It’s not getting any better, folks.
After Zac Taylor made the controversial move to give Ryan Finley his first career start, a contingent of fans and pundits were cautiously-optimistic that a spark would ignite with the Bengals. Unfortunately, a lot of the same errors from the entire team were on display in Baltimore’s 49-13 dismantling of Cincinnati.
There were a couple of flashes from Finley that showed he may be able to make a few more plays than his predecessor, but overall, this 2019 Bengals team is a catastrophe. I mean, before Finley could blink and after running only three offensive plays, the first quarter was all but evaporated with the rookie signal-caller staring into a 14-0 hole.
As we know by now, this season was pretty much doomed from the get-go. Taylor was brought in late, thus he assembled his staff even further down the road (after seasoned coaches passed on the opportunity), while also losing three starting offensive linemen for 2019 because of various reasons (Jonah Williams, Cordy Glenn and Clint Boling), as well as A.J. Green and numerous other important guys to injury.
There was some sense that because he was inheriting a roster with another coach’s fingerprint on it, part of this year would be about looking at which personnel members will be sticking with the team past 2019. Still, Taylor and the Bengals’ front office attempted to sell us on the notion that they thought they could win now.
Yet, here we are at 0-9.
As I dissected the team’s most recent loss, one sentiment shared by some Bengals fans in our live postgame reactions was in the fact that they believe the team is intentionally playing poorly for draft positioning. This sentiment gained particular momentum after this weekend, given Cincinnati’s lopsided loss to the Ravens and in the NCAA’s version of the Super Bowl with LSU and Alabama facing off on Saturday.
Of course, that college game featured the likely top-two picks in next year’s draft in quarterbacks LSU’s Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. The common consensus is that the Bengals will take one of these two (or another signal-caller) with what is all but certain to be a top-five pick, given their currently-winless record.
Pointing to the team “tanking” could also be in the head coach publicly professing that they are in “evaluation mode”. While the team has its eyes on winning, it’s a strategy more based on levels of effort, who fits into future plans, etc.
At first blush, the overall notion of a team intentionally losing is outrageous—particularly at the professional level. But, as there are different looks to “tanking”, with the Miami Dolphins’ 2019 fire sale being the prime example, it’s often times hard to pinpoint what’s deliberate and what’s unintentional in the incessant losing.
I’m pretty confident in saying that the Bengals aren’t tanking for the rest of 2019 and there are a few reasons I’m certain in saying so.
Talent issues, injuries, coaching inexperience and other signs
First and foremost, obvious talent issues and coaching inexperience are crippling this team. We hate to single out one player, but when John Jerry, a lifetime guard in the NFL who didn’t even play in the league last year is your starting left tackle, that’s a problem.
From a coaching standpoint, it’s becoming painfully obvious that Taylor has bitten off more than he can chew by simultaneously calling offensive plays as a first-time head coach. He has also been handicapped on what effective things he can dial up without Green, Glenn, Williams, John Ross and others in the lineup.
If you were to look at the very few things the Bengals are doing well this year, the majority of them are on special teams. Randy Bullock is having a decent year at 13-of-15 on field goal attempts (86.7 percent), while Kevin Huber is having one of the best years of his career and kickoff returns have been a point of strength, thanks to Brandon Wilson and Darius Philips before his injury.
Is it any coincidence that this successful group is headed up by a seasoned and well-respected coach in Darrin Simmons? Conversely, the units of the triumvirate of newbie full-time coaches in Taylor, Brian Callahan and Lou Anarumo are showing major failures.
If none of these items were enough to persuade you, the lack of action by the Bengals at the trade deadline should be enough. Cincinnati didn’t jump into the yard sale fray with the Dolphins when they conceivably could have had an arsenal of picks to use in next year’s draft.
Long-term and short-term damage to team psyche with tanking
When you’re a new coach clinging to anything positive in an 0-9 season, going on a path of losing, especially in embarrassing fashion, isn’t a way to endear yourself to a locker room. This Bengals team has two borderline Hall of Fame players on it (Green and Geno Atkins), along with other great veterans like Carlos Dunlap, William Jackson III and more.
If there was actual intent for the team to lose in an effort to get high picks for the next year or two, you’re not going to get the blessing of 10-year veterans. Also, in a somewhat-relatable spin, think about being an employee in an organization as they tell you things will be rotten for the next year or two, but the hope is that light at the end of the tunnel will come.
What is the attitude of employees going to be on a daily basis when they know there isn’t an emphasis being placed on being immediately successful? And, even if the organization was promising a brighter future down the road, there are no guarantees the plan would be a resounding success—particularly when we’re talking about the NFL sphere and specifically the Cincinnati Bengals.
This team is also notorious for short-term free agency deals, when it comes to outside players. There are some “paycheck players” in the league, but many care about winning. With the average NFL career in the range of 2-3 years, would a team really risk losing the will of its employees with a deliberate tank job? This could ruin the ability of future deals with more players down the road.
Finally, what’s the type of culture that gets created with this type of sabotage? Cincinnati isn’t known as a beacon of NFL modernity, so any additional negative P.R. fuel to be added to the criticism fire would just continue to perpetuate preconceived notions.
Tanking can breed internal contempt, a lack of accountability and the “losing” of players. Taylor can ill-afford that and he probably senses that in an 0-9 season.
It’s a reasonable assumption to say the Bengals have packed it in and there may even be some logical arguments to be made in support of the notion. But, the unfortunate truth is that this Bengals team was not very talented from the jump and is decidedly less talented with the accrued injuries.
They’ll get a high pick because of those issues, not because they’re internally torpedoing things.
Also on tap for discussion in the postgame wrap-up:
- How many new starting offensive linemen are needed for the Bengals in 2020 from those we witnessed in the lineup on Sunday?
- What were the takeaways from Ryan Finley’s first start as an NFL quarterback?
- After the LSU-Alabama contest, what’s the pecking order on the 2020 rookie quarterback wish list?
- Is it the offense, or the defense that’s more to blame?
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