If I know Bengals fans, then there is a small but vocal minority of fans beginning to red-line into thermo-emotional meltdown, ready to pounce on the Panic button and pulverize it. Odds are decent that you bumped into one of those guys since 7:20 Sunday evening who was howling like a siren. “This team is never going to win a game again! Andy Dalton isn’t ready! A.J. Green isn’t ready either! The offense looks terrible! The defense looks terrible! Somebody hold me!”
So for all the red-liners out there, and those who have to listen to them, it is time for a little group therapy, BengalFans Anonymous. “Hi, my name is ______________, and I am a Bengals fan.”
Since the road to sanity begins with an honest look at the truth, let’s come to grips with some facts about the 2011 Bengals.
1. This team is going to have a losing season. If you thought otherwise, then
you are an idiot it is high time that you bring your expectations closer to reality. If ever there was a time to salvage sanity by starting out with low expectations, it is this year. As the saying goes, hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Remind yourself that poor seasons yield high draft picks. With QB, WR, TE and DL looking pretty good, they can address the big needs of the offensive line, safety and corner. (It would be wonderful if Mike Brown would actually trade CP so that they could address all 3 spots in the first two rounds, but I’m not courageous enough to actually hope that MB will choose intelligence over spite.) And if the season goes horribly wrong, there is always the “Andrew Luck Sweepstakes” this year. But that is another topic entirely.
On the flip side…
2. This team is not going to go 0-16. The 2011 Bengals might not be all that good, but they play several teams this year who also are not very good. Cleveland (twice), Buffalo and Denver are all teams who are just as big of a mess this year as the Bengals are, maybe worse. The Browns only finished one win better than the Bengals last year, and they did not have nearly as good of a draft.
On top of that, the first team defense looked quite good against a potent Jets team, holding them to just 10 points before the second-teamers started coming in, even in spite of the short fields given to them because of the early turnovers by the offense. The wins will be ugly, 13-9 types of wins, but there will be a few to celebrate this year.
3. Growing pains are good. Instead of living and dying with wins and losses this year, stay focused on looking for progress. The talent level at the skill positions on offense is immense, but it will be mitigated by inexperience. There will be fantastic plays at times, and there will be fantastically awful plays at other times. Sometimes almost back-to-back. They will drive us nuts.
Hideous starts by the offense has already established itself as a problem. As the roster is set and as we get to know Dalton, Green, Simpson and others better, more issues will emerge. Watch for them and note them. Not so that you can gripe, but watch for them so that you will notice when they start to disappear in mid-season. The offense we watch play in Cleveland on Sept 11 will be different from the one we watch play in Tennessee on Nov 6, which will be different still from the offense we watch play the Ravens on Jan 1.
Don’t miss the growth that occurs through the season. They won’t be as bad all year as they were in the starts of the first two preseason games. They will improve over the 4 months of the season. The trajectory of that growth will determine if they end up 3-13 or 6-10.
4. Giving up on Andy Dalton after two preseason games is not good. Yes, I know he has made mistakes. Going 19-of-35 for 155 yards and 3 picks in two games is not impressive, but it is not terrible either. It’s not like he has been Derek Anderson bad or anything.
If there were a demonstrably better option to turn to, then the people who are already looking to bench Dalton might have a case. But Gradkowski has looked no better, and sitting Dalton only delays the learning curve that he has to go through anyway. Let him take the lumps in a season that is going to be rough anyway, so that he will be that much better in 2012.
I hope this little session has been helpful. Our next meeting will be on Friday.