The Marvin Lewis era is over.
Well, it should be.
The Cincinnati Bengals pieced together one of their worst offensive performances of the year, generating an appalling 148 yards on offense (third-worst during the Marvin Lewis era) on only 37 offensive plays (a franchise worst). The defense allowed 400 yards to the Jaguars, who converted 67% (12/18) of their third downs, and picked up 26 first downs. Rounding out the trifecta of terrible, Cincinnati’s special teams drunkenly staggered around as Jaydon Mickens returned a fourth-quarter punt 63 yards for a touchdown.
Ineffective offense. Check. Missed tackles and poor coverage on defense. Check. Special teams allowed a touchdown. Check. Everything that could go wrong, did.
Simply put, this season is over and an uncertain future hangs in the balance.
This shouldn’t be a commentary on Lewis after one miserable loss; we tend to be emotional and insanely overdramatic following noncompetitive losses. Blame should start with their respective coordinators anyway; they formulate gameplans based on their strengths and their opponents weaknesses. Next are the position coaches who interact with the players and implement the coordinators’ plan. Yet, a head coach, who is more administrator than coach in the NFL, sets the overall agenda. And like CEOs of a company, head coaches receive significant blame due to a flawed vision, failed strategy, or the inability to lead. That’s just the nature of things.
Again, this isn’t an overreaction to one loss; yet, there is a growing narrative that this will be Lewis’ final season as Cincinnati’s longest-running head coach. Lewis isn’t signed beyond 2017 and the hope, from many “casual” observers, is that his contract will expire and Cincinnati will immediately initiate a coaching search. Even though the postseason infidelity weighs heavily on Lewis, this season has only mitigated that perspective:
+ Cincinnati became the first team since the 1939 Philadelphia Eagles to open a regular season with two home games without scoring a touchdown. Hell, they only put nine points on the board in those games, tying the 1949 Green Bay Packers as the last team to open a season with two home games and only scoring nine points or less.
+ According to a Pro Football Talk report, Lewis faced a “near mutiny” after their week two loss against Houston. “We are playing like shit right now,” Green said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We got to find a way to get our playmakers the ball. That’s it. It’s a superstar-driven league. You are not going to win without them.” Green is as cool as anyone (it’s not like he’s overreact when frustrated); if he’s frustrated, then he will choke the shit out of you then he REALLY must be frustrated. It should be noted that the PFT reports were unconfirmed and unsubstantiated.
+ Within 24 hours of their loss to Houston, Cincinnati announced Ken Zampese’s forced departure, while simultaneously promoting quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor. Cincinnati played competitively against the Packers, and secured wins over the Bills and Colts (thank you Carlos Dunlap).
+ Lewis walked out of a press conference when one reporter asked why the offense went for it on fourth and goal from the Steelers one-yard line. “To score a touchdown. I mean, come on.” Cincinnati DID score the touchdown, tying the game at 14 midway through the second quarter. Honestly, it was such a dumb question. “Anything else?” Lewis asked heading for the exit.
+ There’s questionable usage of personnel, from the treatment of John Ross, insistence of playing Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick over William Jackson, starting Jeremy Hill and playing him for only the first possession of each half before bringing Joe Mixon into the game are just a few examples. And if you think others on the coaching staff have any control over playing time, think again.
Bill Lazor on the same question: “I don’t have any answer. Playing time typically goes to Marvin..”
— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) October 24, 2017
+ Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was audibly shouting “we suck” after their loss to Houston, took a perceived shot at Lewis on Sunday when a reporter asked “How does this get better?” “That’s the coach’s job.” Though you want employees and players to help offer and implement solutions, Kirkpatrick isn’t wrong. How will Lewis make this better?
We suspect that he won’t. Or maybe he can’t.
Many of Cincinnati’s problems concerning Lazor’s crew centers around the talent on the offensive line. After allowing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to leave for free agency, they promoted unproven talent like Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, and Trey Hopkins (who has been pretty serviceable) into the starting lineup… a starting lineup that already includes Russell Bodine. Look at it this way: Andre Smith, who left for Minnesota after 2015 (and no one virtually gave a shit about) is arguably your most consistent offensive tackle now. Is all of this Lewis’ fault? Maybe. Maybe not. There are always floating whispers that people tend to accept as fact. At minimum, his influence is declining, especially if he argued to keep someone like Whitworth, who wanted to stay but found more security in Los Angeles. And that’s the point. His vision is increasingly diluted, to a point that one may not even exist any more.
Lewis was the perfect hire in 2003, taking a poorly functioning franchise and flipping into an annual contender. However, that last hurdle, a playoff win, has become the Moby Dick of Cincinnati.
Could the Bengals fire Lewis midseason?
This seems unlikely.
Lewis has been in Cincinnati for over 15 seasons, coached 231 games, won 121 times, and sports a winning percentage of 53%. Despite struggling to advance past the first round of the playoffs, Lewis’ squads have qualified seven times, including a five-year stretch where they made the postseason each season.
Lewis has earned a proper farewell.
Nine head coaches have coached in Cincinnati. While Bill Johnson and Bruce Coslet resigned during the middle of a season, Dave Shula is the only Bengals head coach that was fired prior to the end of a season.
Emotions are peaking when these losses are horrifically uncompetitive. Expecting Lewis’ dismissal during the season isn’t likely.
What Are Their Options
Every year there are hot buzz names that generate “discussion” for probable head coaching vacancies. You have experience with former Atlanta Falcons head coach, and current Buccaneers defensive coordinator, Mike Smith. How about one of the coordinators in New England, like Josh McDaniels or Matt Patricia on the defensive side. Jim Schwartz or Steve Spagnulolo, both defensive stalwarts. Why not Mike Vrabel, Dave Toub, Teryl Austin, or Bob Cooter? Do you want to go with an offensive or defensive oriented administrator? We could toss names into a hat all morning.
You don’t want to bet against the team from promoting within. Paul Guenther, the team’s defensive coordinator has never had a scoring defense rank worst than No. 12, is a likely candidate. You could argue that he has a talented roster, and most of his applied system was originally adopted from Mike Zimmer’s schemes. However, he’s weathered controversy, kept the defense playing at a high level (despite an offense with a horrific time of possession track record), and kept this unit cohesively working together. This isn’t a recommendation; however, the team could view Guenther as a leading internal candidate.
Regardless, the countdown is on. Lewis, who is one of Cincinnati’s greatest head coaches, should leave after this season. It’s time for the Bengals to hear a new voice, see a new face, and march to a new message. It’s just time.