A few weeks ago all signs pointed to the Cincinnati Bengals making a coaching change at the end of the 2017 National Football League season. After 14 games the Bengals were 5-9 and they appeared to be headed to one of their worst seasons under head coach Marvin Lewis. However the Bengals would close out the regular season strong as they won their final two games and in the process would knock a pair of would-be playoff teams in the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens from postseason contention. But even with that the end of the line appeared to be nearing close for Lewis who just finished up his 15th season as the head coach of the Bengals.
And as some teams were firing head coaches on New Year’s Eve as well as on New Year’s Day, Bengals owner Mike Brown wanted to wait until after the holiday to make his decision. But as the anticipation of the Bengals making a coaching change was at its peak, Brown went in another direction as he decided to retain the services of Lewis.
Lewis entered this season in the last year of his contract and he appeared to be a lame duck head coach, but now he is set to remain in Cincinnati for reasons that I and others may never understand.
In 15 years with the Bengals, Lewis’ regular season record is 125-112-3, while he is 0-7 in the playoffs. Throughout Lewis’ tenure with the Bengals, his team has become a refuge for players with character issues which has included the likes of former players such as Odell Thurman and current players such as cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and linebacker Vontaze Burfict. And each time that the Bengals have been able to get into contention under Lewis, you never got the feeling that they had what it took to become a legit Super Bowl contender. Lewis has vowed to make changes for the Bengals heading into next season, but just as Brown has not changed the stripes on Cincinnati’s helmets since 1981, you cannot expect his head coach to change his.
If Lewis is actually serious about turning things around for the Bengals, he needs to do something which he has not done in a very long time which is to address the tenor of his team. As previously mentioned the Bengals have a character issue, and issues of character typically show up at the most inopportune time which sums up the Bengals meltdown versus the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2015 AFC Wild Card Game where the law firm of Jones and Burfict went out of their way to give the game away. Most teams in the National Football League would have shown Jones and Burfict the door after they combined to give the Steelers 30 yards of real estate on their game-winning drive due to unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, but because this duo plays for the Bengals they are still employed.
Lewis must also address the issue that is quarterback Andy Dalton and whether or not that he is the right guy to lead this team on the field. In seven seasons as the Bengals starting quarterback, Dalton’s record is 63-44-2, but in the postseason he is o-4, while throwing just one touchdown pass to 6 interceptions. And in the postseason Dalton has only been able to complete 55.7% of his passes, while being sacked 12 times. In 2014, the Bengals gave Dalton a six-year, $96 million contract extension that runs through 2020. And being that Brown has a reputation of not trading players, you can expect Dalton to finish out his contract in Cincinnati. But if that is the case the Bengals are going to have to do better by Dalton.
Dalton was at his best from 2011-2015 when Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson were his respective offensive coordinators. Gruden is the current head coach of the Washington Redskins, while Jackson is running the show for the Cleveland Browns. Bill Lazor replaced Ken Zampese as the Bengals offensive coordinator early on in the 2017 National Football League due to the fact that Cincinnati’s offense was stuck in the mud, but the upcoming campaign will be telling as to whether or not that he can fix Dalton and his struggles in the pocket.
But the biggest issue that plagues the Bengals is their knack for finding troubled players. And as having Burfict and Jones on the team was not bad enough, the Bengals used a second-round pick last spring on running back Joe Mixon. Mixon came into the National Football League with a ton of baggage after a video surfaced in late 2016 of him hitting a woman during his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma. Mixon did not have any issues during his rookie season with the Bengals as he rushed for 626 yards. However Lewis did take the time during the season to acknowledge that Mixon had maturity issues which goes back to him and Brown not doing their homework before bringing him to Cincinnati.
And at the end of the day this is exactly why Lewis and the Bengals deserve each other as this is an organization that does not want to win, while he is a coach who is content with being mediocre. Under Lewis, the Bengals will continue to be good enough to win 10 games during the regular season, while giving an occasional push to the Pittsburgh Steelers in regards to being the top team in the AFC North. But there is a fine line with being a good team and a great one which is something that Lewis nor the Bengals have bothered to figure out.
Sources: Spotrac.com, Pro-football-reference.com