The Cincinnati Bengals’ 20-0 loss against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday felt like a knee to the groin when you're expecting a hug. It was supposed to be a win. Cincinnati had won six of seven when playing Baltimore.
But from the very beginning, things seemed off with the Bengals’ offense. The offensive line's inability to handle things became literally "offensive." This is especially true of Cedric Ogbuehi, whose PFF score of 42.4 or "poor" does not reflect the reality of things.
"Poor" can mean a lot of different things. Ogbuehi's performance was what we might call "expletive worthy." Yet standing perhaps most brightly in the spotlight of infamy is Andy Dalton (also given a "poor" rating), whose four interceptions and passer rating of 28.4 had Bengals supporters leaving the stadium and (unfortunately) behaving like Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
At this point, Cincinnatians want to hear from Marvin Lewis. But--like a distant father who speaks in some sort of discouraging code--Lewis is rarely open about what he thinks and feels. His performance in press conferences is like that of a ballet instructor, in that he keeps everyone on their toes and laughs at their desire to succeed.
Luckily, I have a certificate from Village Island University in translating coach talk. So, here is my translation of some of Lewis’ comments from the press conference on the 11th of September.
Q: What were some of the positives that you took away from the game?
ML: “We had around 38 opportunities throwing the ball on offense, we had some guys do some good things within their responsibility on 35 of them. But four or five of them, or whatever it was, with the way that things transpired for us – it killed us. And that’s the hard part. On defense, I thought the guys – as far as containing and playing the running game – did a nice job.”
TRANSLATION: Yes, Andy Dalton messed up. I won't say it. He's still the leader of our team, but his abysmal performance was indeed the problem. The defense was fine, but how can an offense function when your quarterback can't complete passes?
COMMENTARY: While Lewis’ subtlety might throw you off, pay close attention to what he's saying here. He's saying there were positives on 35 out of 38 plays. Do the math. That means that only three of those plays were absolutely not Dalton's fault. This is the closest Lewis has ever come to criticizing Andy Dalton.
Q: Do you feel like the three-running back approach worked?
ML: “We’ve used three running backs a lot, so it was fine.”
Q: Will it be the same moving forward?
ML: “I’ll never tell you that (laughs).”
TRANSLATION: I promised you a whole new year. But Marvin Lewis will always be Marvin Lewis.
COMMENTARY: It would seem that a question about the running situation on a team that has no functional passing game is a fair question. You'll notice, however, that ML provides very little. How will Mixon be used? We won't know until we see it. This isn't just the case for Lewis’ plans for the future; he also does not appreciate our second-guessing mistakes he made in the past. For that reason he told reporters present:
I’m sitting there in the fourth quarter, and you all are probably wondering, ‘I can’t believe he’s punting the football (with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter).’ Right? You all said that, right? But we get the ball back three more times. It’s a tough call either way. I’m darned if I do, darned if I don’t. But we still get the ball back with three more opportunities. We lose a minute or two minutes, or whatever it was. They run it three times, and we get the ball back, and it’s a 10-yard difference in field position. It’s not fourth and 10, its first and 10. We kept playing, I guess.
Uh. Well. I'm not sure I'd call it "darned if I do, darned if I don't." It's the fourth quarter. Your team is down by 20. As you said, you lost one or two minutes (which easily could have been more) by punting. Yes, I think we were all in disbelief, Coach Lewis, because it honestly doesn't seem like you care about winning.
Q: Cedric Ogbuehi gave up a few sacks, but overall what did you think of his performance?
ML: “We have to play better. Sometimes it looks like Cedric gave up the sack. You guys have your own estimation, and you can do that. But collectively, we have to play better. We don’t want our quarterback touched back there, and he was touched too often. It belongs to the entire football team. It belongs to us as a football staff in general. We have to do a better job.”
Q: Is your leash shorter or longer with Cedric, after his play a season ago?
ML: “Again, we’re going to keep getting better.”
TRANSLATION: Everyone saw that Ogbuehi was a mess, but what other option do we have?
COMMENTARY: When Bengals management let Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler leave, without putting forth much effort at all in keeping them, they pretty much flushed our offensive line's 2017-2018 season down the toilet like bad tofu once it's made its way through your system. The Rams, who signed Whitworth, have seen immediate benefits. They clobbered the Colts 46-9. Of course they did. Whitworth's presence improves their passing and running games, and--for this very reason--he has been named by "the Rams Wire" as the second most important player on their entire team.
The Browns, who signed Zeitler, still have a long way to go, but PFF's "above average" 80.2 score for his performance tells me that he's the equivalent of about three Ogbuehis.
So, what hope is there?
"We have to do a better job," as Lewis says. I translate that to mean: "This is the team we have, but I think we can all agree that it's not the team anyone wants."