Yesterday, some accused me of being selective in selecting the 49ers as an example of why “overnight success” is an illusion in the NFL. Some challenged me to take on the Bengals. So, here we are. I am going to tell you why the Bengals are not an “overnight success.”
I didn’t consider the Bengals in the same category as the Browns or 49ers because they have had the same coach for years. They plugged in a new rookie QB and #1 wide receiver this year in Andy Dalton and AJ Green. Those two have certainly performed better than I expected (Dalton more than Green.) But again, their coach, Marvin Lewis, has been in place since 2003. The basic fundamental systems have been in place. Let’s look at the key players.
Center Kyle Cook is in his fourth year with the team. Despite disappointing the team for his draft spot, Andre Smith is in his third season and is playing right tackle. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is in his sixth season with the team. They have one rookie on the offensive line with guard Clint Boling. The other guard Nate Livings is in his sixth year with the team and third year as a full-time starter. Tight end Gresham is in his second year with the team. Wide receivers Simpson and Caldwell are in their fourth. Cedric Benson is in his fourth year as a Bengal. Running back Bernard Scott is in his third. His backup Brian Leonard is in his third with the team. Peko and Geathers on the d-line have been in Cincy running the same defense for six and eight years respectively. MLBs Rey Maualuga and Dan Skuta are in their third seasons with the Bengals. Fanene is in his seventh season with the team.
Yes, what Andy Dalton and AJ Green are doing as rookies is impressive. It is one of the keys to the team’s success, but they aren’t carrying the team. The defense is strong and leading the way. The Bengals defense is a veteran bunch and they have a lot of guys who have been there with the same coach for multiple years. Add in some key veteran acquisitions like Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, and Nate Clements and it is easier to see in hindsight why the Bengals turned it around “overnight.” They had a foundation of players and a foundation of culture provided by Marvin Lewis. All that even being said, the Bengals didn’t exactly crush the Browns in their week one matchup.
They lost some key guys like Carson Palmer and Ochocinco, but it seems maybe Ochocinco wasn’t a good enough player to justify the distractions he caused.
So, yes, the Bengals are playing well this year in a similarly weak schedule to what the Browns have. Despite their rookie QB and receiver they are further along than the Cleveland Browns right now. Then again, I’d like to think that the Bengals’ mediocre drafting record will catch up with them yet again and their ceiling will be lower than the Browns’ eventual ceiling with Tom Heckert drafting. Who knows though. The deal they pulled off with the Raiders for Carson Palmer should increase their chances of raising the ceiling of overall team potential.
The Browns have some pieces, but they need to keep adding to them. The Browns need guys like Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin to become long-time productive Browns. They need some consistency in the coaching and systems. They need to build on the roster each year. They will lose some pieces here and there, but they need to retain more than they lose as they keep adding. If they draft successfully over the next two years and start to get opportunistic in free agency when they are more established, the Cleveland Browns will be an “overnight success” too.
This is why change is so painful. You turn over staff, which causes churn on the roster. Players’ development is stunted by having to learn new things instead of just getting better at reinforcing somewhat familiar concepts. It is so easy to say and so very difficult to implement.