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The Armchair Quarterback: Emotional decisions

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Cincinnati needs to find answers quickly if they want to get their season back on track.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Three weeks ago, this Bengals team seemed as if they were on track for a very special season. Starting off 4-1 with three dramatic wins and another on primetime television made us believers in the squad.

However, two terrible losses in completely different fashions have brought out the Who Dey cynics from the woodwork. Unfortunately, those of us who have watched decades of Bengals football have had the eerie feeling of deja vu the past two weeks.

Some of what we cover below may be rehashing old issues we’ve talked about here before, but the blowout loss has caused us to reassess many aspects of this team.

The “primetime stigma” is real and Marvin Lewis is the primary culprit:

Among Bengals fans, there has been a divisive argument about if the “primetime issues” are tangible hindrances to this team, if it’s a mere coincidence, or if it’s simply a by-product of Cincinnati playing the better teams in the league. After all, primetime contests are the NFL’s attempt to showcase the best of their product.

In truth, it’s probably a combination of all three factors. But, one argument weighs heavier than others.

Under the Marvin Lewis renaissance since 2003, the league has taken notice of the Bengals and their rise back to competitiveness and regular relevance in the AFC playoff picture. Yet, whether it’s on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and/or Monday night, Cincinnati has frequently embarrassed themselves and the league.

The latest example was this Sunday night against the Chiefs, of course, as Lewis’ crew lost by five touchdowns after seemingly “earning” the spot after a 4-1 start. All three phases of the team had significant failures throughout the game, and the images conjured up painful memories from the 1990s.

With the loss, Lewis’ Bengals are 1-9 on Sunday nights and 1-17 on the road in primetime games. That’s so embarrassing that the only logical reaction might be to laugh.

Look, even the NBC production crew highlighted (in a hokey Halloween-themed way) the woes of the Bengals on the big stage. This is beyond coincidence, folks, it’s a theme.

There are a couple of reasons to point to as to why. One is that the Bengals are often slated against a familiar foe or coach they’ve often faced in the Lewis era. These teams and their respective coaches have quite a few notes on Lewis and his teams’ tendencies.

But, shouldn’t that also work into the Bengals’ favor?

Quarterback Andy Dalton often plays poorly in these big games as well. Sunday night was no exception, but Lewis has suffered similar major losses with Carson Palmer, Jon Kitna and AJ McCarron at the helm.

It isn’t just the actual losses at this point. It’s in the absolutely abhorrent way the Bengals “perform” in so many of these contests. There’s an old adage that a team often takes on the personality of their coach(es).

Well, Cincinnati looks unprepared, tentative and downright scared when the sun goes down and the lights shine bright. In sports, confidence, even in the most daunting of matchups, comes with proper preparation and quality game-planning.

You can take whatever conclusion you will from that philosophy and the Bengals’ results in primetime. Yes, the teams the Bengals face on the national stage are often some of the better ones in the league. But, if you’re truly a contender, you have to learn to beat those teams in differing time slots and venues if you’re ever going to be a championship team.

This face just truly says it all:

Where’s the emotion and fire?

There is a fine line for a team and professional players to walk when it comes to airing out grievances. Explode on the coaching staff in front of the media and you’re labeled a “distraction”; call a “players only meeting” and you’re a great leader.

Still, I’m curious where the anger is in this team. Sure, they showed a lot of animation during the Steelers game and with the on-field fracas right after, but the reactions to that loss seemed more akin to exasperation and borderline apathy, as opposed to frustration and channeling that into on-field anger.

“Insanity is when you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results,” Proclaimed Carlos Dunlap, who seemed relatively calm after the loss to the Steelers. “We made some mistakes that we made before. We’ve got to learn from them. Once again.”

The Bengals failed to learn from those mistakes and possibly how to prepare for a huge primetime game. Dunlap did come up with an “out-executed” remark after the Kansas City debacle, but the team looked like they didn’t even want to be on the turf of Arrowhead Stadium.

Meanwhile, Dre Kirkpatrick said things were all copacetic after suffering a 35-point loss.

“I think we’ll be alright,” said Kirkpatrick, via Bengals.com. “Hell yeah. You can see the score and they obviously did some things that surprised us. As long as we don’t fall apart, I don’t care … I still think we’re in a good spot … There’s no panic … Let’s go back Monday, make the corrections and keep playing.”

Let’s be clear here: I’m not advocating for divisiveness or panic in the locker room. But, this team is under-achieving in many aspects, and if fans are as sick and tired of losing to the Steelers and on primetime in general, one would assume the players are as well and they’d show it in a more obvious way.

There is a major difference between reckless anger and channeled aggression, though. Adam Jones never grasped that concept while with the Bengals and Vontaze Burfict seems to continue to be figuring out the difference between the two as well.

The good news is that the Bengals’ leaders seem to be a bunch a level-headed guys. Still, somebody has to be an emotional catalyst to get this team to turn things around after this terrible two-game losing streak.

This team needs to get outside roster help:

Between injuries and ineffectiveness at certain positions, this team needs additional help. Sure, they’ll be getting back Giovani Bernard, Nick Vigil, Billy Price and Tyler Kroft back in the near future, but there are lucrative additions to be had before the trade deadline. Oh, and now John Ross looks to be out for another few weeks with a lingering groin issue.

If you were to ask Lewis or owner Mike Brown, they would likely tell you that this team is a contender this year. If they truly believe that, is it a safe strategy to wait around for important players to either magically improve and/or get healthy after more significant injuries while losses potentially pile up?

This isn’t a call for a mass exodus of players to Injured Reserve and/or the waiver wire. But, this team has areas where immediate improvements can be made.

The adding of outside talent also shows the team and its fan base that the powers-that be are truly committed to a championship run this season. You can laugh at the Cowboysdecision to give up a first round pick for Amari Cooper, but there is a rationale to Jerry Jones’ gunslinger ways of running “America’s Team”.

Dallas just lost a heartbreaker to the Redskins in what is still a wide-open NFC East race. They’ve rightfully identified a major issue on offense at the wide receiver position and have improved their roster.

This is what teams do who are serious about winning right away. It’s not just making moves simply for the sake of making moves, but getting guys who can help you now using proper logic. Cincinnati has the opportunity and the capital to do it, but we doubt this uber-conservative team will pull the trigger before the October 30th deadline.

The draft-centric approach provides an inherent problem for the Bengals:

Yes, Brown is also a major culprit in the primetime issues, but there are other organizational practices that need to come into question when these frustrating losses continue to occur like old reruns. Relying heavily on the draft is an wise overall strategy, especially with the affordability of young talent, but there are caveats.

Cincinnati has rarely been aggressive in outside free agency, usually picking up scraps, or grabbing mid-tier veterans on rental-like deals. It’s come with mixed results, usually with low-ceiling dividends.

This provides a tricky situation for the Bengals. Essentially, the team needs to hit on a higher percentage of their rookies than most other franchises. Or, the other alternative is that they need to absolutely hoard massive amounts of picks to increase the probability of positive hits on those young players.

Well, the latter has been the preference by Brown and the front office, usually in the form of compensatory picks. The problem is that the team is not holding up their bargain in the other part of the equation.

As we sit here today, the 2010 and 2011 draft classes have been a big reason for the team’s success from 2011-2015 and again this season. But, when you look at some of the high picks in the 2012-2018 classes, there are issues.

Bengals’ first round picks, 2012-2018:

2012: Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler

2013: Tyler Eifert

2014: Darqueze Dennard

2015: Cedric Ogbuehi

2016: William Jackson

2017: John Ross

2018: Billy Price

Additionally, this type of thing absolutely crushes a team’s chances to succeed when this bit of information is discovered (back from Week 6):

Why bring this up? Because this has been a major hindrance to team success over the past two and a half seasons. The Bengals need immediate impact players from the April festivities because of their lax approach to March, but are rarely getting what they need in recent classes.

Some of the issues plaguing the classes are out of their control (injuries), but it should be causing a re-examination to the offseason operational practices.

Do you want to continue to rely on the draft? Fine, but add more scouts and don’t be afraid to move up for the impact player you may actually covet. Otherwise, you’re going to need to go after some pretty decent outside free agents to bolster the roster should this bad luck continue.