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Marvin Lewis needs to change his thought process to get the Bengals back on track

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The Bengals’ perpetual stagnation is evident in their long-time head coach’s choice of words.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Marvin Lewis generally doesn’t say much in interviews, but if you listen closely, he’ll sometimes reveal his thought process a little bit. In this week’s postgame press conference, Lewis made some comments that Bengals fans should find concerning.

Passive Defense

When Lewis was asked about the defensive problems and if the issue was scheme he responded with: “I’m not going to get into any observations today with that.” The question that followed politely asked if Teryl Austin needed to be fired. Lewis responded, “Again, I’m not going to talk about any of that stuff.”

This is a big problem. Lewis is a defensive minded coach who got his job years ago based off of coaching one of the best defensive units of all-time. He has a first-year defensive coordinator and a unit that has played awful throughout the season. The way he answered the second question implies that he thinks the scheme and the defensive staffing are the same thing.

How has he not gotten himself involved in fixing this problem? When a unit is struggling, the head coach needs to get involved. For Lewis not to have dedicated himself to work with Austin towards fixing their issues at this point in the season is inexcusable. This is especially true for a coach who cut his teeth on the defensive side of the ball and should have plenty of expertise and knowledge to share.

Now that the Bengals have moved on from Austin and Lewis is taking over the defense, why did he not get involved with the defense sooner?

Offensive Behavior

When asked about Joe Mixon seemingly disappearing in the second half, Lewis talked about how trailing as well as being in long distance situations results in teams not running the ball. The reporter then clarified that he meant getting the ball to Mixon in general, not just as a runner. Lewis said, “Again, the offense unfolds based on coverages, defenses and so forth. Andy (Dalton) does a good job of distributing the football based on what he sees.”

This is a troubling response. Sure, the offense is a system and the quarterback must distribute the ball according to his reads — this is all true. But in the modern NFL, offenses are designed to get the ball into the hands of the guys who can do the most with it. Mixon had 65 receptions in two years of college and averaged close to 14 yards per reception. In seven games this season, he has just 21 receptions and is averaging just 6.6 yards per reception.

Mixon is more than capable of making plays in the pass game and particularly with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert injured, he needs to be a bigger part of this part of the offense. While Lewis does not call the plays, his dodging the question is disturbing.

Deflecting responsibility

Lewis was asked about the team’s confidence following such a demoralizing loss. “Obviously your confidence gets shaken,” Lewis said. “I just addressed that with them. They have to focus and get determined. It’s their job to do it right.”

Actually, it is his job to get it right. A team that has lost three of its last four games including a heart-breaking, one score loss to a bitter rival and two blowouts, needs a strong leader to rally around. Does he need to give a “ra-ra” speech? Absolutely not. He just needs to take ownership of where his team is currently, and have a plan to pull them out of the abyss.

When the 2014 New England Patriots got destroyed by the Kansas City Chiefs dropping their record to 2-2, Bill Belichick had his greatest sound bite of all time. Belichick, like Lewis, says next to nothing in press conferences, but in this case he showed it doesn’t take a Winston Churchill style “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech to rally the troops. In his post game interview Belichick famously stated “We’re on to Cincinnati” ad nauseam.

What did this do? It sent the message he wanted to send to his team in a very public way that they couldn’t ignore. When they opened the paper; it was there. When they turned on the radio; it was there. Those simple words focused his team on their next goal and not dwelling on the loss. The Patriots moved on quickly, scoring the first 14 points against the Bengals in the next week on their way to a 43-17 win. The Patriots would of course go on to win the Super Bowl that year as well.

Lewis’ responses to these post-game questions seem to show a lack of understanding about the role of a head coach and how to win in the NFL. The Bengals are a team with some talent who could make an impressive showing if they were led in the right direction.