last 4 playoff games.) I think Marvin and Jay Gruden drafted an ingeniously conservative game plan that would have had us up 14-7 at half time if Giovanni Bernard doesn't fumble...and gave us a chance to run, run, run in the 2nd half, and keep the game off of Andy Dalton's right arm. For those of you who say, "Marvin wasn't ready for the playoff game" -- don't you think something different happens if we score that touchdown? Why is that important?
I don't want to throw Andy Dalton under the bus, but his average ESPN QBR is 18.1 in the playoffs. (50 is an average performance.) It's hard to win a playoff game when your quarterback is checking in at those levels. I'll have to check, but I doubt anyone has won a playoff game over the last 5 years with a sub-30 QBR. Andy's best playoff game was his first one-- with a QBR of 25.1. I have hope that Andy will progress...but he's been a significant liability in all 3 of the most recent playoff games.
Also note, that really the Bengals were expected to win exactly ONE of those games. Sure, the 2009 game was at home, but the Jets were playing much better football, and the 2009 Bengals were a gritty, but limited team. For a home playoff team, they were only favored by 2 points-- meaning the oddsmakers thought the Jets were the better side. They'd gone about as far as could be expected. In 2011 and 2012, we were playing one of the AFC's top teams at home. Only this last defeat is a significant upset. So Marvin is 0-1 in games he should have won...and going back to QB play, who was this year's 2nd best QB by DVOA?....I present to you Mr. Philip Rivers. When the chips were down, the better, more experienced QB delivered. Can you really say you're shocked? Did you really expect Andy Dalton to beat the Texans on the road?
Net, Marvin is not the best coach in the NFL. We all have noted problems with his game management (I also think he's getting better here-- and hey, he could be Andy Reid), and sometimes we'd like to see more fire from him. But if you look at the organization that he's built and the success that he's had, there's not a long line in front of him. I'm not sure who you would want to replace him.
We're always entitled to our opinions...but they need to be founded in some view of reality. When talking about Marvin Lewis...you'd better look at the facts hard before you draw any conclusions...or you can just keep spouting whatever it is you want to spout..but don't be expected to be taken seriously.