I have mixed opinions about Marvin Lewis. It’s obvious that he’s a good coach– we know how bad a GM Mike Brown is.
Paul Brown died shortly before the start of the 1991 season. Over the previous five years, the Bengals had gone 43-36 (not a typo, there was a game canceled by the 1987 strike), an average record of 9-7. They had three winning seasons, a .500 year and two trips to the playoffs (including the last-second Super Bowl loss).
In the 12 seasons between Paul Brown’s death and Lewis’s hiring, the Bengals had one 8-8 record and 11 losing seasons. Cincinnati went 55-137. That .286 winning percentage averages out to a 5-11 record. That was the Bengals under Mike Brown.
Lewis joined a team that had gone 2-14 under Dick LeBeau. You could argue the team wasn’t as bad as the record suggested… but you couldn’t argue it was a good team. LeBeau had gone 4-12 and 6-10 the years before that.
In Lewis’s first season, the Bengals went 8-8, a six-win improvement. They went 8-8 next year– then went 11-5 and the playoffs a year later
At the end of 2014, Lewis had coached 12 seasons– the same number of years that Mike Brown ran the team without him. Lewis has had three losing seasons (2007, 2008 and 2010), and he is 0-6 in the playoffs. But (not counting this season), he has gone 100-90-2, which averages out to a 9-7 record
And he does this with a GM who went 55-137 before he arrived– a 5-11 record. Counting the ties as a won and a loss, he’s 46 wins better than his GM.
One may wonder what Lewis would do with a GM who was merely average. With someone like Ozzie Newsome, who adds value, the Bengals might go undefeated every season.
The only flaw in this view is that Cincinnati has 3-4 games every year where it looks like Lewis took the underdog and the points. Even if they win, the Bengals make it so close that it’s hard to take satisfaction in the effort.
Since the Browns helped the Bengals improve to 8-0, for example, they’ve lost 10-6 to the Texans, in a game where every offensive player seemed to be trying to throw the game. Then there was a 34-31 loss to the Cardinals, where the defense seemed intent on punishing the offense for wasting their strong effort against Houston.
Last week they rolled up a 31-7 win over St. Louis, but that hasn’t been enough to stop the mumbling about whether the 8-0 start was a fluke.
TE Tyler Eifert has a stinger and will probably miss the game. CB Darqueze Dennard (their #1 pick in 2014) definitely will– he went on IR in week 11, the week he made his first start.
CBs Adam Jones and Leon Hall are 50-50 bets, as is LB Vantaze Burfict. RB Jeremy Hill is probable. It’s not enough injuries to hurt the Bengals, so only overconfidence– might be working against them.
There is virtually nothing positive one can say about the Browns at this point. On a good team, this would be the point of the season where the team’s 2015 draft picks moved into the lineup– or the 2014 picks who gotten hurt (or had a disappointing rookie year) began to pay dividends.
In Cleveland, this is point of the season when the “Danny Shelton hasn’t helped, but maybe he could next year” or the “Mike Pettine finally admits that Cameron Erving has been terrible” stories surface. At some point, we’ll see a So Johnson isn’t a Duke, but he could be noble someday apologia, that acknowledges that Squire Johnson (averaging 3.1 yards per rush after 70 carries) can’t run very well, but suggesting he play slot receiver or H-Back (a position that sometimes lines up in the backfield and sometimes where the receiving tight end does).
There certainly isn’t positive to say about the team, based on its play. Other than LB Karlos Dansby (who had a pick-six), no member of the defense played well last week… even Dansby had a few missed tackles.
The offense featured strong pass protection from four members of the line (LG Erving being the glaring exception), decent-to-good outings from WR Brian Hartline (8-12 for 74 yards) and Travis Benjamin (6-13 for 90 yards) and another strong week receiving from TE Gary Barnidge (7-11 for 91 yards).
QB Austin Davis had a productive fourth quarter (7-10 for 77 yards and a score), and one may hope he will have four good quarters this weekend.
The reality, of course, is that Monday’s results happened at home, on Monday Night Football against Baltimore— against a Ravens’ defense so depleted that it couldn’t cover Barnidge and Benjamin.
In the previous game against Cincinnati, Barnidge and Benjamin went a combined 5-13 for 57 yards; Hartline was shut out.The big stars (such as they were) were RB Isaiah Crowell (64 all-purpose yards), Johnson (26-yard catch, 12-yard TD) and QB Johnny Relapse.
The quarterback sombrero– it’s too grown too much to be called a “derby”– took three interesting turns this week:
1. The Browns were originally going to keep Josh McCown on the active roster, but not play him. On some teams, this would leave the team shorthanded, but since the Browns don’t have any talent, it didn’t.
But when McCown announced that he hoped to play again this season, they put him on injured reserve, formally ending his season (you can’t come off IR until you miss at least six games). The guy is like a serial killer, except that he isn’t nearly as effective after being shot 42 times, stabbed 16 and having a piano dropped on him.
2. Pettine and Flipper, demonstrating their inability to understand how addiction and recovery works, announced that they expected their drunken QB to start another game before the end of the season. Telling the drunk that he’ll get another start or two certain does relieve him of the obligation to actually recover, doesn’t it?
It came off like the scene from Jaws where the mayor finally admits that the beaches will be closed– but when the merchants all scream, says it’ll only be for 24 hours.
Pettine has no idea what to do with Johnny Manziel– which makes it more essential to get him out of the organization before Puff Gordon returns.
3. Since Cleveland needed a quarterback– and Terrelle Pryor played with Flipper in Oakland– they signed him. The decision makes sense… but it brings in another guy who has fans who think he’s a lot better than he is. Fans of the team named after a horse chestnut still think:
- He can play (69.3 rating, 6.5 yards per pass, 9-12 TD-INT ratio).
- He never really got a chance (15 games, 10 starts).
So the Browns will have that to deal with as well.
The key to this game is Davis, because he is the only new element since the last meeting.
Prior to his going into the game again Baltimore, Austin Davis has thrown a pass in only nine NFL games. Some of those games have come against teams who could play defense (Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona), but none came against the zone blitz scheme that Cincinnati uses. Of his eight starts in 2014, four were pretty good:
- A 132.3 rating in a 28-26 win over Seattle
- A 103.7 rating in a 34-28 loss to Philly
- A 99.1 rating in a 19-17 win over Tampa
- A 98.0 rating in a 34-31 loss to Dallas
Three of those produced 28+ points, which is close to the amount we can expect Cincinnati to score.
The hitch is that every defense on that list (except Seattle) was pretty bad last year. Also, the other four– and the long relief appearance (23 pass attempts when Sam Bradford went down early)– were pretty dismal games.
Still, if the Rams were coached by anyone else, I would say “It’s hard to understand why the Rams cut Davis and kept Case Keenum.” But since Jeff Fisher is in charge, it isn’t difficult to fathom– he’s a moron when it comes to offense.
While there is no chance that any of the players on the roster will be any better than they were last week, there is a chance that Davis will have “chemistry” with someone who hasn’t played well this season. A coach who really understands the passing game explained what that term means:
- Every quarterback has pass routes that he does better than others, or enjoys throwing. It’s like a pitcher who has an especially good slider, or can throw a high fastball with enormous accuracy, or a basketball player who feels most comfortable shooting from certain spots..
- Every receiver has pas routes that he can perform really well.
“Chemistry” happens when both players like the same routes. The famous one for the Browns is that QB Frank Ryan loved throwing the post pattern, and it was flanker Gary Collins’s favorite play too.
If things go well for the Browns, Davis might turn Hartline (3-5 for 28 yards in the fourth quarter), Taylor Gabriel— maybe E.J. Bibbs, Jim Dray or even Dwayne Bogus— into threats.
The converse– equally likely at this writing– is the dreaded “not on the same page”, which means quarterback and receiver have no fits. That didn’t seem to be a problem with Benjamin (2-4 for 58 yards and a TD), but Barnidge gained no yards on one catch.
So I don’t expect to see an offensive explosion. And since I doubt the defense will improve, we know where that leads us.
Game Outcome: Cincinnati 31, Browns 10 (again).