I have been quiet for most of the first half of the season while I have been patiently observing this team. I must start this post by stating that I am well aware that some of the success that this team has experienced to date has come at the benefit of an easy schedule. However there are inherent differences about this year’s team that are not dependent on the strength of the schedule, or the number of wins.
After the first eight games, my conclusion is that "Black Jesus" is back. He has arisen!
In 2003, Marvin was hired to change the attitude and losing ways of the organization. He quickly and affectionately gained the nickname "Black Jesus" from Bengals players which fans then apodted since he was brought in to resurrect the franchise. His first three seasons were successful, culminating in the 11-5 division champion season. Led by a promising young QB with dangerous weapons at the skill positions and anchored by a dominate offensive line it appeared Marvin was going to achieve what he set out to do. After the failures of 2006, 2007, and 2008 due to the team falling apart from age and significant injuries, it appeared Marvin had failed and his tenure was done in Cincinnati.
No one was happy with the direction of the team, and everyone felt like it was headed back to the dark ages of the organization: the laughable 1990’s. This website was created as a response to this downturn. Its single purpose: demand change within the organization from the top down to return to the teams winning ways.
Marvin started his tenure out as a beacon of change this site stands for, but over the years it appeared he had become a victim of the system that he set out rebuild: the same organization that hired him to renovate, appeared to undermine him along the way.
After that dreadful press conference back in January announcing the return of Marvin for his ninth season, followed by the most disastrous offseason of PR a team could possibly have, our worst fears appeared like they were becoming a reality. The fans were going to have to suffer through a second era of the 1990’s with Mike Brown refusing to give up control. But something is happening now in Paul Brown Stadium that we did not expect, and it is unique from years past.
Even though the change that we are witnessing is possibly at its infancy, it is the type of change this website must acknowledge and potentially support if it continues; even if every item of our manifesto is not addressed immediately.
After being crucified during the 2010 season, the Marvin Lewis of 2003 appears to have returned from the dead and is building the type of team he was determined to create when he first arrived in Cincinnati. In his ninth season of a contentious tenure, this is without a doubt, HIS team. This team is different then any team of the previous eight seasons, and here are five reasons why:
1. This is his coaching staff
At the start of his tenure, Bratkowski was retained as the offensive coordinator from Lebeau's staff per Mike Brown’s request. Brown finally gave in this past offseason and allowed him to be fired, four years too late in the Revolution’s opinion. Marvin, for some reason, hand picked Jon "no the other one" Gruden as his replacement and although everyone questioned the move (rightfully so) it has paid off major dividends to date. Excluding Jim Anderson (one of the best in the business), the coaching staff is finally built around Marvin and his philosophy; not connections to the Brown family, which is completely unprecedented in the history of Mike Brown’s tenure.
2. Regained control of the personnel decisions
The building of the 2011 team started back in the 2006 NFL draft with Whitworth, Rucker, and Peko being the three remaining players from that class. The disasterous 2007 draft (only Hall remains) followed by the questionable 2008 draft (Simpson, Sims, Caldwell, and Collins) may have been a turning point for the team.
There is good reason to speculate that there was an internal power struggle between Marvin and Mike Brown after the disappointing 2006 and 2007 seasons. It is widely known that Marvin almost quit following this period due to the Chris Henry saga. From that string of draft fails, it appears that Marvin regained the trust of the family and more influence in making personnel decisions after the 2008 season. This has resulted in the three most successful drafts in recent history.
The 2009, 2010, and 2011 drafts are probably the longest string of successful drafts that this organization has ever experienced and is the foundation for the team’s success this year.
One thing that stands out with these recent drafts and this year’s FA acquisitions are that the Bengals have been selecting players that fit a system, rather than continuing Mike Brown’s ways of going with the best player available. They have passed up highly rated players that are succeeding on other teams, but may not have fit in this team’s systems.
The drafting of Dalton is an excellent example of this systematic strategy and Marvin’s renewed influence in personnel decisions. It has been well reported Mike Brown wanted Mallet with the second pick. Mallet is a quintessential Mike Brown pick: a huge QB with a cannon for an arm who can make all the throws; however he is a potential head case and will either be a star or a train wreck – in essense a huge gamble. Lewis and Gruden had to sell Brown to not give in to his gambling instinct and pick Dalton since they felt he was a better fit for Gruden’s system and had the intangibles. Only time will tell who was right with this selection, but as of today it looks like Marvin and Gruden made the right call.
In addition to the recent success in the draft, Marvin was instrumental in getting the Palmer deal done, which is one of the biggest trade rapes I have ever seen since season 1 of the League (hillarious show if you have not watched it). Due to the former GM of the Redskins spilling the beans, we now know for a fact that it was Brown who refused a better deal (two guaranteed 1st round picks in 2008 & 2009) from the Redskins for a declining Chad Johnson. The GM said that Marvin wanted the Johnson deal done, but Mike Brown shot it done every time. At one point, he even told the Redskins to stop calling.
It was a typical Mike Brown move putting personal pride over improving the team. When the opportunity to move Palmer became a reality, Lewis pushed Brown to make the right decision and not repeat the same mistake again.
The Palmer deal may have been the tipping point that helps push this team to the next level in the coming years. Not only do they have a future franchise QB & WR in rookies Dalton and Green, but Marvin demonstrated he has regained significant influence in personnel decisions by getting the trade Palmer and selection of Dalton completed.
If the run of successful drafts continues next year, it will allow the team to fill the remaining holes on the team (LG, RB, DT, S, and CB). They have a team that buys into Lewis’ philosophy 100% and is built for Gruden’s and Zimmer’s schemes. With the remaining holes filled it should allow them the opportunity to take the next step next year and potentially become Super Bowl contenders heading into the 2013 season. That is as long as Mike Brown doesn’t find a way to screw things up.
3. Better preparation
During the lockout, Marvin & company went to work and reached out to former coaches to learn from their experiences on how to deal with shortened timeframes for preparation and playbook implementation.
Marvin had Chip Morton study training alternatives for the players to reduce opportunities for strains and pulls, and improve the overall conditioning in the shortened offseason. In the preseason, it was clear the team was better conditioned than the opposing teams, and it has paid of so far during the first half of the season. Lewis’ team is playing hard all four quarters taking advantage of their better conditioning in the second half of the game by grinding the opposing teams down. Through eight games they are outscoring opponents in the forth quarter 87-43 and 126-59 in the second half.
According to PFT, Zimmer contacted two former greats and from their recommendations implemented a strategy that kept the defense simple so it would be easier to teach the players the basics. This has allowed the defensive players to react rather than think, and we are witnessing fewer communication mistakes than the team is historically known for.
Remember this ugly 1st preseason game, the game where the Lions passed at will? At the time, Zimmer was working primarliy on stopping the running game. Since the passing game looked horrible, everyone overlooked that they successfully held the Lions to a 2.1 yard per carry average on the evening. Since that game they have continued that trend, which has helped them to become a top 5 defense heading into week 10.
4. Just one ego: the team’s
Getting rid of Chad and Palmer were the best moves Lewis could have made. They missed their opportunity with Chad back in 2008 that would have not only removed the side show distraction, but also helped them make the team better with two extra first round picks. Removing these two have allowed new leaders to step up and removed the oxygen sucking side show.
Not only have they recently drafted players that are designed to fit the team’s strategy, but they have also been selecting players that are team players. It has been refreshing to hear of no locker room drama, no bulletin board material for the opposing teams, or no bull shit excuses in the paper. For the first time in years, there are not 53 egos that are focused on themselves; but rather one focused on the success of the team.
5. They are winning the chess match
On defense, Zimmer has taken advantage of the recent draft and free agency successes and molded the players into a young, aggressive, and cohesive unit that continues to develop each week.
The eight-man rotation that he has developed is the foundation and heart of the defense. The success of this and any defense begins in the front seven’s ability to control the line of scrimmage and get pressure on the QB in the passing game. By rotating the players to keep them fresh throughout the game, Zimmer has orchestrated a pass rush that is unprecedented in this team’s history. As far back as I can remember, opposing QB’s have always had time to tie their shoes when they dropped back to throw; getting pressure by only bringing a blitz. Now opposing QB’s have to rush their reads and throws even if Zimmer sends only four.
Zimmer has also proven that he can win the chess match, making adjustments at the half to shut down the opposition. Against the Titans, Zimmer adjusted by calling less blitzes in the second half and relying on the front four to pressure Hasselback to reduce the number of big plays the defense had given up. As a result, the Titans gained only 95 yards and were shut out of the end zone the rest of the game. He has been doing this almost every week since the first game.
The offense, on the other hand, had more of a challenge this year since his players had to start from scratch. Gruden had less than 60 days to install his offense, and so he followed in Zimmer’s steps taking a very slow approach, knowing that if they went too fast the players would be lost. As a result, the offense has been very vanilla in games, but each week it appears to have more pieces added. The passing tree is improved in comparison to Brat's, but at times seems like it is not used effectively.
Unlike his moronic predecessor, he has shown the ability to attack the defense (regardless of whether it is man, cover two, etc.) and create favorable matchups. For instance, as Hobson pointed out in a recent article, they have been moving Green around to get him in favorable matchups – something Bratkowski never did with Chad.
The rookies are thriving under the vanilla scheme. As the season has progressed, Dalton has looked more like a veteran than a rookie at times, and his development continues to impress each and every week.
While at times the offense struggles, especially in the first half, they are able to remain a threat in all four quarters. In the past, the offense would have collapsed and not been competitive in the second half. This year they continue to grind, even if they have a long shot of pulling it out.
Gruden has demonstrated in these first eight games the ability to make adjustments at the half that allow the offense to move the ball, and, at times, in a very impressive manner. In every game, he has either won the chess match or stayed very competitive, not once has he been dominated. This week’s matchup is going to tell a lot about Gruden ability, but from what I have seen so far, he has the ability to grind through adversity.
What are we experiencing?
I would like to hope that what we are witnessing at the halfway point of the season is the beginning of change at Paul Brown Stadium. The type of change that we all have demanded.
From my professional experience, this is what the beginning of change looks like. It starts out slow, so slow it is almost unnoticeable (sometimes it even takes a few steps backwards), and it faces a lot of internal resistance. Once it hits a tipping point due to experienced success, the culture of change begins to take over an organization, providing the opportunity for new methods and philosophies to take root.
With the return of Black Jesus, we may actually see some progress made on elements included in the manifesto of this site in the coming years. If the recent successes continue, Paul Brown Stadium may finally be approaching its tipping point.
Heading into the season, I predicted this team would be 7-9 or at best 8-8. If injuries don’t ravage this team, they have a decent chance of going 9-7 or at best 10-6 this point forward. Whether they make the playoffs is inconsequential, they have exceeded everyones’ expectations and potentially provided an opportunity for real change in the organization to finally take place.
The four games against the Steelers and Ravens are going to tell a lot about the make up of this team. There is a good possibility they get blown out in the first game against the Ravens, but from what I have seen there is nothing that shows me they cannot beat the Steelers.
Against good defenses the Steelers offense struggles since they cannot control the line of scrimmage like they have traditionally. Our DL should be able to apply pressure with a four-man rush going against their patchwork of an OL. The new OLB’s have been the major surprise in their ability to cover and provide pressure, and should be able to slow down Miller. Rey, simply put, is the identity missing at MLB since Jim LeClair. The secondary is adequate, but is overcompensated from the strength of the DL. If Ben can lengthen plays like he is capable of doing, Brown and Wallace will do some damage against the weak safeties and CB depth.
On the flip side, the Bengals OL is the weak link of the offense. They still cannot control the LOS and consistently get push up the middle when needed in short yardage, which is why Gruden is throwing more in these situations and Benson & Scott struggle at times. If they fail to upgrade the interior of the OL this offseason the offense is not going to continue to develop next season. Dalton as a QB is able to make all of the reads and is not forcing the ball out as fast from becoming more comfortable in Gruden’s system. His ability to get the ball in tight spots has been amazing – especially since he is a rookie. He is playing a lot better than I predicted even without a solid OL in front of him, and I am looking forward to watching him develop next season.
Dalton is the key to beating the Steelers. If the Steelers aren’t able to confuse his pre-snap reads, rattle him with their blitzes, or force him to make mistakes like they did with Palmer, Dalton’s pinpoint accuracy could pick apart their weak secondary. Simply put if they are successful, they will win. If they can’t, the Bengals could possibly sweep the overrated Steelers.