Sometimes I have to feel sorry for my fans on Twitter while the Bengals are playing football. Though I try to maintain my professionalism as I'm associated to this great website, the inner fan in me comes out frequently and it's hard to look at things with an unbiased journalistic eye. I suppose that is what Twitter is for though, to act as a sort of momentary, quick photo into someone's thoughts and mindset.
On Sunday afternoon, after the mushroom cloud of a Bengals loss had begun to clear, I had a friendly debate with a few of my followers/friends on Twitter about whom the blame should reside. Cincy Jungle friend Joe Goodberry began the conversation with his take on "the blame game" and I followed suit blaming Marvin Lewis. A couple of our avid readers and even Who-Dey Weekly host Nick Seuberling got into the fray on this topic. Long story short, a "chicken or the egg" sort of back-and-forth ensued and I decided to type out on here why I stand firm in what I was saying over the Twitter airwaves.
First of all, in two consecutive games that were deemed important for the Bengals to win in an effort to become an AFC powerhouse, they dropped two eggs. The one in Miami can be excused for a number of reasons: the injuries, turnaround time from the previous game and the fact that they were on a four-game win streak against some impressive opponents. The one aspect that I can't forgive with the performance though is how they played after getting so much media coverage. One could say that they got fat by hearing how great they were for a month.
The performance this week against the Ravens though, was inexcusable. Baltimore is and was a struggling team, and the Bengals had a week and a half to both prepare for their next opponent and get healthy. To put three-plus hideous quarters of football with that much preparation speaks to coaching. Sure, the players have to execute as Goodberry and others stated, but the coaches are responsible for putting together a gameplan that is geared towards players' strengths, as well as putting their players in the position to feel confident in said gameplan. On offense, at least, we saw very little confidence.
So, blame Jay Gruden, right? I suppose one could, but who is his boss? Who is the man in charge of rallying his troops and making sure that they are aware of the stakes in a particular game, while balancing out the team with poise and confidence? In my estimation, it's Lewis. On Sunday, we didn't see it.
Blame the referees all that you would like, but the fact remains that Cincinnati's penalty yards in the first half were more than Baltimore's total yards. Yikes. Though he was in a tough spot on the fourth and two in overtime and it's possible that any decision he made there would be scrutinized, I don't feel that he made the correct decision--in consecutive weeks. I would have thought tthat Lewis would have learned his lesson about icing a young kicker last week. He didn't. In case you didn't hear, Justin Tucker's first overtime field goal attempt before Lewis used a timeout, was blocked by Cincinnati's special teams unit.
As if that isn't enough, there is Lewis' appalling primetime games record. If you include his 0-3 playoff record, the Bengals are 6-14 when the lights are shining the brightest. There are a number of other "big games" that were not in primetime that could be debated and weren't included in the above-mentioned stat, but that record speaks volumes. Almost always, a team takes on the personality of their coach. If Lewis is rattled, unprepared and/or not confident, his team will likely play in a similar fashion. Hence the .300 winning percentage in those 20 huge games.
I admire a lot of things that Lewis has done for Cincinnati since 2003, not to mention the fact that there is still a lot of football left to play so Lewis could vanquish a number of past demons with a deep postseason run this year. Yes, blame for Sunday's loss in Baltimore can be shared a number of places. However, sometimes with failure, you have to look upward to see some of the biggest culprits.
A.J. Green's Body Language and Attitude:
In a post of ours that we put up late Sunday evening, I noticed an interesting comment. The article talked about the greatness of A.J. Green's 2013 campaign, which is quickly shaping up to be one of, if not the greatest receiving year in club history. He currently leads the league in receiving yards (1,013), is second in receptions (65), is tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns(6) and is averaging over 100 yards per game. In short, he has been amazing.
Still, reader "steveinct" notes some things about Green that has been grinding his gears this year:
"That dude has been plucking at my nerves a little bit lately with his effort if things aren’t going his way. You should start that GIF above two plays earlier. Dalton almost didn’t get the snap off to spike the ball because AJ was loafing back to the line of scrimmage. Catching the hail mary "makes it all better" in most people’s eyes, but not in mine. We almost didn’t have a chance for that play because of his slacking a$$. I am not sure what his problem has been, but I don’t like some of what I have seen from him this year. That said, I love AJ and want him to be the best in the game AS A BENGAL!"
As hard as it is for me to admit, I don't disagree. There have been examples of poor body language from Green at times, especially when the game and/or the ball isn't coming his way. Even in the Hail Mary play, Green seemed to have given up hope until the ball was tipped to him--he was way away from the pile of bodies going up for the ball and looked disinterested. I can't complain, seeing as how he made a great play and caught the touchdown, nor do I know if they wrote it up that way so he could catch a likely tip, but he didn't seem very invested in the play until he found that he had a chance to at it.
There have also been numerous examples of Green not fighting for passes thrown his way. Some turned into interceptions, while others just fringed on disaster. On Sunday, the Bengals had the ball late and Andy Dalton threw a pass to Green where Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb jumped and almost picked it. Green barely put up any fight and it was lucky that Webb dropped it. Make no mistake--Green isn't the most physical wide receiver in the league, but a little more help would have been nice.
Green also isn't the most exciting interviewee, either. Perhaps it's because Bengaldom is still used to the Batman and Robin show that plagued the team pre-Green. But, the third-year wideout goes about his business and approaches the game similar to how the Texans' Andre Johnson does. Keep your head down, do your job and don't be an attention-monger. We can't hate him for that. The drops, however, have been maddening. There have been more than usual this year, but he also is one of the most-targeted receivers in the game, so he has a lot of overall opportunities.
It must be that fans are still sensitive about how the whole Chad Johnson/Ochocinco era ensued, with all of its ups and downs, that is making everyone uneasy. Some wonder if Green even likes Dalton as his quarterback, though I don't see how he couldn't, given the respect, notoriety and accolades that he has accumulated in his time as a Bengal. I also remember him being one of the most animated celebrators on the Bengals sideline when they pulled off that improbable win against Green Bay earlier this year.
Is it the team's direction, then? Perhaps, though I might find that hard to believe because of the outlook that surrounded this team when he was drafted No.4 overall. Picked by many to go 0-16 in his rookie year, the Bengals have made two straight postseason berths and are poised for their third in as many years. Green has been a major part of that positive one-eighty. While I'm sure that he wants more postseason success, he couldn't be all that displeased with where this team has been and is headed.
To be honest, I don't know what is going through Green's mind at the moment and he likely won't tell anyone in an interview. It seems as if the root of all of this concern lies in the worry that Green won't want to play in Cincinnati anymore, for whatever reason. If the team keeps winning and he keeps racking up Pro Bowls and club records, I don't know why he would want to leave. It's a good thing that that's a while down the road until Cincinnati has to face that fear.
For now, I'll chalk it up to a combination of being both a competitor and an NFL wide receiver. It's a Jekyll and Hyde, volatile personality mix, but Green seems to have it under control for the most part. Winning cures everything and even the small glimpses of frustration we have seen from him will likely disappear if/when the Bengals get back on track.