After a weekend filled with football, family and more football, it’s time for me to catch up with the rest of my WDF mates and post a few thoughts as the Bengals begin the offseason. Because it’s Monday and I can’t come up with a fun package, they are coming at you random-style. So enjoy some random-y goodness.
It was a tough year to be a wild card team. All four went down in flames this year. In three cases, that suited me just fine. In one case, I was ecstatic.
Anything can happen in the playoffs. The Denver Tebows–a team given as little chance as the Bengals to win, maybe less–proved that. So never apologize for making the playoffs, no matter how you get there. Never.
The Bengals’ performance was not the worst of the weekend. That belonged to the Falcons, who got shut out on offense. (Bob Bratkowski worked his magic yet again.) Three of the four teams lost by 17-22 points. And the Steelers get the distinction of being the first team to lose under the new playoff rules on an overly-aggressive play call.
There is a lot of potential in this team. So many of the impact players are in the early years of their careers: Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, A.J. Green, Andy Dalton. These guys all have great careers in front of them. Hopefully the bulk of those years are in stripes. Several other guys — Andrew Hawkins, Brian Leonard, Jordan Shipley, etc. — may not be perennial Pro-Bowlers, but they make good things happen when they touch the ball.
There are not nearly as many glaring holes in the roster as in years past. Sure, there are several clear needs. But no one is looking to blow up the roster like was being suggested a year ago. Between having two first round draft picks, and being a team on the rise with plenty of cap room that should be able to attract quality free agents, the Bengals ought to be able to fill those needs with quality players.
Coaching and play books needs to improve. The play on both sides of the ball regressed in the second half of the season. On defense, that had a lot to do with losing key guys: Hall, Sims and a nagging injury for Dunlap. On offense, play calls seemed vanilla and execution was suspect at times. That is not a recipe for beating quality opponents. I want the Bengals to look more like Bruce the Shark smelling blood in the water, and less like Dori bouncing on the tops of jellyfish.
Will Mike Zimmer need to be replaced? I like the guy too much to begrudge him the opportunity to be a head coach. But I hate the idea of having to replace him. The disasters named Bresnahan and Bratkowski are still too recent, so the idea makes me nervous.
This offseason is as critical as last year. The Bengals now have a solid foundation to build on. How they build in this offseason will determine if they become one of the top 10 teams in the NFL next year, or if they continue the up-and-down cycle of the past decade. Another solid draft and 2-3 quality free agents (not reclamation projects, Mike) should allow the Bengals to build a team that can compete with anyone… and that fans will come to PBS to see.
Past performance does not guarantee future results. I have been guilty of assuming continued success in the past (2006, 2010). Assumptions about the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs all blow up this year. If the Bengals are not as shrewd as last year, it could happen to them in 2012 as well. Causing us to either cry or break things.