Traditionally-speaking, the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders have a lot of similarities in their respective histories.
Both of their architects are on the NFL’s Mount Rushmore, but those ownership families have experienced both massive success and embarrassing failures. Of course, Oakland has three Super Bowl Championships to the Bengals’ zero, but many of their operational practices and familial thumbprints coincide.
The two teams don’t necessarily clash on an annual basis, but there have been some iconic contests between them. One of the most (in)famous is the 1990 Divisional Playoff game, wherein Raiders’ star running back, Bo Jackson, had his NFL career essentially end with an injury.
“The Curse of Bo Jackson” was born for the Bengals, as they have yet to win a postseason game since that bracket nearly 30 years ago. Oakland has won some postseason games, but have only one postseason berth in the past 16 seasons since Jackson’s hip dislocation in January of 1991.
Essentially, the family-based operational practices of both teams have tripped them up in their recent histories. Oakland still covets speed over other football traits and have cycled through a number of quarterbacks since Rich Gannon’s 2002 MVP campaign. Derek Carr has steadied the ship a bit over the past six seasons, but he’s had an up-and-down career, too.
Meanwhile, as folks readily know around these parts, Cincinnati is finalizing their fourth-consecutive losing season. It’s been quite the one-eighty from the five preceding playoff seasons, but a lethal combination of injuries, ineffective draft classes and inactivity in outside free agency have all led to a massive franchise freefall from grace.
While both the Raiders and Bengals can be considered as teams in transition this year, they are heading in completely opposite directions at the moment. Oakland, while having one eye on the bright lights of Las Vegas, sits above .500 after the midway point of the year, while new Bengals coach Zac Taylor is still searching for his first win as a pro head coach.
When you look at the second iteration of the Jon Gruden era in Oakland, a Bengals fan could grab some hope for the future. Last year before the trade deadline, the Raiders traded away two guys who were deemed their best players on offense and defense in Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack, respectively.
Cooper has become a go-to guy in Dallas, while Mack grabbed a First-Team All-Pro nomination last year with the Bears. When Oakland finished 4-12 last year, those moves became an easy target as to the perceived ineptitude of Gruden and the Davis family.
Well, with the addition of Mike Mayock as General Manager and the execution of two successful first-round picks, a different tune is being sung about the Rai-dahs in 2019. They’re 5-4 and in the AFC West hunt, which is a marvel, considering the additional fiasco that was the Antonio Brown trade this past offseason.
Rookie running back Josh Jacobs, the second of the two first-round picks, is nearing a 1,000-yard campaign and already has seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, Clelin Ferrell, the defensive lineman who was the No. 4 overall pick, has 3.5 sacks to his name—which is a higher total than any single Bengals defensive lineman this year.
We’re not sure what’s in store the rest of the year for Oakland, but things definitely appear to be heading in the right direction in the Mayock-Gruden regime. It’s amazing what hiring personnel men can do, eh?
It also gives a blueprint for Taylor, who will be entering his second season in another dysfunctional franchise, to institute a quick turnaround in 2020. That’s another discussion for another time, though.
Last week, Taylor tried to ignite some form of a spark for an 0-8 team by giving rookie quarterback Ryan Finley the start. Unfortunately, it yielded similar results to the previous eight games.
Finley flashed a couple of nice plays on film, but predictable rookie struggles—both because of inexperience and Finley’s college tape—were on display. Still, if you were to be giving Finley a grade for his 167-yard, one touchdown performance versus the Ravens, “Incomplete” would probably be apropos.
After taking just three snaps on offense, Finley was down 14-0 towards the end of the first quarter, while familiar offensive line issues emerged. It remains to be seen what Finley can show in the remaining seven games of the 2019 season, but most signs are pointing to Cincinnati using its top pick on a quarterback in next year’s draft.
Still, should we write off the youngster completely after just one start? After all, this is the guy Taylor wanted (the only drafted quarterback with which they had a pre-draft visit) and, as mentioned above, it’s hard to get a grasp on his abilities after one start with a depleted roster.
If the Bengals are to give Finley the best chance to be successful, they’ll need to feed Joe Mixon once again and give him some semblance of the ability to sell play-action. Between Mixon’s 100-yard performance and Finley’s perceived comfort to navigate inside and outside of the pocket, we may finally get to see the truest form of Taylor’s offense come to fruition against the Raiders this Sunday. Oakland does have the 26th-ranked defensive unit, including its being 30th in defending the pass, if we’re picking nits.
Further muddying the waters is Cincinnati’s inconsistent record when traveling out west. They have grabbed a couple of recent wins against the then-San Diego Chargers and one against the Raiders when Carr had an early exit from an injury back in 2015, but the West Coast hasn’t always been friendly to the Bengals.
As it goes with a poorly-performing team, a momentum swing can snowball. At 0-9, these swings have become avalanches in which Cincinnati has failed to escape.
If they want to grab their first win, the Bengals need to be the ones at the top of the hill tossing the initial clump of snow. That’s going to start with the team putting Finley in a far less precarious position at the onset of the contest, and the rookie quarterback taking advantage of a closer game than that of Week 10 against the Ravens.
Even though it’s a road contest, this should be a bit closer than last Sunday. The result and issues will be similar, though, as Cincinnati is undoubtedly looking to the 2020 offseason.
Bengals 17, Raiders 31
AC — Walking the plank.