We take a momentary break from your regularly scheduled programing to introduce a story of interest for Bengals fans. Maybe not all Bengals fans. Maybe it's just me. The Washington Redskins are headed to Minnesota in a media-loving story that features two teams led by former Bengals coordinators. On Jan. 9, 2014, the Redskins hired former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. A week later, on Jan. 16, 2014, the Vikings hired former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer as their head coach.
Now, the two are leading their respective teams against each other, and Zimmer doesn't like it.
"I honestly don't like going against my friends, just because at the end of the day, one of us is going to be upset," Zimmer said. "It is what it is and so I'm sure he'll have his team ready to play. Hopefully I’ll have mine ready to play."
After taking over a 5-10-1 Vikings team and faced with swirling controversy with Adrian Peterson (and to a smaller degree, Jerome Simpson) and multiple starting quarterbacks, Zimmer has won three games this year (St. Louis Rams, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
"When you look at everything the Vikings have gone through, the fact that Zimmer has kept this team focused enough to even get to 3-5 is pretty impressive," said Christopher Gates, who manages The Daily Norseman. "I think that Mike Zimmer definitely has what it takes to be the long-term answer in Minnesota."
The Cincinnati Bengals defense ranked No. 27 in 2007. After firing Chuck Bresnahan, Cincinnati hired Mike Zimmer, who was disgruntled and free after a less-than-memorable situation in Atlanta. In his first season with the Bengals, the defense improved 15 positions to No. 12. In four out of the last five seasons, Zimmer's defense never ranked worse than seventh. Seven games into the 2014 season, the Bengals defense is already ranked No. 30 (with an uncharacteristic number of injuries).
So where Zimmer was strongest in Cincinnati, he has made stronger in Minnesota.
"His impact has obviously been seen on the defensive side of the ball," said Gates. "In 2013, the Vikings' defense held an opponent to 20 or fewer points just twice. This season, they've already done it five times. The defense is light years better than it was last season, and given the relative youth of the Minnesota defense, you can't help but think the foundation is being set for a top-notch unit going forward. He's also not afraid to hold guys accountable. He called out (Vikings receiver) Cordarrelle Patterson for not getting open earlier this season, and he has gotten some outstanding individual performances from players that were mired in mediocrity (or worse) last season."
In his five questions with The Daily Norseman, one of the writers for Hogs Haven (SB Nation's Washington Redskins site) wrote an extensive response about the direction of Jay Gruden.
I was fine with the hire, but Mike Zimmer was one of the top guys I wanted the Redskins to hire. I liked the idea of a Head Coach with a defensive background paired with a strong Offensive Coordinator to work with Griffin. Instead we got an offensive-minded, former QB at head coach, and retained Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett, not the ideal start. As far as Gruden as a coach, I like his style and the way he handles the media. He can be too honest at times, but I'm sure that will change over time dealing with the media.
The season started off poorly, and injuries and losses started adding up to a poor opinion of Gruden within the fanbase. One of the big issues has been the struggles in the running game, which has been a staple of Washington Redskins football. Gruden has admitted that he has gone away from the run after games, and regretted it, but he is working to improve that. The Redskins have a lot of receiving weapons, but the instability at QB should have meant healthy doses of Alfred Morris, but it will get fixed. Griffin's return should also help the run. Gruden's only in his first year, and still needs to fix the offensive line and other areas, but he will be a good coach here going forward. I'll never understand fans that want to fire a coach after one season.
We've been saying that for years! The running game part.
Gruden is also 3-5 during his first season as Washington's head coach, with wins against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Dallas -- obviously a huge win (on Monday Night Football) and evidence that Marvin Lewis' track-record didn't follow Gruden back to Washington -- the last team Lewis coached before the Bengals. But Gruden's Redskins were destroyed by the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football. Fair point. We'll leave that storyline as "pending".
Washington's offense is ranked No. 7 in the NFL, nine spots better than Cincinnati. The irony continues. After Bob Bratkowski pieced together top-10 offenses from '05 through '07, the Bengals dipped to No. 20 by 2010 (and were dead-last in 2008, minus starting quarterback Carson Palmer or any running game until Cedric Benson took over). Jay Gruden took over and the offense ranked No. 20, then 22 before landing inside the top-10 in 2013. Gruden departed and Hue Jackson was promoted. Now, the Bengals are ranked No. 16.
In other words, when a hated offensive coordinator finally departs (whether or not it's of his own will), the result is either the same or worse. Obviously it takes time for new coordinators to make an impact, but we know that within 2-3 years, Jackson will be despised and forced to leave. Welcome to Cincinnati... for now.
And in case you're wondering... per the NFL's current schedule rotation, the Bengals won't play Washington until 2016 and Minnesota in 2017.