It’s still weird to see Marvin Lewis be anything other than the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s even weirder to hear him talk about the team he no longer coaches.
Lewis made his broadcasting debut Sunday when he was one of the two analysts for NFL Network calling the AAF matchup between the Salt Lake Stallions and Arizona Hotshots. Yesterday, he was invited to talk on NFL Live and speak on some current hot topics surrounding the NFL, like Kyler Murray and minority head coaches.
Eventually, the program shifted the dialogue towards the Bengals, the team Lewis coached for the previous 16 seasons. When asked about the team, Lewis elaborated on a familiar point.
“They’ve got to go and fix the offensive line. The offensive front will be a big focus for the Cincinnati Bengals to continue to lean on Joe Mixon’s abilities, and the abilities of Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green and the guys they have. ...Offensively, I think, we’ve got to go and restructure, retool the offensive line a little bit. I said, ‘We.’ Excuse me! Excuse me! (Laughs.)”
Fixing the offensive line seemed to be the focal point of last offseason, evident by the trade for left tackle Cordy Glenn and the selection of center Billy Price in the first round. While the offensive line improved in some areas, the clear and self-imposed weaknesses at right guard and right tackle limited what the unit could’ve been.
Self-imposed being the keyword.
Ultimately it was Lewis’ call to start Alex Redmond and Bobby Hart for the entire season. Hart wasn’t originally seen as a legitimate option to start when he was signed almost exactly one year ago, but sure enough, he won the job relatively early in training camp. The team didn’t even so much as address the tackle position in the draft, knowing that Hart was the only addition to a competition that included Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher.
Redmond was also viewed with an outside chance to start over fellow teammates Trey Hopkins and Christian Westerman, but sure enough, he was given the job. The problem was, he proved very early on in the season he was not starting material, yet was not challenged up until the very end of the season.
Even at the center position, Lewis and his staff could’ve handled that situation more proactively. When Hopkins put together solid performance after solid performance at center when Price was injured, he was benched for a struggling Price as soon as he was healthy enough to return. By season’s end, it was very possible two of the Bengals’ best five offensive linemen were forced to sit on the bench for most of the season.
And that’s on Lewis.
Nevertheless, Lewis is right about Cincinnati’s current situation up front. They still need to find a real upgrade at right tackle, along with clarity at right guard and center. It’s safe to assume that Price will retain his spot and Westerman remains the best option at right guard, but do we really want to assume what the new regime believes? We need to retrain what we think we know about the Bengals now that Lewis isn’t calling the shots.
Lewis also expanded on the rest of the AFC North and how the Bengals fit in the divisional picture now: “It’s an odd situation to not have a defensive coordinator at this point,” Lewis added. “I think the biggest challenge all the time is everybody wants to point to what the (Bengals) haven’t done. Let’s talk about what they have done and continue to build upon that and move forward and get it done. But you’re in a tough division and I think that’s the thing we’re talking about the Baltimore Ravens. And now we’re talking about the Cleveland Browns. And we know how good the Pittsburgh Steelers are. So we build a football team to be at the top of that division, and they’ve got to get back there in order to do that.”
It’s true, Lewis and his staff did build a team to be at the top of the AFC North. He ended up at the top multiple times in his 16 seasons, but it was his failure to evolve that hindered him from doing it again when it mattered and going beyond just a divisional title.
The objectives to get better are clear for Lewis’ replacement Zac Taylor, even Lewis can see them. The question now is will Taylor be able to make the right decisions that Lewis couldn’t.