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Thread: How Bengals went from contenders to pretenders in three years

  1. #1

    How Bengals went from contenders to pretenders in three years

    8:44 AM CT

    Katherine TerrellESPN Staff Writer

    CINCINNATI -- The Bengals were one of the hottest teams in the league for about a month.

    Then it all fell apart. Now they're all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason, and when that happens, they will extend the NFL's current longest active postseason victory drought to a 28th year.

    During the 2015 season, the Bengals were just minutes away from their first playoff win since 1990. Now they seem to be moving backward.

    How did a team that routinely went to the playoffs get to this point? A series of bad decisions made over three seasons put the franchise back several years.

    Here are some of the reasons the Bengals don't appear to be in a position to compete for a Super Bowl anytime soon:

    The 2015 draft

    Teams that rely heavily on the "draft and develop" method can't afford to make major mistakes with their draft classes. The Bengals missed badly in 2015.

    They selected two tackles in the first two rounds, which wasn't a bad idea considering Andrew Whitworth would turn 34 that year. In an ideal world, first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi could take over for Whitworth and second-round pick Jake Fisher could be Andre Smith's successor.

    The Bengals either badly misjudged the talents of their picks, failed to develop them, or both. Paul Alexander, the offensive line coach tasked with bringing them along, left for the Cowboys after 23 years in Cincinnati and was fired after only seven games there.

    Meanwhile, the Bengals' opinion of Ogbuehi has plummeted.

    He has been a healthy scratch for most of this season, and when left tackle Cordy Glenn got hurt, the Bengals didn't even trust him as a replacement. They re-signed Smith off the street for a third stint instead.

    Fisher has fared only a little better, struggling at right tackle in 2017 and failing to win the starting job over Bobby Hart. Any chance to see him at left tackle this season was snuffed out after he injured his back and went on IR.

    Whiffing on a first-round pick can set a franchise back by itself, and the Bengals essentially whiffed on the entire draft. Only tight ends Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah remain on the team, and while both are talented, neither has shown he is a No. 1 tight end yet.

    That's one position among many the Bengals might have to address considering Tyler Eifert has been unable to stay on the field.

    Letting Whitworth walk in free agency

    The Bengals had their franchise left tackle, and they let him go without a suitable replacement.

    The front office didn't want to give the 35-year-old Whitworth anything longer than a one-year deal, despite knowing what they didn't have in Ogbuehi. Ogbuehi struggled at both left tackle and right tackle, and it was already clear he wasn't the answer on either side.

    The Bengals should've been begging Whitworth to stay after seeing Ogbuehi give up two sacks at left tackle to the Texans, especially considering they knew Pro Bowl guard Kevin Zeitler was leaving. Instead, they let Whitworth sign with the Rams, and he earned a Pro Bowl berth last season.

    The Bengals essentially hoped for the best with Ogbuehi before they finally had to admit defeat and trade for Glenn. They addressed the vacant center position by drafting Billy Price in the first round, but they didn't do much on the right side of the line, settling for Hart and Alex Redmond at guard.

    If the Bengals had kept Whitworth, they might have been able to focus their efforts on finding a right tackle this offseason. Instead, their best option was Hart, who leads the team with 11 penalties (two declined). Redmond is third on the team with seven penalties. Because the problem hasn't gotten better, this is another position the Bengals are going to have to address this year.

    Promoting Zampese to offensive coordinator

    There probably was a reason former Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese spent 13 seasons as the Bengals' quarterbacks coach. He got passed over twice for the OC position, by Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson. When Jackson took the job as Cleveland's head coach in 2016, the Bengals didn't even appear to search for a new coach but instead settled on Zampese, announcing him as the new coordinator two days later.

    The Bengals learned quickly that Zampese made a better assistant than coordinator. 2016 was a forgettable year, and 2017 was even worse. The Bengals opened with two home games, became the first team since 1939 to fail to score a touchdown at home through their first two games, and fired Zampese immediately.
    The poor decision-making of Marvin Lewis has contributed mightily to the decline of the Bengals. AP Photo/John Minchillo

    Although interim offensive coordinator Bill Lazor appeared to give them a boost, the bulk of the offense had been installed with Zampese at the helm. The Bengals had to work within the confines of what was already there and finished last in total offense.

    The Bengals again declined to do a search, promoting Lazor to the job for 2018. For a while, it looked like the Bengals' offense had the ability to be competitive. Inconsistency and injuries eventually brought it down.

    It became quite clear how wide the offensive gap is between the Bengals and teams such as the Chiefs and Saints, who blew them out of the water. It's hard to imagine they can close that gap without significant changes.

    Re-signing Burfict

    The Bengals rewarded linebacker Vontaze Burfict on Sept. 7, 2017, with a three-year, $32 million contract extension that included $11 million in guaranteed money. Burfict rewarded the Bengals by getting suspended the first four games of the 2018 season for a performance-enhancing drugs violation.

    The Bengals stubbornly stood by Burfict instead of drafting a potential replacement despite his history of suspensions and injuries. Burfict has played in only six games this season, and when he has been on the field, he has looked like a shell of the player he once was.

    Bengals coach Marvin Lewis declined to discuss Burfict after he performed poorly against the Chiefs, commenting that the topic wasn't even relevant. Burfict has gone from one of the toughest linebackers on the field to one who isn't even taken seriously anymore.

    “He just quits on plays all the time,” said one NFL player whose team played the Bengals this year.

    If Burfict is on the decline, then the Bengals are in trouble. Their free-agent acquisitions at middle linebacker haven't panned out, and their current roster is made up of players better suited as backups than starters. Third-round pick Malik Jefferson can't even get on the field.

    While the Bengals structured Burfict's contract in a way that makes for a relatively painless exit, they have no other options on the team to replace him. Finding a successor in the draft won't be easy with all the holes they now have to fill, and it's something that should've been considered years ago.

    Extending Lewis

    The Bengals felt that sticking with Lewis after two mediocre seasons was better than completely blowing up the coaching staff, even though the end of last season would've been the perfect time to clean house.

    Lewis' contract was expiring along with his assistants, and the Bengals could've had a new coach come in with his own staff. Instead, they extended Lewis for two years, giving at least some of his assistants two-year contracts as well.

    Things seemed promising when the Bengals hired several respected assistants, including Teryl Austin as coordinator, but it fell apart midway through the season, ending with Austin's ousting as the defense posted historically bad numbers.

    The team is now in a free fall, and the Bengals might still have to make the shake-up they passed on last year. If that's the case, then all they accomplished this season was angering a fan base that has chosen to stop going to the games.

    Even if the Bengals choose to move on from Lewis and start over, all of their key players will be another year older. If they don't move on, they'll certainly lose the remaining fans they have.

    The Bengals have a lot of promising young talent, but their most important players, and the players they have the most money invested in -- A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins -- will all be over 30 next season. The Bengals' window hasn't closed yet, but it certainly could close quickly if they don't make changes. With the way the past three seasons have gone, it's clear the old way is no longer working.


    http://www.espn.com/blog/cincinnati-...in-three-years

  2. #2
       
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    That might be the best article Kat has written here... And what a terrible feeling it is to have her so spot on.

  3. #3
       
    Join Date
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    Idle curiosity on Burfict?

    Fat and lazy?
    Got paid, and got lazy?
    Wore out his trashed knee to get the contract?
    Mailing it in during lost season?
    Have the rule changes made his style unplayable?
    Was whatever juice he got popped for fueling his game, and now he blows?

    I always thought he was too reckless and stupid to be a cornerstone of the defense, but I didn’t think he’d just suck. I thought he’d get suspended for a year or two.

  4. #4
    I think the new rules have made Burfict tentative.

    I aloso think he needs to slim down and get faster to make up for that.

  5. #5
    Think you are spot on. If the guy would just lose some weight so he could actually run, he would probably be one of the top guys in the league. Even when he was fat, he was a playmaker. Now he's out there missing tackles and looking pudgy. Hope he gets his **** together this offseason.

    Whitworth and Marvin Jones are probably the two biggest factors in my opinion. They haven't been able to replace either and have pretty much whiffed on the draft picks that were supposed to. If those two guys are resigned, we probably have at least one playoff win. Wonder if Marvin will be available this offseason. Probably doesn't matter at this point since I think it was his wife that wanted out, but I hope it isn't more blind faith in John Ross next year.

  6. #6
    1 - 2015 draft - Blame falls everywhere, from the front office that not only allowed Whitworth to leave, but encouraged him to do so by low balling a HOF level player who actually wanted to retire as a Bengal. Plus, that same front office further compounded that error by keeping Paul Alexander at least a decade too long. Also to blame, the coaching staff that rubber stamped those decisions, and the idiotic and inept Duke Tobin who completely botched the job of finding suitable replacements.

    2 - Letting Whitworth walk in FA - See above. But I remind myself how the decision to let Whitworth walk was considered by many to be reasonable at the time, and might still be today if the Bengals hadn't whiffed so badly on Ogbuehi and Fisher. Remarkably, the Bengals always find a way to make a bad decision even worse, and in this case they not only blew both picks but then compounded their error by keeping both players on the roster despite having no plans to play either player under almost any circumstance. Why is Ogbuehi still on the team when it is so afraid to play him?

    3 - Promoting Zampese to OC - I'd blame the front office for this one, but IMO it doesn't happen at al if Lewis didn't support the choice initially, and then once more compound the error by sticking with Zampese too long. And making matters worse yet again I've always looked at John Ross as a Zampese pet project drafted to run an endless number of reverses and screens.

    4 - Re-signing Burfict - It's easy to conclude Burfict looks washed up today after suffering suspensions and knee and hip injuries, but in their defense what choice did the Bengals have after watching every LB pick made in the draft underwhelm or straight up bust? And yet again, Bengals always make a poor decision worse by refusing to consider better LB choices in draft after draft.

    5 - Extending Lewis - The front office seems terrified by the idea of life without Marvin Lewis. The fan base seems terrified of even more life with him, or worse yet a future built around Hue Jacksom, a slightly dumber version of Lewis.

    6 - Drafting Billy Price - It wasn't included in the original article but I'm adding it as proof of the Bengals failing to learn from the 2015 draft and the continued failure of the same brain trust that can't recognize real talent or fails to develop the talent they have. It takes a village idiot to build a team as dysfunctional as the Bengals and the Bengals have several idiots to share the blame. Mike Brown, Duke Tobin, Marvin Lewis, and the rest have built a team around aging stars and young support players who can't compete over the long and short term.

    Burn it down.

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