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The Armchair Quarterback: Drawing straws and coming up short

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The Bengals dropped a critical contest on Sunday against their division rivals. What went wrong, and can it be fixed?

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In the last 11 contests between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens, Marvin Lewis’ squad has grabbed eight wins. Unfortunately, one of those eight was not on this Sunday, as the team saw their playoff chances dwindle with a tough loss on the road.

Both teams were down some very important players because of injury, but it was the Ravens’ rookie quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who came out on top. The loss did some major damage to the Bengals, as Baltimore unseated them for the No. 6 seed in the AFC with just six games left to play.

Looking back to this week really brought up some thoughts, wishes and major concerns. Just a warning: prepare yourself for some big-time Bengals cynicism ahead.

Lamar Jackson and Ravens’ high school offense gouge Bengals

Given the fact that Sunday was Jackson’s first start and he had primarily been used solely in run plays, Cincinnati’s defense had to extensively prepare for an elementary offense centered around run-pass option plays. Yet, even with the head coach and (former) defensive guru now heading the defense, the Bengals’ unit was embarrassed.

Almost every one of Jackson’s passes failed to even travel 15 yards through the air, yet Cincinnati failed to have any answers for some very basic concepts. Sure, injuries and a lack of tape on the rookie didn’t help, but these type of performances from unfamiliar quarterbacks are a troubling trend under Lewis.

Recently, Mark Sanchez, T.J. Yates, Robert Griffin III and Deshaun Watson all had varying degrees of success against Lewis’ Bengals, netting an inexplicable 5-1 record in their rookie years versus Cincinnati. There are differing opinions as to why this continues to take place, but whichever you choose likely falls into a similar category of the Bengals struggling out of their bye week (by the way, John Harbaugh is now 9-2 after the Ravens’ bye).

All of this aside, an NFL defense was absolutely gouged by a rookie quarterback, undrafted rookie running back and an offense that’s commonplace on autumnal Friday nights. Now just watch as the teams Jackson and Baltimore face in the coming weeks stifle this extremely vanilla offense.

Watching the Rams and Chiefs feels like a completely different league of football

Did you watch the marquee Monday night matchup? If not, you missed arcade game-style football that was immensely fun to watch on a number of levels.

Sure, the defenses for both the Rams and Chiefs are underachieving, but not nearly to the level of the Bengals’ unit. And, like most other defenses who face Kansas City, Los Angeles and/or New Orleans, they’re constantly on their heels with the talent and innovation those offenses consistently show.

Any other Bengals fan out there feel like this when watching the game the other night?

Aside from the talent, exciting offenses and opportunistic defenses, there was a major difference in atmosphere during this contest. Sure, that’s bound to happen when both squads were 9-1, but the amount of talent, innovation, excitement, tension and fun both sidelines exuded proved just how far away the Bengals are from the league’s current elite teams.

As odd as it sounds to say it, given Cincinnati’s blowout losses to the Chiefs and Saints, talent disparity isn’t the biggest problem here. The youth, both on the Monday night rosters and in the coaching staffs, are injecting the players with positive energy and, as they say, it can be infectious.

Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Sean McVay and so many others were jumping up and down, visibly having fun. Obviously, there is a limit that a professional team has in reining this in, but fun both comes with and causes winning cultures.

This Bengals staff and its players don’t appear to be having anywhere near as fun as these two teams and it’s both affecting and becoming a by-product the season.

Marvin Lewis continues to confuse us all with his rationale

“Learning something” from a 265-yard rushing allowance and another all-around poor defensive performance? A backhanded comment about Auden Tate when Cody Core dropped a critical pass this week?

Lewis continues to exude behavior that shows his disdain for the media, as well as his opinion that fans know very little about the day-to-day operations of the team. True, we’re not all privy to watching every second of every practice, but sometimes the eyes don’t lie.

Like, for instance, aren’t wide receivers supposed to be able to catch at the NFL level?

Look, special teams is a critical and unheralded aspect of the team. All squads need competent players in the third facet of football, but at the sacrificing of needed talent elsewhere?

To be fair, we shouldn’t pile on Tate and/or Core so heavily. After all, they are in the top 5% or so of athletes in the world, making it to the professional level. And, the team may not have been placed in the precarious position they were on that fateful 4th-and-3 if they had actually tried to add some outside help to aid the offense’s personnel attrition.

Still, with Lewis’ faith in Core these past three seasons, you’d think an NFL receiver could make a four-yard catch in a critical situation.

Some eye-opening stats and analytics:

The defense is letting the team down to be sure, but how much of that is actually on the offense? Paul Dehner, Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer did the courtesy of conducting some research to highlight the terrible carousel the Bengals have been on in this 1-4 stretch.

For those who are new around these parts, referencing 2001 and the Cincinnati Bengals isn’t exactly bringing up fond memories. As this season seems inevitably headed for yet more disappointment, we can hear the excuses from the powers-that-be pointing to injuries and Teryl Austin’s hire as reasons to once again be optimistic in 2019.

To further the point of the struggles of the offense and defense playing into each other, leading to the 1-4 slide recently, we can look at the rankings in critical categories for the Bengals.

Cincinnati’s also the worst in the league in getting off of the field on third down, but who’s counting? In some respects, one has to marvel at how the team actually has five wins this year, given these rankings.

Should we begin to question the competency of the medical staff once again?

One of the Bengals’ prized free agent acquisitions of 2018, linebacker Preston Brown, was placed on Injured Reserve on Tuesday. It’s just the latest in an incredible streak of bad luck in this regard for the Bengals in 2018.

Bad luck aside, there have been some questionable timelines and dealings with injuries once again this year. Sure, some of that has to do with players misspeaking about their own ailments (Billy Price), but guys also continue to re-tweak certain issues.

Are they being treated properly?

Only the medical staff and those within the Bengals’ organization can properly answer, but given the team’s spotty history in this regard, it’s easy to question the competency here. They supposedly made some improvements a few years back, but the injuries continue to pile up on them.

Now, the medical staff can’t do anything about major freak issues like what happened with Tyler Eifert, but we’re also referencing the rehab processes. Some of these guys continue to leave the lineup with nagging injuries, pointing to the team either rushing them out there too soon, or to the treatment they have received not being optimum.

This accusation may be one that is grasping at straws a bit, but this is an organization that doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the smaller operational details of the franchise. Every team suffers injuries throughout an NFL season, but the Bengals’ just seem to be more severe and long-lingering than a lot of other clubs.