Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Is It Time to Make Some Changes in Cincy?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2017

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 14:  Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs off the field following their 13-9 loss against the Houston Texans during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium on September 14, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

Can Andy Dalton survive, the 40-year-old wonder and NFL brutality all made their way into this week's 10-Point Stance. 

    

1. Is the Andy Dalton Era Near Its End in Cincinnati?

It was a few months ago, during training camp, as the Colin Kaepernick story grew, that a player for the Bengals wondered in texts to me: What if we brought Kaepernick to Cincinnati?

The messages came from a defensive player. He meant no disrespect to the Bengals' current quarterback, Andy Dalton. He was merely wondering aloud and didn't go much further than that.

Fast-forward to this week, and Pro Football Talk reported that Kaepernick's name has come up in the Cincinnati locker room.

Would the Bengals sign Kaepernick? Hell no.

But do players there like him? Absolutely. And there are some that would like Cincinnati to sign the controversial, unemployed Kaepernick. That is the truth.

All this leads to our main point: Dalton is in trouble. And so is his head coach, Marvin Lewis.

Coming into this season, there was a belief among some team executives and coaches with whom B/R spoke this week that the Dalton-Lewis pairing was nearing an end. But after a miserable 0-2 start, culminating in the firing of the team's offensive coordinator, Ken Zampese, we might finally be looking at the end of not one but two eras in Cincinnati.

The Bengals might be forced to bench Dalton, and while they may not fire Lewis during the season, it's hard to see that notoriously cheap franchise keeping Lewis if the Bengals fail to make the postseason again.

"The Bengals have already panicked and fired their offensive coordinator," former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason said on CBS.

It needs to be said that we've been here before with Dalton and Lewis. Their deaths have been declared so many times that it's not unreasonable to wonder if they they're actually cats, with 18 lives between them.

Everyone is saying the right things. A list of quotes from Bengals players to the team's website were rah-rah aplenty.

"I think we're all behind him," offensive lineman Clint Boling said of Dalton. "I think he knows that too. I'm not sure he even sees that kind of stuff and reads any of it. Hopefully, he's got a good feel for what the locker room is like and where he stands in it. We all believe in him."

Said Dalton: "I don't read anything. There's no reason to read anything because it doesn't mean anything. People can come up with a headline all they want, but all that matters is what's being said in this organization, on this team and what happens in this locker room."

Frank Victores/Associated Press

Still, league executives believe the Bengals will eventually have no choice but to blow up the entire thing. It's just not working. Lewis is 0-7 in the playoffs.

Dalton, executives told me, has regressed dramatically. I haven't watched him on film recently, but one team executive called Dalton's play "puke worthy." Another said: "Right now he's one of the top three or four worst quarterbacks in football."

Is that fair? Maybe not, but much of the NFL sees a rapidly deteriorating quarterback who is the main culprit in the team's 0-2 start, with the offensive line a not-too-distant second. That isn't to say there isn't some blame being cast on Lewis—far from itbut Dalton's play has been so bad there's not much a coach other than Bill Walsh's ghost could do to improve it.

The Bengals didn't score a touchdown in their opening two games. Only two teams over the past 10 years have done that: the Bengals and the 2016 Rams, according to Adam Stites of SB Nation. Dalton threw for less than 400 yards total in those two losses while adding four interceptions and tallying a 47.2 quarterback rating.

If Dalton can somehow keep the critics at bay after what looks to be a certain loss this weekend at Green Bay, he should have a chance to recover. Games at Cleveland, versus Buffalo, at Pittsburgh and then versus Indianapolis and at Jacksonville offer a pretty soft landing for Dalton (minus the Steelers game, that is).

And if the Bengals can win three of those games, they could at least keep the ship from capsizing early.

Those are some big ifs, to be sure, especially as Dalton has done nothing so far this season to demonstrate he can turn his play around.

What has to be especially scary for Dalton is that there seems to have been a shift in the Cincinnati locker room. Publicly, Bengals players have backed Dalton, as they should. Wide receiver A.J. Green said it wasn't the veteran quarterbacks' fault, but the fact that Green also expressed some displeasure with the offense is notable. Green is the consummate team player and rarely says anything negative.

But I know, for a fact, some players are wondering if Dalton is the guy. I also know, for a fact, that some of those players are wondering if Kaepernick deserves a shot.

It's been a bad start to the season for Dalton. It could get worse.

    

2. Bengals Need to Consider Their Options

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

It's time for the Bengals to make some type of huge move. The team doesn't like to dynamite things because dynamite is expensive, but it also needs to show a loyal fanbase it's serious about winning.

Would Jon Gruden fill that need? Probably, but the Bengals won't move in that direction if they jettison Lewis. (Note: I hate speculating about this sort of thing. It's cruel, but this is the NFL world we live in.) The Bengals don't pay big salaries to coaches, and Gruden likely wouldn't want to coach in that Vortex of Incompetence.

But this team needs a shakeup of some sort—soon.

    

3. Don't Take Greatness for Granted

Sep 17, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after a play against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Patriots defeated the Saints 36-20.  Mandatory
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady threw for 447 yards Sunday, the most passing yards in NFL history by a player 40 or older, according to B/R research.

Let's pause on that for a second.

There have been quarterbacks who were older, like Brett Favre, but none as effective as Brady at this age.

Who can tell how long it will last, but I'm going to enjoy it while it does.

    

4. You Won't Make It to Canton Playing That Way, Zeke

It's been a pretty rocky start for Ezekiel Elliott this season, and Sunday he generated a bit more heat when he failed to chase down Denver's Chris Harris Jr. after Harris picked off Dak Prescott in the Cowboys' 42-17 loss. Few critiqued his effort more fairly than LaDainian Tomlinson on NFL Network:

Tomlinson's words carry a tremendous weight because, well, he is a Hall of Famer, and he became that while playing Elliott's position. Particularly interesting was Tomlinson's recollection of what his former position coach used to tell him: The reason a back or receiver needs to chase down an interceptor is because the linemen are too slow and you don't want the quarterback to get hurt chasing down someone.

    

5. Can Jay Cutler Rewrite His Legacy?

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Jay Cutler #6 of the Miami Dolphins throws a pass during the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at the StubHub Center on September 17, 2017 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

I've been pretty clear about my feelings regarding Jay Cutler. Love him at your own risk, because, eventually, he will break your heart. This is what he's always done. He's that type of gum that is fabulous when you first start chewing it and then two minutes later you think: This is awful.

Cutler through one game, though, has proved me wrong, but we'll see. It's early.

Former quarterback Rich Gannon, now an analyst on CBS Sports Network's NFL Monday QB, described precisely the conundrum that is Cutler, in both the promises and dangers his talent presents.

"Let's start with the system," Gannon said. "There's clearly a carryover from their [Cutler and Adam Gase] time together in Chicago. So the comfort level and obviously the terminology and the verbiage is very familiar to Cutler. ... This is the best supporting cast that Jay Cutler has ever had. I've never questioned his arm talent. The thing you always worry about with Jay Cutler is...will he go off the rails and make a bad decision? If he can take care of the football and just play within the system and utilize the weapons he has around him, who knows. Maybe Jay Cutler can finish things on a positive note...and change his legacy as a quarterback in this league."

    

6. It Is The Best of QB Times; It Is the Worst of QB Times

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Bay Area this season is offering a unique range of quarterback play, from must-watch to wish-I-didn't-have-to-watch.

In Oakland, according to Pro Football Focus' Zoltan Buday, Derek Carr has helped his own cause: "Carr's average time from snap to pass attempt: 1.91 seconds. No QB's averaged less than 2.21 in a full season over the past 6 seasons."

That says a lot about why Carr is so good. He plays behind a good offensive line and has a quick release.

In San Francisco (really Santa Clara), quarterback Brian Hoyer isn't making life easy for the Niners offense, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch: "Hoyer's 3.67 yards per attempt was lowest by 49ers QB with at least 20 attempts since Alex Smith on 12-11-05 (3.5)."

That's almost 12 years ago.

Indeed, it is a time of extraordinary play at the quarterback position. It's also a time of some unusually horrible play there, too. And the good fans in Northern California get to see all of it, every week.

    

7. A Good Deal in Atlanta

Atlanta's new stadium has the cheapest concessions of any major sports team's, the Falcons say. ESPN's Darren Rovell tweeted a list of the prices, and they are pretty impressive:

Those are pretty solid deals.

No cookies yet, though. (Yes, the stadium's Chick-fil-A sells them, but since it isn't open on Sundays, I think we can all agree that doesn't really count.) 

    

8. The NFL Would Be Wise To Take a Cue from the CFL

LM Otero/Associated Press

The Canadian Football League recently announced it was eliminating all full-contact practices. It's a smart move. I mean, they're Canadians, after all. They're smart, forward-thinking people. Full of logic. They are the Vulcans of humankind.

Would the NFL do the same? The league is already headed that way, and at this point it seems only a matter of time. The collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011 reduced the number of full-contract practices to just 14 during the regular season. That has been a source of complaint among some coaches and players, but it remains a smart move.

Fourteen padded practices aren't that many over the course of 17 weeks. But credit the CFL for taking the next logical step and doing away with them altogether, a move that is sure to save wear and tear on the brains of its players.

    

9. Clutch Is As Clutch Does

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Philip Rivers is a good quarterback. Borderline great. The one criticism of his play—perhaps the biggest—is he isn't clutch.

I hate that word—clutch. It's cliche. But, in this case, it may be right. With the Chargers' 19-17 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, Rivers has now lost 25 games by three points or fewer in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That is the most of any starting quarterback since 2006.

Not all the losses were Rivers' fault, of course. He's been failed over the years by poor coaching and horrible personnel decisions. But Rivers has to also take some of the blame. He just hasn't been...clutch.

    

10. Why Players Deserve to Hold Out, Part 1 Trillion

This was one of the scariest things I've seen in the NFL so far this season.

During Sunday's Cowboys-Broncos game, it appears that Denver's Bennie Fowler III hit his head hard on the turf after making a catch. He got up, wobbled and then fell to the ground.

Guys hit their head on the turf all the time. What's troubling about Fowler's fall was the delayed reaction after he initially got up as if he were fine.

True, no one is forcing Fowler to play football, and he is paid handsomely to do so. It's still moments like these, though, that exemplify why players deserve every penny they get.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.