To be honest, I'm done talking about the Thursday Night beat down that the Bengals received by the Browns. We can talk aftermath, outlook for the rest of the season and/or what needs to improve, but breaking down that game is futile. As I'm sure the players will find, there isn't anything positive from the film and moving on and trying to improve is the only remedy at this point.
The defensive issues seem to be the flavor of the week, asking what the team can do to improve. As I wrote earlier in the week, the coordinating issues on both sides of the ball are rearing their ugly heads and it's particularly noticeable on the defensive side. I received a couple of questions on this issue this week:
@CJAnthonyCUI @CincyJungle can we revisit the run defense? Realize injuries at linebacker what bout the Def Line?— Christopher Hahn (@Hahn_Genghis) November 12, 2014
@CJAnthonyCUI #Bengals Andy is going 2 be fine and I never thought I would have 2 ask this question this season but what is fix for Defense?— Johnny Jones (@Blindhowlin) November 12, 2014
The linebacker thing has been killing the unit. The only starter they've had out there over the past few weeks is Emmanuel Lamur, who, by the way, is in his first year as a starter in the NFL. Vincent Rey is a decent tackler, the issue is that they occur after a good amount of yards have been gained. Nico Johnson was a street free agent before being signed and was forced to start against the Browns, while rookie Marquis Flowers is trying to stop his head from spinning.
Another loss that isn't being mentioned, especially with depth, is the season-ending injury that occurred with Sean Porter. At a minimum, Porter could have been a decent rotational guy with the ability to play all three spots. He also flashed the ability to rush the passer in college, so that could have helped there too.
The truth of the matter is that the Bengals have been without their two 2013 Pro Bowlers for the majority of 2014. It's hurt them. But, the defensive line seems to be a bigger dumpster fire, if that's even possible. The staff spent massive amounts of time this offseason preparing and verbally propping up second-year defensive end Margus Hunt. After nine games of football being played, Hunt has one sack and five total tackles.
But, that has been just part of the problem up front. Geno Atkins, though finally looking to be regaining that All-Pro form the past three weeks, largely struggled for the first half of the season. His counterparts Devon Still and Domata Peko aren't getting push and Peko is often seen getting shoved off of the line of scrimmage, opening big holes for opposing runners. Add the inexperience of the linebacker corps behind them and their inability to fill those gaps and there's the formula for the whole mess.
Aside from the secondary, the Bengals were overconfident in what they had on defense going into this year. It's hard to fault them for feeling that way, as the team did have the No. 3 overall defense in the NFL last season. Still, championship-caliber teams should always want to improve their football team and breed competition at spots, and the Bengals simply didn't do that this offseason--particularly in free agency. The team bet on unproven guys (Hunt, Will Clarke) to replace Michael Johnson and it has blown up in their face.
If you're asking what should be fixed short-term in this season, I'd say that starters need to get healthy (Rey Maualuga, Burfict), others need to get healthier and/or back to their old form (Atkins, Brandon Thompson, Leon Hall), and Paul Guenther needs to blitz more often aside from just using his front four. Those items, coupled with hanging on to an interception when a golden opportunity presents itself, would be a good start.
Going forward past 2014, one major facet will be to shed some dead weight, unfortunately. Though they are team and fan favorites because of their leadership skills, community work and even past performance, guys like Peko and Robert Geathers might need to be on the chopping block. At some point they'll also need to definitively find out what they have in corners Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, so some tough decisions might be made at corner as well.
The old saying that goes with building a winning NFL team goes along the lines of being able to rush the passer, protect the passer and have an able passer as being the formula to success. Be it via free agency and/or the draft, this team needs pass-rushers and other big bodies up front.
As it currently stands, the Bengals are the 30th overall ranked defense, No. 31 against the run and ranked 29th in quarterback sacks. That, my friends is a recipe for disaster.
@CJAnthonyCUI @CincyJungle if the Bengals somehow miss the playoffs, do you expect to see some heads roll and if so, who?— Frank Leonard (@djillusive45) November 12, 2014
Honestly, no, I don't expect that to happen. The only big change that I could see coming if the defense continues to struggle is a change at defensive coordinator. As I look back at the opportunities Mike Zimmer had for three consecutive years to become a head coach, the only thing that would have made me want him to leave earlier than just this year would be that Kevin Coyle would likely have promoted from within instead of Guenther. In case you don't know, Coyle has done a pretty good job since leaving for Miami in 2012.
Other than that, not really. Perhaps some of the long-time veterans that are looking ineffective will be on the chopping block, but I don't foresee sweeping changes on the coaching staff or at quarterback after this year. The Brown family trusts Marvin Lewis and my guess is that they are terrified of hiring another coach who will drag them back down to the likes of the 1990s. Fair or not, that's likely part of the mindset in the front office, hence why a head coaching change hasn't been made.
Knowing the way that this front office operates, if the Bengals lose out on the playoffs, they will point to the past three seasons, the injuries accrued and the fact that they will likely have been close again this year, even with said injuries. Instead of doing something and being proactive, this team thrives on making excuses for people and their performances. Just look at why they decided to be inactive in free agency this year--they told us that they had mega-deals to sign. To their credit they achieved two of those deals, but they still have a surplus in cap space. Huh?
The one thing I can credit this team and Lewis for is their ability to be above .500 and in the playoff hunt at this time of year with all that has happened. All three starting linebackers have missed games, two of their top wide receivers have been injured, their "starting" running back has missed the past two games and the right side of the offensive line has been nicked up as well. Beyond that, what does this team do well? Somehow they've gotten themselves to 5-3-1 despite really only playing three quality football games this season.
@CJAnthonyCUI Right now, is Drew Brees a HOF-worthy QB?— Dave Wellman (@DaveWellmanB) November 10, 2014
First of all, I have to give a little shout out to Dave, who is very entertaining when he tweets and was a partner-in-crime of ours at Cincy Jungle--even when we tried a pre-Inside The Jungle podcast here. Dave, if you're reading I hope that all is well with you.
Let's break down the checklist of some of the big criteria that Brees will need to have in order to be enshrined in Canton:
Super Bowl Winner: Once, XLIV
Super Bowl MVP: Yes, XLIV
Career Passing Yards, All-Time: No. 4, 53,897
Career Passing Touchdowns: T-No. 4 (Tom Brady), 381
Career Completions: No. 4, 4,738
This isn't just active players, either. Brees outranks many Hall of Fame passers in these categories throughout the NFL ages. He should make it and likely on the first go-round on the voting. Moreover, he's considered a "good guy" by NFL standards and one who helped bring good spirits back to New Orleans on a variety of levels. And right or wrong, that will undoubtedly help him. Not bad for a guy who had a bum shoulder and was a cast-off by the San Diego Chargers, right?
The one interesting thing when you look on the lists in these categories are names that are up there, but don't and won't get HOF consideration. Dave Kreig, Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, Matt Hasselbeck and even Carson Palmer appear in the top-20 in some of those big statistical categories as well. Just food for thought.
@cjanthonycui Don't they have to commit to run v. Saints? Conrtol clock & keep brees off the field!— Will Koshover (@Willko33) November 10, 2014
One would think that the Bengals would be wise to try and run the ball this week, yes. Anytime that a team can keep Drew Brees off the field as much as possible should be a preferred strategy, even if the team's record isn't as stellar as most are accustomed to (4-5). Bleeding the clock and wearing down the Saints' defense is one of the keys to this game.
In both the offensive and defensive sides of the running game, the Saints have surprised in 2014. Defensively, they areranked No. 11 against the run at 106.8 yards per game, while their offense ranks at No. 6 at 130.2 yards per game on the ground. That latter ranking doesn't bode well for the No. 31-ranked Bengals rushing defense.
While running the football makes sense against the Saints, there are two factors that also negate that theory. First, New Orleans is ranked No. 24 against the pass. With Keenan Lewis recovering from a knee issue, Andy Dalton could be poised for a nice rebound game. The other is that Giovani Bernard looks to be out again this week, if early practice participation indications mean anything. If that is the case, the running back stable the Bengals rely on will be without the most explosive player in it.
As cliche as it sounds, the Bengals need to really put together a game where all three phases work well. One could argue that hasn't yet happened this year, even through the 3-0 start where they were pummeling teams. The Bengals can't go into the Superdome playing imperfect football and expect to leave with a win. It won't simply won't happen.
If Cincinnati turns the ball over and gives Brees good field position, this game could get out of hand fast. But, if the Bengals get out of the predictable mode on offense, stymie the Saints' potent rushing attack, and take advantage of opportunities, it's a winnable game. If the Bengals are able to impose their will, primarily in the running game and on defense, and are able to get out of "Nawlins" with a win, it could be a huge confidence-builder for the rest of 2014.
Yes, the Bengals will need to run the ball effectively, but everyone has to come ready to play, which hasn't always looked to be the case this season.