Fan bases can often become sensitive to media members and the bashing of their favorite team. While most talking heads on TV and the radio attempt to remain unbiased, there are still a handful of folks who can't hide their hatred or adoration for particular clubs. In the case of the Bengals, FOX Sports' Colin Cowherd, NFL Network's Marshall Faulk and ESPN's Tedy Bruschi are all guys who seem to disparage the team most often.
Recently, Bruschi and the NFL Live crew at ESPN began predicting the chances of 2016 division winners and, as is often the case, the Steelers received the highest percentages to win the AFC North. Aside from Bruschi giving Pittsburgh a 50 percent chance to win the division and the Bengals a 25 percent shot, the former Patriots linebacker pointed at the loss of Hue Jackson negatively impacting the team, while calling the Bengals "a team that gets disinterested at times".
On the surface, it seems like a reach as an effort to conjure up some sort of an excuse for Marvin Lewis' 0-7 postseason record and five straight first round losses since 2011. And as previously mentioned, it's sometimes hard to take someone overly serious when they have a reputation as being a "hater'. But, is there actually merit to Bruschi's bold proclamation?
What Supports the Claim:
Human Nature: Though it's never been proven and no one in the locker room will say so, even the most talented players can get bored with a lack of challenge and/or pushing for another level of performance. Those who have played sports at any relatively high level know the toll a season can take, both physically and mentally, so some "paycheck players" might be inclined to mail it in at the end of the season.
Stale Messages: Lewis seems to be well-liked by his players and annually gets them to the postseason, but the team falters in the most intense moments and against the stiffest competition. Maybe the schtick-y slogans and his being more of a "player's coach" just don't resonate with players who have seen it all over the years with the Bengals. The constant "let's go" as Lewis' sideline rallying cry instead of a higher level of accountability might be an unsung contributor to the team's incessant first round postseason exits.
A Former Player has the Pulse of an NFL Locker Room: For all of his Bengal-bashing, Bruschi was part of an NFL locker room for 13 seasons--and one that has been the envy of every team since 2001. Only pro players and coaches truly understand the daily dynamics of an NFL locker room and maybe Bruschi, who also likely still has some inside connections around the league, senses something the average fan doesn't from the outside.
Hue Jackson: Bruschi's claim of disinterest comes with the connection to the Bengals losing their creative offensive coordinator this offseason. After taking over for Jay Gruden, Jackson oversaw fantastic seasons from Jeremy Hill in 2014 and Andy Dalton in 2015, making him a hot candidate this offseason. Ken Zampese takes over and will likely employ many of the same concepts, but Jackson was creatively unconventional, which Bruschi thinks inspired the team to a franchise-best 12 wins (tied with the 1988 season). Zampese held the quarterback coach job with the Bengals since 2003, so there is a little bit of worry as to why he hasn't been a hotter commodity around the league and why the team passed him up twice previously for Gruden and Jackson.
Why the Claim is Rubbish:
Generating Interest: Sometimes making outlandish remarks, especially when commenting on the most popular sport in America, gets attention--even if there is little merit. Bruschi may just be reaching for something to create interest in one of the slower months of the NFL calendar year. It's kind of akin to the media's usage of the "just because" reasoning with the AFC North and defaulting to the Steelers as automatic champs.
The 2014 Offseason: Most on the outside felt the Bengals would take a major step back two years ago when they lost Gruden and Mike Zimmer in the same offseason. Personally, I feel Gruden was a bit under-appreciated in Cincinnati by some fans, but Zimmer was every bit as valuable to the Bengals as Jackson. Even with the massive coaching turnover, the team still won 10 games amidst a slew of major injuries.
Overall Roster Talent: Lewis and the front office have built one of the strongest overall teams in the league. And while it hasn't translated to playoff wins, there is no reason to believe they can't continue to be a stout opponent in 2016. Just take a look at the end of last season: after an MVP-like season, Dalton went down and the team went 2-1 with AJ McCarron as a starter to end the regular season, while almost pulling off an improbable win in the playoffs.
Conclusions to Draw:
Between losing Jackson, two of their top three wide receivers, and relying on other unproven players to step into starting roles this offseason, there is cause for concern. But Bruschi's claim seems to contradict the annual high draft grades the Bengals receive and, even after five straight postseason appearances, Cincinnati just can't get the benefit of the doubt.
There isn't really a way to prove Bruschi's "disinterest theory", and the proof will only be seen when the Bengals take the field in 2016. While Bruschi didn't exactly say the Bengals would miss the playoffs altogether this season, he made it sound as if they will be a crippled version of what they were.
Do you think the Bengals are a disinterested football team?