How do the Bengals feel about flying under the NFL radar in 2018?
The Cincinnati Bengals held their annual pre-camp mock turtle soup/orange sherbet luncheon on Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium, and you’ll never guess who was in attendance.
Didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Not late last season, anyway, when the Bengals were headed for their second consecutive losing season and conventional wisdom held that surely owner Mike Brown would pull the plug on Lewis’ 15-year run and turn the franchise over to a fresh voice.
Alas, the Bengals ended the playoff aspirations of Detroit and Baltimore in the final two weeks and Brown surprised/disappointed his fan base by signing Lewis a two-year contract.
“It’s a very sturdy relationship,” said Brown at Tuesday’s luncheon, the only time he regularly meets with the media. “We know each other. We’re comfortable with each other. I think he can right our ship this year and go forward the way we want.”
OK, but isn’t there an old adage about the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results?
Not that Lewis has been a failure, mind you. His record is 125-112-3. He has coached the Bengals to the playoffs seven times, including a streak of five consecutive appearances from 2011 through 2015. He has brought stability and modest success to a franchise that was a popular punchline before his arrival.
That was in 2003, however. Lewis has never won a playoff game. And the last two seasons, the Bengals were 6-9-1 and 7-9. Bless the Browns, says Who Dey Nation. Without Cleveland, the Bengals would have assumed the key to the AFC North cellar.
Mike Brown looks at this differently, of course. Yes, the 2018 Bengals have the same head coach as the 2017 Bengals, but they have been repackaged with different coordinators in Bill Lazor on offense and Teryl Austin on defense. Lazor didn’t assume OC duties until the third week of last season. Austin was Detroit’s defensive boss the last four seasons.
“We’re doing a lot of things differently. I don’t know that the public understands that,” Brown said. “We have put in a whole new offensive system. We’ve put in a whole new defensive system. When you do that in pro football, that’s big. But that goes under the radar because it isn’t the head coach.”
After the Bengals somehow failed to score a touchdown the first two games last year, the 46-year-old Lazor replaced the ousted Ken Zampese. Not that the offense took off under Lazor’s leadership. If finished last in the NFL in total offense (280.5 yards per game) and 26th in points per game (18.1).
Fingers were pointed at the offensive line. So the Bengals acquired offensive tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo, used their first-round draft pick, No. 21 overall, to nab Ohio State center Billy Price, then hired a new line coach in Frank Pollack.
Defensively, the Bengals ranked 18th in yards allowed in 2017 before coordinator Paul Guenther joined Jon Gruden in Oakland. Meanwhile, Detroit was ninth in total defense last year under Austin. One contrasting stat: Cincinnati’s defense had 14 takeaways last season; Detroit’s had 32.
Still, the brightest light still shines on the head coach. The Sept. 8 opener at Indianapolis marks Lewis’ 16th season as the Bengals head coach. Only Bill Belichick, hired by New England in 2000, has been at one place longer. No matter how you slice it, 16 years is a long time.
“Most importantly, from Jon Kitna to Carson (Palmer) to Andy (Dalton), I’ve been blessed to have these quarterbacks that allow you to do that,” Lewis said. “They’re your lifeblood of your football team. How they play and how they carry the football team gives you as the head coach the opportunity. Because when you’re changing quarterbacks all the time, you’re probably changing head coaches, as well.”
No change in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton is the quarterback. Marvin Lewis is the head coach. For better or worse, when it comes to leadership, the Bengals opted for continuity over change; boring over bold.
“I know the call was controversial,” Brown said. “If it’ll prove out or not, we’ll see. I think it will.”
Bengals training camp
Open practice: Free to public at practice fields just west of Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday, July 26, through Saturday, Aug. 11 (except July 31, Aug. 4-5 and Aug. 8-10). Gates open at 2:30 p.m. and practices start at 3 p.m. (except for Aug. 3 with gates open at 5:30 p.m. for a 6 p.m. practice)
‘Family Day’: Gates open at noon and events start at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4, inside Paul Brown Stadium
Preseason opener: Bengals host the Chicago Bears at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9