Head Coach Marvin Lewis is entering his seventh season with a 46-51-1 overall record. Despite the losing record, Lewis is benefiting from Mike Brown’s well noted loyalty.
Lewis was hired in January 2003, becoming the eighth African-American head coach in NFL history. He rose to national recognition as the architecture of the 2000 Baltimore Raven defense; considered one of the best ever. Before coming to Cincinnati he a had brief stint with the Washington Redskins.
His first season in Cincinnati Lewis finished 8-8 and hopes soared. In 2005 he led the Bengals to the AFC North title with an 11-5 regular season. The Bengals lost in the wild card game to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the future looked bright.
Those hopes have turned sour the last two seasons, leaving many wondering if the shine has come off Lewis.
The Bengals head coach has shown a devotion to players with off field issues. Now with time ticking on his reign at Cincinnati, Lewis will be leaning on a number of those players to turn things around in Bengal land.
A key component to the Bengals and their success is offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
A leftover from Dick LeBeau’s forgettable coaching stint, Bratkowski was brought in from Seattle, his prior coaching experience was at the college level.
Since joining the Bengals, Bratkowski has turned the Bengals into a strong offensive unit. Prior to last season’s debacle Bratkowski’s offenses had finished in the top 10 three consecutive seasons.
Last season Bratkowski was the target of fan and media criticism. His critics pointed mainly to the current season, but the attacks were unwarranted considering the cards Bratkowski was dealt, specifically the loss of Carson Palmer.
Palmer’s numbers have not only been impressive, but historic since joining the Bengals and Bratkowski. Under the offensive coordinator, Palmer reached 100 TD passes faster than Brett Favre and fifth fastest in NFL history.
Palmer holds team records for seasonal yardage and completions, along with multiple Pro-Bowls.
Palmer isn’t the only Bengal thriving in Bratkowski’s offense. The Bengals’ wide receiver tandem of Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmanzadeh were arguably the NFL’s best.
Houshmanzadeh has caught 90 or more passes the last three seasons, while Ochocinco, snatched 93 catches in 2007. Although the dynamic tandem has been broken up with Houshmanzadeh’s departure to Seattle, don’t look for Bratkowski to change.
Bratkowski will inset Laverneanus Coles and Chris Henry along with Ochocinco (if he remains a Bengal).
Bratkowski isn’t all about the passing game, he does seek a balance offense. During his tenure at Cincinnati, Bratkowski helped elevate the careers of running backs Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson.
Over a three year span from 2004-06 Rudi Johnson galloped for 4221 yards, setting a team record for most yards in a three year span. Corey Dillon twice went over 1300 yards and became a premiere running back in the NFL.
Now Bratkowski is hoping to restart Cedric Benson’s career. The running game is critical for any offense and Bratkowski’s system is no different. Bratkowski will look for Benson to duplicate Johnson and Dillon’s output.
The man with the most daunting task is assistant /offensive line coach Paul Alexander. Alexander has spent the last 15 years with the Bengals and has enjoyed a lot of success, but after a disastrous 2008-09 campaign, Alexander is starting over.
The success of the offense is dependent on Alexander and his ability to gel together a new line, along with a new zone blocking scheme. Failure upfront could doom the entire Cincinnati season.
After spending most of this decade worrying about defense, defense, and more defense, the concerns have now switched to offense. Even so, the defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knows his unit is a work in progress.
Zimmer, a Marvin Lewis clone, has a track record of success. He turned the Dallas Cowboys into a 3-4 set and a top 10 NFL defense, something he is looking to duplicate in Cincinnati.
One area Zimmer must improve is the pass rush. Last year the Bengals managed just 17 sacks, a number that must improve. Zimmer is looking to change the 17 sacks with an attacking 3-4 scheme, using the versatile Jumpy Gathers along with rookie Michael Johnson on the defensive line.
With his first season over, Zimmer should be growing more comfortable with the defense and they him. This comfort should equate into Zimmer fully implementing his defensive concepts with the Bengals.
The continuity of the Bengals staff is a welcome change from the NFL coaching carousel, but if Marvin Lewis and his staff stumble another year, they will be joining the carousel.