1. As hard as it is, if you take a step back, Cincinnati had a heck of a season. Picked by most experts to finish last in the league and perhaps winless, the Bengals made the playoffs and gained some valuable experience for future seasons. They overachieved. But…
2. Marvin Lewis has a lot to prove next season. He has pulled Cincinnati out of the 1990s muck and is a great soldier, constantly trying to make some lemonade out of Mike Brown’s lemons. But you have to wonder about his ability to finish seasons and win big games. As Eric noted, he is now 0-3 in the playoffs (one and done each time), including yesterday’s game where I don’t believe he had the better team. The Bengals lost some key players in the second half of the season (Leon Hall for one, and I think Pat Sims was better than people realize too), but they fell from 6-2 to 9-7 and then ended the season with a giant whimper. Lewis should have a healthy bit of pressure on him next season and should be expected to win a playoff game or perhaps move on. I love him as a person, but I’m hoping for a little more from him as a coach. To succeed in the NFL, you often have to win with less talent. And I’m not sure Lewis has done that consistently.
3. I feel bad for Chris Crocker. The Bengals pulled Crocker off the scrap heap a few years ago and the veteran safety played very good football for a few years, providing some much needed leadership where there was a vacuum of it. But he had a bad game yesterday, taking a bad angle on Andre Johnson’s touchdown, dropping what would have been a crucial interception, and not giving quite enough effort (or wrapping up) on Arian Foster’s second touchdown. He could be on the way out in Cincinnati and I hope he’ll be remembered for more than just yesterday’s game. His intangibles and leadership should not be overshadowed by one bad game.
4. The personal foul penalties are absolutely ridiculous. Reggie Nelson got flagged for another 15-yarder yesterday after throwing a shoulder into the neck of a Texans receiver. He did not hit helmet-to-helmet. He did not even make direct contact with a helmet. He hit the neck. And yet, it was still a penalty. It would have been nice if someone threw a microphone in front of Roger Goodell’s face and had him explain exactly how players are supposed to tackle these days. It’s still football. When a receiver goes across the middle, he’s occasionally going to get hit hard. It doesn’t warrant a penalty every time. Apparently, safeties are supposed to politely ask receivers to stop, give them a Girl Scout cookie, and send them on their way with a warm towel. PUH-LEASE. Nelson has now gotten jobbed on personal foul penalties two weeks in a row. The competition committee needs to either lesson the penalty yardage on these hits (which is not likely) or soften the rule (which isn’t likely either). Looks like we’re screwed.
5. Geno Atkins needs paid. Defensive ends are extremely valuable, but if you’re lucky enough to have a defensive tackle who excels against the run and the pass, those guys might be even more valuable. Atkins can wreck a running game and is also adept against the pass, often pushing linemen back right in the face of their quarterbacks. If the Bengals can somehow keep Atkins and Carlos Dunlap (who still seems hurt to me) together, the defensive line will be a strength for years to come. Atkins is only in his second year, but the team should consider extending him early.
6. Those people who think home field advantage is overvalued are MO-rons. Reliant Stadium was absolutely insane yesterday. Andy Dalton had trouble hearing and the problem was complicated because of the closed roof in Houston. I think the NFL needs to set up some sort of rule for the opening and closing of domes so that teams can’t arbitrarily close them to amplify crowd noise. Houston was going to be loud regardless. The closed dome made it worse. Cincinnati should keep that experience in mind next year as they fight for home-field advantage themselves.
7. It’s becoming pretty obvious that Cincinnati needs a big-time running back. Cedric Benson is not quite explosive enough to provide consistent big plays and Bernard Scott is best as a change-pace-back with 10 or so touches a game. Cincinnati will have two good picks in the first round of the draft and a running back is a possibility at one of them. I’d like to see them take a cornerback or a good lineman with the other.
8. Speaking of linemen, it’s time for an upgrade at the guard position. Cincinnati has two solid players (really three) at the tackle position, but mediocrity at the guard positions. Both spots could use upgrades next season. Clint Boling should be better in his second season and Otis Hudson might be ready for a larger role, but the team should draft a few other players there as well. If you have a franchise quarterback and some solid skill players, it makes sense to protect them with some good linemen.
9. Jerome Simpson is the new Ochocinco. He can drop a pass or fail to come back for the football (again) on one play, but he will often mesmerize you with his sheer athletic ability on the next one. I think I’ve seen enough out of Ryan Whalen and the other receivers that I’m okay if the team moves on without him. They might have to anyway depending on how the legal stuff plays out. Think about it. There simply aren’t enough footballs to go around. A.J. Green is a legitimate No. 1. Jermaine Gresham is deserving of a large number of passes too. Jordan Shipley, who will be returning, and Andrew Hawkins are very good in the slot. You don’t need a dynamite playmaker opposite Green, just someone who is dependable, reliable, and can get open. I’m not sure Simpson passes every test and he provides his own share of headaches. I’d take another draft pick or a lesser free agent and move on.
10. I think it’s time for some house cleaning in the Queen City. If Cincinnati is going to get rid of the problem children, they might as well do it all the way. Going forward, the Bengals are loaded with talent (honestly, they are), they just need high character guys who will play disciplined football and maintain their composure when the breaks go against them. I’d expect a defensive-heavy draft (cornerback and safety are necessities, depth is needed at DL and LB), and a pretty good offseason of work. There are enough leaders on both sides that should keep the team together and it should help that they got roughed up in their final game of the season.
It was a disappointiong end once again, but the beginning was better than expected. We’ve had it worse and the future is brighter than it’s been in a long time.
Happy offseason everyone.