When Vontaze Burfict and Jeremy Hill both combined to hand the Steelers an unlikely victory in the 2015 AFC Wildcard game, many did not think it could have gotten more embarrassing for the Bengals. A team with more arrests than any other franchise, the Bengals years of treating players like family members instead of football players, created one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history, against their fiercest rival. For many, that was evidence Marvin Lewis should have gone, as that was likely their time to shine. They were to lose Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency, along with Reggie Nelson, who was the heart and soul of their underrated secondary. Bengals fans and journalists agreed on one thing after that horrible loss, that the Bengals had to change for the better, and had to avoid more embarrassment.
We are nearly two years on from that miserable loss, and somehow, the Bengals have managed to become an even bigger embarassment, as they were blown out at home by a John Fox team, who scored 28 points in a game for the first time in two years. To concede that many points to a team with Kendall Wright as their best pass catcher is embarrassing in itself, but to do this in front of a home crowd that has slowly been decreasing in attendance since 2015, is an insult.
The Bengals are not blessed with star talent, but the issue with this team is that they do not play above their talent level.On paper, this roster does look like a team that should finish with between seven and nine wins, but that does not make what is happening in Ohio acceptable. The Bengals have become tepid at both ends, as the offence is vanilla and predictable, whilst the defence rarely blitzes, and is too reliant on off coverage and soft zone coverage, two things that modern NFL defences are trying to move away from.
The Bears defence was so banged up, that their starting edge rushers were Sam Acho and Lamarr Houston, and their starting safety alongside the impressive Eddie Jackson, was Chris Prosinski, a career journeyman. A Vic Fangio defence is always going to look competitive, but in reality, he played his most vanilla scheme, rarely dialing up blitzes, and the Bengals offence still struggled. Per SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron, Fangio blitzed only five times in the game, and the Bengals simply could not break down a defence that was starting numerous backups. While this strengthens the case that Vic Fangio is an underappreciated demi-god, it also provides real embarrassment for Marvin Lewis, as his team failed to disrupt a team that is playing for nothing, and a defence that was littered with journeymen and backups.
We must not re-write history on Marvin Lewis, as he has done a lot of good work to a franchise that was a perennial loser. He inherited a mess, and brought stability to a team through good drafting, and a progressive defensive scheme. He has however been left behind, as his team is too conservative, and too unwilling to take risks. A team will always play in the image of their Head Coach, and Marvin Lewis has unfortunately become a joke, and in hindsight, he should have quit this team a few years ago.
Throughout the game, the Bengals lacked effort and intensity, and this is something that can always be traced back to the Head Coach. They were not fighting for extra yards, and they were simply bullied by Jordan Howard. The Bears run a very specific set of plays, designed to minimize the chance of turnovers. You could feasibly argue it is the most predictable offence in the League, yet they went for nearly 500 yards against a Bengals defence that was playing the same bland 4-2-5 formations with no alignment shifts or blitzing throughout the game. Marvin Lewis commented after the game that he could ‘not fault’ the effort of the Bengals players, but it is clear as day on the tape that these Bengals players were not giving everything, and it is hard to blame them. Marvin Lewis runs his team as if he is a grief counselor, there is no discipline in place for the veterans, yet he consistently goes off on his rookies for smaller things than he lets the likes of Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones get away with. He called out John Ross’ effort back in November, and he is supposedly so disappointed with his effort, that he even thought about giving him reps at cornerback.
For Ross, a player who is clearly talented, it must be weird to hear a coach who has given Adam Jones over 160 chances, lecture him on things such as effort and letting the team down. When Vontaze Burfict handed the Steelers a win in the 2015 AFC Wildcard game, Lewis stayed silent, yet, he continues to antagonise John Ross. When running a team, you cannot afford to have these double standards, and this is another area Marvin Lewis is failing in. The Bengals offence needs a spark, and to the naked eye, adding a player who literally broke a combine record for the 40-yard dash, might add a different dimension to a failing offence. It is obvious that John Ross’ speed alone would take pressure off Andy Dalton, AJ Green and the Bengals poor offensive line, yet Marvin Lewis has reportedly considered giving him reps as a cornerback, that’s definitely a great use of the ninth overall pick, Marvin, well played.
Marvin Lewis has made some good draft picks in the last couple of drafts, with Carl Lawson, William Jackson and Andrew Billings all showing promise. But unfortunately, he is undoing his work by running his franchise like a circus, and failing to adapt to opponents. Lewis has always believed that his way will always win, but he needs a reality check. It is almost certainly time for change in Cincinnati.