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.

Jared Goff Should Start the Season As the Rams’ Staring Quarterback

Jared Goff
Photo Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times

The sun may rise in the East, at least it settles in the final location…..

Never, ever, ever did I think I’d be using a line from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as the lede to an article about an NFL team’s quarterback situation. If you want a reason as to why I’m suddenly grabbing wisdom pearls from “Californication”, here’s an explanation:

As you already know, the Los Angeles Rams are on HBO’s Hard Knocks this season. During the first episode of the show, #1 overall pick and quarterback Jared Goff was asked by his position coach, Chris Weinke, where the sun rises and sets in the sky. His answer? He had no clue. Obviously, it rises in the East and sets in the West, which would seem like common knowledge, except for the fact that it apparently isn’t. And it seems like Goff is far from alone on the team in terms of his ignorance of the Sun’s activity.

So hey, let’s make a case for him as an NFL team’s starting quarterback, shall we?

To begin, Goff, as previously stated, was the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Out of the last five quarterbacks selected first overall (Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston), exactly zero of them did not start for their team in week one of the season. Granted, the Rams are in a theoretically better position than all of those teams were, but the precedent set by these quarterbacks is clear. However, we need to look far beyond precedent to see why Goff should be the team’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season.

One of the things we need to examine here is the Los Angeles Rams’ current state of affairs. While there is a lot of excitement for the team’s move to the West Coast, the reality of the situation is that the Rams just aren’t that great of a team right now. That means that expectations should not be set very high this season; while that doesn’t mean the team should try to lose, it does mean that the organization should take more of a forward-thinking approach when it comes to personnel.

But why are we having this discussion in the first place? Well….

When Goff was selected at the top of the draft, many observers concluded that he would begin the season as the Rams’ starting quarterback. It seemed like the franchise had finally settled on its guy and would take the lumps that came with Goff’s development. And then it decided to seriously consider another option, even if it was an option that wasn’t a whole lot more experienced than Goff.

That option is Case Keenum. Keenum, the fifth-year quarterback who made a name for himself by throwing for almost 20,000 yards in his five-year collegiate career at Houston, has never started the season as an NFL starting quarterback. That may be about to change, as Keenum took reps with the first team in the Rams’ first preseason game on Saturday.  Of course, Goff could still win the job; he’s slated to take more snaps with the starting unit this week. However, it’s clear that the Rams, at least for now, are planning to start the season with Keenum under center.

And, truth be told, Keenum isn’t really that bad. In parts of six games last season, Keenum threw for 828 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception. That really isn’t terrible; the problem is that those numbers are hopelessly pedestrian and mediocre. Kind of like Jeff Fisher, the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach.

Jeff Fisher is one of the most respected authority figures in the NFL. He has burnished a reputation as a smart, tough leader who gets the most out of his teams no matter how much talent is on the roster. He is regarded as one of the best coaches in the league over the past twenty years, and there is very little argument about this supposed fact.

The only thing is that Jeff Fisher’s reputation is completely unearned.

Over the course of his career, Fisher has won just 52% of his games with the Oilers/Titans and Rams. With the exception of a Super Bowl run in 1999 (fueled in part by an illegal forward pass) and brief spurts of success in the 2000s, Fisher’s teams have largely been in the middle of the league’s pack. That’s not good, especially for a franchise that could use some long-term success after a much-anticipated move back to Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States.

That probably informs Fisher’s thinking in the matter. Keenum is the safe option here, the “experienced” choice, the guy who won’t lose you games. Goff is the far more aggressive option, the franchise quarterback, the player whose game-to-game performance may be rather unpredictable.

And yet, I’d start Goff over Keenum. Here’s why: the Rams don’t really have a lot to lose this season. With the team’s return to L.A., the fan base will be excited to watch its beloved Rams no matter how good they are this season. I’m not saying that the Rams shouldn’t try to win, but I am saying that this season is not as important as the future to the team’s long-term and much-needed success.

And if Goff performs well, then he would be a better option than Keenum based on performance alone. We all know that the Ryan Gosling lookalike is going to be the Rams’ starter at some point, so what point is there in delaying his maturation process? While we’ve seen recent examples of teams trotting out quarterbacks who weren’t nearly ready to play (cough, cough, Geno Smith), we’ve also seen plenty of examples of quarterbacks who improved after struggling to start their careers (Newton, Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers). It can be done. This could be what the Rams have to look forward to with Jared Goff.

Let me also say this: it isn’t some great injustice if Goff doesn’t start week one. The coaching staff knows the players better than we do and their quarterback decision will be informed by their intimate knowledge of the players and system. They’re at practice every day and they deserve the benefit of the doubt if Keenum is chosen, even if that doesn’t seem like the right decision.

However, it’s easy to see that Goff has far more upside than his veteran counterpart. And, especially with the team’s future being so bright, what do you have to lose by giving Goff the keys to the offense in week one? If you know you’re going to start him at some point anyway, why not start him in the season opener?

Rams fans can dream this season. They can dream of their team’s potential, of selling out the L.A. Coliseum, and even of Californication (hey, we’re right back where we started).

And maybe they can even dream of Jared Goff as their team’s starting quarterback.