The Bengals Have Signed Up for Two More Years of Being Just Okay

Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Cincinnati Bengals just completed their second-straight nine-loss season, are losing their defensive coordinator, and haven’t won a playoff game since eleven days before the beginning of Operation Desert Storm; worse off, they won that game against a team that doesn’t exist anymore. So naturally, they extended their head coach’s contract.

Yesterday, it was announced that the Bengals had extended head coach Marvin Lewis for another two years. Lewis has coached the Bengals for the past fifteen seasons and is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL. Lewis ended the Bengals’ playoff drought in 2005 and is easily the winningest head coach in Cincinnati’s history with 125 victories. He has won four AFC North titles in his time with the Bengals and may be the best coach the franchise has ever had.

But with all of that being said, Lewis has never won a playoff game in seven attempts and, despite being the most successful coach the Bengals have ever had, is just thirteen games over .500 in his head coaching career. Lewis is, unfortunately, the dictionary definition of mediocrity. But let’s look at just how mediocre Lewis has been and what the Bengals have just gotten (or kept) themselves into.

Lewis is tied for 23rd in NFL history for the number of games he has coached (240). Of the 23 men either tied or ahead of him on that list, only three (Weeb Eubank, John Fox and someone you can find behind coach seven and ahead of coach nine) have a lower career winning percentage than Lewis. And no, that wasn’t a joke: Jeff Fisher has coached the eighth-most games of any coach in NFL history, which is a metaphor in and of itself. But of those four coaches, Fox, Eubank, and Fisher all went to the Super Bowl at least once, and Eubank won a championship with the 1968 Jets. Those three also combined for 17 playoff wins while Lewis is still sitting on zero. Even worse, four of Lewis’ seven playoff losses have come at home, which is a problem when you recall that home teams have won nearly 65 percent of NFL playoff games since 2000. But somehow, Lewis has found new and unique ways to lose each time his team has made the postseason.

If you want to know just how bad Lewis-coached teams have been in January, here is the full list of coaches who have gone winless in the playoffs in a minimum of seven games:

  1. Marvin Lewis

If it seems like we’re trying too hard to dunk on Lewis’ entire career and accomplishments, that could be deemed a fair assessment. Lewis does deserve immense credit for bringing the Bengals back from complete oblivion after the team lost over 70 percent of its games in the ten years prior to his arrival. He restored instant credibility to a team that desperately needed it, and that should not go unnoticed when fully evaluating the job he has done.

That being said, the Bengals are not a playoff-caliber team at the present moment. Their quarterback, Andy Dalton, finished between Jay Cutler and Eli Manning this season in Total Quarterback Rating (which is to say, near the bottom of the list). Dalton is not a very good quarterback, and he will count for nearly $17 million against the team’s cap each year for the next three seasons. The Bengals need to make a decision on whether or not Dalton, 30, will be the team’s franchise quarterback in the not-too-distant future. The problem, though, is that with the exception of his injury-shortened 2015 season, Dalton has never been much more than an average quarterback, and the Bengals, as currently constituted, cannot be considered serious championship contenders with Dalton playing at a league-average level.

That is another reason why I would have suggested moving on from Lewis. Lewis is a fundamentally defensive-minded coach (he led the Ravens’ defense to a championship in 2000) but he has only had one top-ten offense in the last ten years as the Bengals’ head man. There is no shortage of great offensive assistants in the NFL today (Josh McDaniels, Pat Shurmur, Matt LaFleur, and others), and the Bengals would have every chance to get their hands on one before the end of the coaching carousel. For example, why not try to pursue LaFleur, who was Matt Ryan’s quarterback coach in 2016 and who currently serves as the offensive coordinator for the league’s highest-scoring offense? If he could improve Matt Ryan and at least partially fix Jared Goff in the span of two seasons, why couldn’t he do the same for Dalton?

And speaking of carousels, Dalton had two offensive coordinators this season. Ken Zampese was fired after the first two games because his offense scored a combined nine points against the Texans and Ravens. The offense improved under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, but even then it only averaged 20 points per game. Even if the offense’s average output under Lazor was applied to every game, the Bengals still would have ranked just 20th in points scored and 31st in total yards.

But, as you probably assumed, Lazor signed a contract extension alongside Lewis yesterday.

Even worse, the Bengals’ defense, which is its perceived strength, is losing its defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther. While the defense finished 18th last season, Guenther has worked for the Bengals in some capacity for the past thirteen seasons, and while the defense has suffered since he took it over for current Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the only assistant the Bengals have lost to this point may be the one they need the most.

Keep one more thing in mind: while you may look at the Bengals’ 7-9 record this season as a sign that they really aren’t that bad, remember that they get two games per year against the Cleveland Browns. That automatically inflates their record and makes an otherwise bad season look slightly better.

The Cincinnati Bengals decided to keep Marvin Lewis as their head coach because they felt that they had no better alternatives. As it turns out, they probably aren’t looking hard enough for that someone who can lead the team into the future. Frankly, the decision Cincinnati made yesterday was perfectly fine, as long as they plan on maxing out at eight wins for the next two seasons.




An Early Top Five NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat

Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan
Photo Credit: Bill Wippert/Associated Press

It’s hard to believe, but NFL training camps kick off next week.  32 teams will report to camp with their roster and head coach; however, not all of them will make it through the whole season with the same man in charge.

Let me say this before we start: I don’t like seeing coaches, or any human beings, get fired.  It’s not fun and a shame to see people in any walk of life suddenly lose their jobs, especially if the collective failure is not all their fault.

With that being said, though, here are my top five NFL coaches on the hot seat for this upcoming season.  Hope you enjoy!

5. John Harbaugh/Baltimore Ravens

This is one that probably won’t happen but can if the Ravens disappoint this season.  The Ravens finished under .500 last year for the first time under Harbaugh’s reign; more importantly, though, it’s clear that the Steelers and Bengals have surpassed them, both in performance and relevance, in the stacked AFC North.

However, I don’t see this one coming to fruition.  Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome have formed one of the most successful GM/head coach bonds in the NFL since Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008.  While the team is not what it once was and is still struggling to replace the talent that has departed since they won the Super Bowl, there isn’t a very realistic chance that Harbaugh gets fired.

But that chance does exist, and for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll put Harbaugh on the list.

4. Gus Bradley/Jacksonville Jaguars

This offseason was one of goodwill for the Jacksonville Jaguars, from the signings of Chris Ivory, Tashaun Gipson, and Prince Amukamara to the drafting of linebacker Myles Jack and safety Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey was widely regarded as the best player in the draft and Jacksonville was lucky to snag him with the fifth overall pick.  Most look at this as steady improvement for a franchise that has struggled for the better part of the last decade.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll look at this as the team’s front office setting up head coach Gus Bradley to fail.

Hear me out on this one: if the Jaguars are indeed a disappointment this season, Bradley has absolutely nothing to fall back on to keep his job.  Yes, the future of the team will still be very bright, but it is much more significant that Bradley has won a grand total of 12 games in three seasons in Jacksonville.  It stands to reason that if the Jags don’t make a significant improvement in 2016, Bradley would be the first head to roll.

I think the Jaguars will be successful this season.  I also think that Bradley is gone if they aren’t.

3. Marvin Lewis/Cincinnati Bengals

Speaking of being set up to fail, Marvin Lewis carves out his niche at number three on our list.  You probably know that Lewis is the second-longest tenured head coach in the league, behind only Bill Belichick.  The difference is that Belichick has won 23 playoff games in his career: 22 with the Patriots and one with the Cleveland Browns. Lewis, in his 13 seasons with the Bengals, has won exactly zero playoff games.  That’s a problem, especially when you consider the fact that Lewis-coached teams have made the playoffs seven times. Lewis’ 0-7 career playoff record is compounded even further by the fact that four of those games were at home.

This year, there really aren’t any excuses for the Bengals.  Virtually everyone returns healthy from the team that started last season 8-0. The biggest difference from the end of last season is that quarterback Andy Dalton returns after breaking his wrist in a week 14 game against the Steelers last season.  But even with backup quarterback A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati led Pittsburgh 16-15 with under 30 seconds to play in their playoff matchup last season.  Instead of ending in a victory, the 18-16 loss became one of the worst meltdowns we’ve ever seen from a single team in the history of football.

Let’s hope that the Bengals, at the very least, can keep their composure if they make the playoffs again this year.  And then let’s hope Marvin Lewis isn’t out of a job if they do.

2. Mike McCoy/San Diego Chargers

It’s pretty clear that any initial romance that existed between Mike McCoy and the Chargers is gone.  After making the playoffs in his first season in Southern California, McCoy’s Chargers have missed the postseason in the last two years.  Even worse, the team plummeted from 9-7 finishes in 2013 and 2014 to a 4-12 record in 2015.

The real reason to panic, though, if you’re a Charger fan, is that quarterback Philip Rivers is locked under contract until 2020.  Rivers set a career high in passing yards last season (4792) and would likely have a say on McCoy’s future if the team falters again this season. There’s also the overwhelming probability that the team will move from San Diego to Los Angeles after this season.  This move would precipitate a shift in expectation on behalf of both the new fanbase and ownership.  Would the Chargers follow in the Rams’ footsteps and retain their exceedingly mediocre head coach in a move to L.A.?

My bet is that they won’t, and if the Chargers underperform in 2016, McCoy’s future is simple: to live or die in L.A.

1. Rex Ryan/Buffalo Bills

This one is easy.

Ryan made many promises upon being named the Bills’ coach, but the one thing many reasonably expected was an improved defense.  After all, Ryan is a defensive mind, one who coached the Ravens’ defense into the league’s elite for much of the 2000s.  The problem is that in the one year of Ryan’s leadership, the Bills’ defense actually regressed.

To demonstrate this, I’ve put together this chart that shows the differences between the 2014 Bills and the ’15 team:

 

2014 2015
Total Yards (per game) 4995 (312.2) 5702 (356.4)
Passing yards (per game) 3292 (205.8) 3972 (248.3)
Rushing yards (per game) 1703 (106.4) 1730 (108.1
Points allowed (per game) 289 (18.1) 359 (22.4)

That’s pretty unbelievable stuff; the Bills were worse in every significant defensive category under Ryan than they were under Doug Marrone in 2014.  If that regression continues this season, the Bills front office will have no choice but to cut him loose.  Reports are that the front office has given Ryan a playoff ultimatum for this season; making the playoffs would require significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

I don’t know if Ryan is capable of delivering that improvement, and it’s more likely than not that he’ll be out of a job after this season.