Bengals Bloodbath Aftermath: Why Can't Cincinnati Live Up to the Hype?
Everyone saw the Bengals lay yet another egg on the national stage last night as they were hammered by a much more physical Browns team that seemed to have the Cincinnati playbook in their pockets.
Andy Dalton was abysmal, playing easily his worst game of the season and the battle in the trenches wasn't even close as Marshall Newhouse looked more like a turnstile than an offensive lineman and the defensive front got bullied all night by the Cleveland ground game. They were resoundingly beaten by a far-more prepared team.
This all begs the question of why Cincinnati cannot live up to the hype. The first thought that jumps into one's head when considering the question is that of a fragile team culture. I suppose it's mandatory we analyze the owner first before delving into the more inner layers of the organization.
Mike Brown is a rather everyday kind of guy for being a multimillionaire. He drives normal domestic cars and eats Burger King. He puts his family first, including employing them at the top positions of the franchise and has soft spots for people who he has developed trust in. He gets bashed at every negative turn the Bengals take and is forgotten when the team finds success. He doesn't complain about it; he's used to it by now. His bland demeanor and uninspired public addresses irritate his detractors and his reluctance to incorporate cutting edge practices to his NFL team are an easy shot to take when criticizing the Bengals czar.
However, in September football pundits were lauding him with praise for his streak of strong drafts and the impressive depth of his roster, many even saying his model was a smart blueprint for other NFL teams to follow.
A shrewd business man? Yes. An experienced NFL executive? Obviously. A tough guy? Not so sure. While he could easily be called stubborn, stuck in his ways or even overly dogmatic to his father's practices of the yesteryear, none of that translates to toughness.
His number-one guy is of course, Marvin Lewis, who is in all likelihood tougher than Mike Brown but comes with his own personal struggles, namely his strong conservative streak of consistently taking the safer road. Lewis runs a tight ship and seems to be a very organized person. He has a keen eye for talent in young players and seems to have a rigid understanding of how his men fit into his system. He once won a Super Bowl while coordinating in Baltimore so he clearly has succeeded on some level in the bright lights. Why then is he unable to rally his troops here in Cincinnati once the microscope becomes fixed over their striped helmets?
Based on the development of Carson Palmer and then later Andy Dalton, one could easily say that both men were conditioned over time to make playing it safe their top priority. In both instances, these quarterbacks became less dynamic in terms of improvising and making good things happen when plays break down or don't go as planned.
To the coaches' credit though, until last night, Dalton has shown a better command of his offensive scheme than ever before. In both the New England and Indianapolis loss, he really wasn't given the chance to play all that poorly, but he certainly didn't rise above the tremendous amount of adversity he faced in those games and again last night. And that's the point: when bad things happen to him and his team, Andy Dalton and the rest of them crawl inward and shrink in the moment.
Is it a trickle down effect from Mike Brown to Marvin Lewis to Andy Dalton to the rest of the team? Why don't we take it a step further and ask if it is the culture of our city?
Are you, Bengals fan, a part of the problem or solution? Perhaps we too have been conditioned to play it safe and wait for the failure that is almost certain to unfold before us. At the risk of delving too deeply into any spiritual planes, it isn't impossible to say that those around the stadium and in the stands project an expectancy of letdown that enters into the minds of the participants. As much as we would like to treat them like football robots, the players are people with psyches and they are aware of the negative history stacked high around the team.
Imagine that you are a young person from Iowa or anywhere that isn't here. Suddenly you are drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. You're excited, a new professional. Then you begin to assimilate into the fan base and sense a huge apprehension in almost all of them. They hope you will win but don't know you will win. You may begin to wonder why all of these people are so nervous and scared. Maybe the moment is that big, you think, maybe you can't do it. Then, when the first interception is thrown right off the bat, the dragon becomes real and consumes the village.
The players become shell shocked, the coaches look at each other in worry, knowing it's all falling apart again, and the fans groan at the return of that old feeling again.
Culture is a rather ethereal thing that is hard to pinpoint with real certainty, and I know nothing of what the Bengals locker room is like, but I do know what the fans are like and it simply seems impossible that their flimsy support doesn't factor in to the performance of the team they supposedly root for. Of course there are scores of level-headed fans that cheer for the Bengals, but you know you're in an uphill battle right off the bat when you ask your average Cincinnatian of what they think of its football team and the word suck makes its way into around 70 percent of the responses (data not real).
The blame can be designated however you'd like, but to say there isn't some kind of cultural problem around the Bengals seems hard to agree with at this point. The talent is there, the tools are in place, but from the neck up, this team hesitates when going for the gusto.
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photo via Cincinnati Bengals