Monday, November 19, 2007

Frustrations of a Bengals Fan

My patience is running thin. I grew up in a black and orange household and have bled black and orange all my life. My Dad has been a Bengal season ticket-holder since 1970 (I was 2 at the time). Some of my earliest memories are of the strong Bengals teams in the mid-70s, I went to SuperBowl XVI and have suffered through the great nightmare that was the ‘90s and now to our recent period. I’ll never “give up” on the Bengals so long as they stay in Cincy, but it is getting frustrating. Adding insult to injury, I currently live in Pittsburgh, and having to regularly answer “What’s wrong with your Bungles?” while the Steelers put up competitive teams routinely is incredibly annoying.

Clearly, the 11-5 2005 season fooled Bengaldom into believing that the Lewis/Palmer era was on the cusp of bringing us a string of playoff appearances and possibly a Super Bowl. In reality, they have brought us “back” to mediocrity—which is better than being atrocious, but not much. A few observations ---

I don’t know if it is a fair comparison, but I find it amazing that the Steelers can continuously put up good teams while the Bengals cannot. How is Dick Lebeau a genius in Pittsburgh, but a loser in Cincinnati? Other than “tradition,” Pittsburgh has no natural advantage over Cincy---Pittsburgh is a comparable “medium market” city, the Rooney’s are tightwads and unsentimental, which makes them difficult to play for (just ask Joey Porter and Alan Faneca), and, like the Bengals, they build almost exclusively through the draft.

Part of it can be blamed on Lewis—Lewis may very well be overrated as a coach. But I don’t blame him that much—simply because he had almost nothing to work with defensively when he arrived—go back and look at our 2003 roster—it is disturbing at a couple of levels—primarily because, with the exception of Justin Smith and Brian Simmons, there aren’t too many guys that are still in the NFL much less Bengals—meaning he had less than nothing to work with, and this after several years of drafting under the “defensive genius” of Dick Lebeau. Thankfully, the defense in four years has totally turned over, however, it is obviously going to be several more years before we see any results. There is hope in Joseph, Hall, Brooks, Johnson, Geathers, Ndukwe and a few others—but we are still disturbingly thin.

The biggest difference is in talent scouting, recruitment, and retention—which I blame primarily on Mike Brown. Part of it is culture—the Steelers have a winning culture and attitude, which is easy when you win, but it feeds on itself—the Bengals have just the opposite. The more tangible difference is the Steelers’ ability to draft intelligently, keep those players on the team, and build around them. If you look at the past 8-9 years draft picks for the Bengals and Steelers, the difference becomes quite stark—with the exception of the 2001 and 2003 draft, the Bengals have really struggled to have impact drafts (meaning drafting players that quickly establish themselves as top grade starters) and to keep the players that make the impact. Arguably, our best impact defensive draft in recent memory was 9 years ago (Spikes, Simmons, Hawkins), for a team that “builds around the draft,” that is inexcusable.

Some of it I am willing to write off as bad luck—who can predict season ending injuries? Obviously not the Bengals--but “bad luck” isn’t really a good excuse either—although you can’t totally predict injuries, you can avoid picking players that are injury prone or don’t have the physiques or work out regimen to take NFL pounding—at least it seems like other teams are able to with some certainty. The point being that the Bengals are simply terrible at evaluating talent and constructing a long term draft plan. I have thought about whether the Bengals should offer up one of their big name offensive guys for draft picks, however, I am not convinced it would do much good.

A prescription for 2008--

The Draft--
Believe it or not, the Bengals should prioritize offense next year in the draft. I would like to see us use two of our first three picks on offense. Our first picks should comprise an offensive tackle, a skilled offensive player (TE, WR, RB), and a defensive lineman. As long as Palmer is vertical and has weapons, we have a shot. In later round picks, look to pick up some linebackers, pass rushing specialists, and perhaps a couple more skilled offensive players depending on what is available. As bad as the Bengals defense is, it will get better with our crop of young defensive backs--we need a front seven that can stop the run and put pressure on the QB.

The Coaching--
It is time for a new Defensive Coordinator. We have to change something at the top and I think that is a logical place to start. I would like to see us go outside the organization and recruit a young and hungry coach that will shake things up.

The Team--
Both offensively and defensively, the Bengals needs to learn to control a football game. The offense is the most capable of this and therefore, I am putting more pressure on them to do so. I'd like to see the Bengals move to RBBC arrangement and more of a spread offense consisting of ball control passing. In order to do this, we will need some pass catching RBs (hopefully Irons will be back) and a second possession receiver akin to Houshmandzadah (hence the draft priority). We also need to establish a running game (hence the linemen in the draft).

The Bengals have a decent core--but it is still going to be a couple years before this ship gets turned around. I just hope that we can hold onto Palmer, Housh, and Ocho Cinco long enough to give them a team worth being on.

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