A few weeks ago we put together our first Six-Pack of Who Dey for the year. For those of you unfamiliar with the Six-Pack of Who Dey, this was once a regular weekly feature that would throw out six topics for consumption. We've largely abandoned it due to the nature of how much work is put into developing them. However we're following up with another as we head into the most important game of the decade of the week.
+ SO MARVIN LEWIS WAS KIND OF RIGHT ABOUT THINGS. At one point before training camp we argued that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was clinically insane for not labeling the 2011 season as a rebuilding year. New quarterback, new offensive coordinator and vast inexperience at wide receiver, there was no way that anyone in their right minds would offer a suggestion beyond rebuilding for this season. When asked if the Nate Clements signing helped push the team over the top, Lewis said:
“I don’t know. I think some would say we've changed for the positive. I said it in December it would be a new beginning. If things worked out and I were back here that I was going to do something that not many people get to do and start fresh again."
Wait. What? You’re actually suggesting that this team will be competitive enough this year that they could make a playoff run. Are you joking? Why not just call it a rebuilding year and be done with it? No one in their right mind foresees this team sporting a winning record; there’s too much turnover, too much that’s new needing to be incorporated into the dynamics of a successful team.
Now the Bengals are 9-6 during a season we expected them to fight for a playoff berth because thankfully no one listened to the insane little man demand that someone call this a rebuilding year. Moving on.
+ BETTER NOT MISS THE MOMENT BECAUSE OF A MIKE BROWN RANT. Many are still using this opportunity to pack their cold-cut sandwiches to resume their pilgrimage against Mike Brown, willingly offering hate against Cincinnati’s owner to anyone offering a sympathetic ear. Due to the team’s inability to sellout, the antagonistic Brown remains a strong talking point amongst every Bengals fan around this big blue orb.
While the arguments and complaints are justified (and repeated with our own fingers tips), I have a better solution today. Rather than spending the limited time given to us in our lives spent complaining about an owner, fueling ourselves with a 21-year story of total betrayal, why not just take in the moment?
Because really. Blaming Mike Brown for a 9-6 season sounds petty. Right?
You don’t want to miss moments like these. Whether the Bengals lose or win beyond Cincinnati’s weekend against the Baltimore Ravens, this season won’t. The surprising nature of how Cincinnati blew away our preseason expectations won’t happen again for some time. Feeling of rejoice support a team expected to be one of the worst in the NFL, only to win six of their first eight was a feeling that I fear won’t return.
The Bengals comeback against Buffalo wasn’t just incredible, it broke a 23-year history of losing against the Bills. Did you miss the significance of that win, while gleefully staring at the empty seats at Paul Brown Stadium? Hopefully not.
We’re saying exactly the opposite of what you’re thinking right now. Complaining about Mike Brown is a rich tradition in Cincinnati that we fully expect to see continued for the next ten years, even if half of those years are filled with Super Bowl trophies.
But while you’re spending rehashing a history that goes 20-years deep, just don’t miss the moment this year.
+ WHEN YOU KNOW IT'S YOUR YEAR. Compiling the top-five defensive plays of the game during Cincinnati's 23-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals was tough. In the end we selected plays made by the secondary, save for Rey Maualuga's interception in the first. If we could pick ten plays, we could have. Ranging from Domata Peko or Carlos Dunlap's sack in the first or any one of Jonathan Fanene's stops, there were plenty to nominate.
Yet it was particularly odd that we selected two plays in a fourth quarter in which the defense gave up 16 points. Cincinnati had this game in the bag by half time, building a 20-point first half lead. We didn't think there would be a need to nominate plays in the fourth quarter. And as advertised, the Cardinals made such a run that they were one clumsy receiver away from tying the game. If Jerome Simpson was a Top Ten on ESPN's SportsCenter, Early Doucet was his companion Not Top Ten.
It was the same story the Bengals experienced only two weeks ago, where Cincinnati easily won the first half 16-3. Houston mounted a comeback and outscored the Bengals 17-3 in the second half, largely because Kevin Walter did the unprecedented by staying on his feet while Brandon Johnson did the “oh no” inglorious dive when he realized the shallow crossing zone was wide open.
If not for some luck, Cincinnati's game against the Arizona Cardinals takes a different path. Sometimes it's just your year, and when a receiver like Early Doucet trips on what should have been a game-tying touchdown, then it's your year. Don't you catch yourself wondering sometimes that if this were any other year, Doucet gracefully hauls in the reception, ties the game and Carson Palmer throws an interception on the following play because he's a no-good-for-nothing... [Editor's Note: 213 words deleted].
+ BREAKDOWN OF THE SECOND QUARTER. No reasonable explanation can justify the results, due to the impressively revert nature they represent. If you combine every first quarter this season, the Cincinnati Bengals have outscored their opponents 80-41. If you do the same thing in the third quarter, the Bengals have outscored their opponents 79-50. In the fourth quarter, the Bengals have outscored their opponents 110-83.
Combining the points scored in the first, third and fourth quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals have outscored their opponents 269-174.
But really Cincinnati is dying a painful death in the second quarter. Of the points Cincinnati has allowed this year, 41% have come from the second;. alternatively only 18% of the team’s points scored by Cincinnati’s offense were generated in the second.
This is even factoring the 27 points Cincinnati scored over the course of the previous four games in the second. During Cincinnati’s first 11 games this season, the offense averaged 2.9 points per second quarter.
You get the overall picture. The second quarter is a terrifying prospect for the Cincinnati Bengals this season.
+ HOW FAR ALONG IS REY MAUALUGA. A reasonable question we have to believe considering that Cincinnati's linebacker position will be up for review soon. Don't misunderstand me. Maualuga isn't going anywhere for at least another season and he's starting to make plays (fumble against Houston's Ben Tate and interception against John Skelton).
So far this season Maualuga is already topped his career high in tackles, generating 79 stops during Cincinnati’s third winning season in 21 years. He's also generated three forced fumbles, an interception and a career-high two passes defensed. Before suffering an ankle sprain during a mid-October practice, Maualuga was leading the team in tackles before the injury. Houston was arguably his best game, posting 10 tackles (second on the team) and a huge fumble forced and recovered near the goalline just as the Texans were readying to score. He forced another fumble later in the game.
And philosophically speaking, he's the starting middle linebacker for the sixth ranked defense in the NFL.
Would it be safe to claim Maualuga's his first season as the team's starting middle linebacker a success? Was it exceptional? No. Was it flawless? No. Was it just enough to help make this defense one of the best in the league? Absolutely.
+ WHERE WILL KEITH RIVERS FIT IN ALL OF THIS? We bring this up because choices will need to be made, directions taken with some rather intriguing foresight. Rey Maualuga will start at middle linebacker and Thomas Howard will start on the weak-side next year. What happens after that is anyone's guess.
Manny Lawson has been serviceable and Brandon Johnson remains the team's most underrated linebacker. Both are entering the final stages of their respective one-year deal and re-signing both would be a step in the right direction.
What happens with Keith Rivers, who will miss the entire 2011 season? Will he backup Thomas or attempt the move to the strong-side. I don't presume to know much regarding the intricate differences playing both outside linebackers spots, so I won't presume that Rivers can make the move. Nor will I presume that the defense moves Howard to strong-side, allowing Rivers to remain at his native position.
Some can and play both spots effectively. Others can't. But if he doesn't, there's no way he supplants Thomas Howard, who is currently the team's leading tackler this year, Cincinnati's best linebacker in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus and signed through next season.
Then you have to include other injured linebackers into the discussion that have yet to make their mark on this defense. Roddrick Muckelroy and Dan Skuta were favorites to start at outside linebacker before Muckelroy's injury forced the team to sign Manny Lawson. Dontay Moch remains on the 53-man roster, but hasn't played. Does Mike Zimmer (if he's still here) put together devious packages that utilizes both players at Sam?
Again. Where does Rivers fit in all of this? Will he be an insurance policy? You never know where injury might strike. Achilles during training camp and a broken foot during the preseason prompted the team to sign two quality linebackers that's made significant contributions to this team's overall success in 2011. Would Rivers even accept being a backup? Might be good for him after all to work himself back into the starting lineup. Rivers will be entering the fifth and final year of the rookie contract he signed in 2008.