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The Bengals’ placekicking competition that isn’t and why it matters

The frustration isn’t that Randy Bullock could be the Bengals’ placekicker; it’s that Marvin Lewis dismisses any competition at all.

Indianapolis Colts v Cincinnati Bengal Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A bit of controversy was ignited on Saturday night when placekicker Jonathan Brown crushed a 55-yard field goal, putting the Bengals on the board with 12:01 remaining in the third.

The first-team offensive line with scattered first-team skill players struggled behind quarterback Jeff Driskel, who needed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the Cowboys on third down to sustain an unsustainable drive. Cedric Ogbuehi, an untenable experiment that should end, unintentionally sabotaged Cincinnati’s efforts to score by allowing a quarterback sack while also being flagged for an offensive hold.

Despite all of that, Brown’s boom stick crushed a 55-yarder, which ignited a firestorm on social media and this website.

Surely the team is impressed enough to establish open competition, right?

“He apparently has no job, either, because while head coach Marvin Lewis said Brown did a great job he also said there is no kicking competition and that would indicate Randy Bullock is the guy,” writes Geoff Hobson at the mothership.

Wait.

What?

I understand not wanting to replace a veteran with an unproven, inexperienced rookie. That never happens in Cincinnati anyway (well, until Jessie Bates). However, not allowing competition is rather bullheaded, strong-headed, and an obvious example of Lewis being set in his ways, which often becomes a liability for the team’s development.

Many are bracing for the inevitable “mistake” that Cincinnati is going to make by keeping Bullock over Brown. If the story sounds familiar, it’s exactly what they did last year when they placed rookie draft pick Jake Elliott on the team’s practice squad, opening the door for Philadelphia — needing a new placekicker after Caleb Sturgis was placed on Injured Reserve — to pluck him away.

Poor Bullock, who has done nothing but make field goals in Cincinnati.

During his first full season with Cincinnati, Bullock converted 90 percent of his attempts, including a 51-yarder, and six of eight field goals over 40 yards. Bullock missed two extra points, but Elliott missed three with the Eagles, while only converting 83.9 percent of his field goal attempts — three of which were misses between 30-39 yards.

Where Elliott dominates (long kicks), Bullock isn’t accurate. Cincinnati allowed Bullock to attempt one field goal longer than 50 yards. He made it. Could they have attempted other long-distance field goals, changing the outcome of games?

  • They were blown out against Baltimore (Week 1), Pittsburgh (Week 7), Jacksonville (Week 9), Chicago (Week 14), and Minnesota (Week 15). Additional field goal attempts would have made a minimal impact.
  • They crossed midfield against Houston five times, three resulting in field goals (Bullock’s contribution) and two punts; if they attempted field goals instead of punts, they would have resulted in 60-plus yard shots.
  • Cincinnati crossed midfield three times during the 20-24 loss to the Titans — two touchdowns and a field goal. There were no chances for a long field goal.
  • During their 23-20 loss to the Steelers, Cincinnati crossed midfield four times and scored points on each possession — two touchdowns and two field goals.

Where could have Elliott made an impact in those games that Bullock didn’t already?

However, Elliott does have a big boom stick. In addition to converting five of six 50-plus yard field goals, Elliott also claimed these records in 2017:

  • Longest field goal by a rookie (61 yards)
  • Longest field goal by a rookie in the playoffs (53 yards)
  • Longest field goal by a rookie in a Super Bowl (46 yards)

Elliott also secured several franchise records in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Bullock did what he was asked and made a few key kicks.

  • Converted a 46-yard field goal with 3:51 remaining in the fourth against Green Bay. This forced the Packers to score a touchdown to send the game into overtime. The Packers won because... Aaron Rodgers.
  • Kicked a 29-yard field goal with 3:33 remaining in the fourth against Buffalo, forcing the Bills to score a touchdown to take a lead. George Iloka intercepted a Tyrod Taylor pass and Joe Mixon stomped for 10 yards a few plays later, allowing Andy Dalton to call victory formation and take three knees. OK, big deal. A 29-yard field should be made no matter the situation. True. And Bullock made it.
  • His 51-yarder against Detroit gave Cincinnati a 19-17 lead with 4:47 remaining in the fourth.

Alternatively, Bullock missed an extra point against Tennessee, a game lost by four points. Had he made it, Cincinnati wouldn’t have needed to spend its last possession attempting to score a game-tying touchdown.

While Brown is becoming a darling in Cincinnati, he’s also untested under pressure situations. Preseason kicks early in the third quarter and training camp conversions are meaningless. We already know he can kick. It’s why he’s here. How can he kick when the game is on the line?

The frustrating thing isn’t that Bullock is their guy — if he won last year’s competition, he won. Simple as that. What’s frustrating is that there’s no attempt to see what more Brown can do, beyond giving Bullock a break to rest his leg for the regular season. There’s no competition. No effort to see if Brown is an adequate improvement over Bullock. That’s the age of Marvin Lewis.