Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: What’s Really Behind the Bengals’ Collapse

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Mike Freeman’s 10-Point Stance: What’s Really Behind the Bengals’ Collapse
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis speaks to reporters during a news conference following an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

Gary Landers/Associated Press

Why firing Marvin Lewis won’t solve the Bengals’ problems. What makes the Patriots a dynasty like few others. How the Bucs might talk themselves into Jameis Winston again. All that and more in this week’s 10-Point Stance.

       

1. The Bengals’ real problem remains owner Mike Brown

It’s likely only a matter of time before the Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis part ways. Lewis has survived a lot in Cincinnati, but he’d have to be the luckiest person in human history to survive the disaster that this season has become. He’s as likely to win every lottery in the world as he is to still have his job next season.

But once Lewis is gone, what we’ll see might surprise some. We’ll see that Lewis wasn’t the Bengals’ biggest problem after all.

We’ll see that owner Mike Brown has been, is and probably will always be the real issue with that team.

Al Behrman/Associated Press

The Bengals are a historically bad franchise, but even by their own low standards, these are dire times. They have lost five of their past six games, squandering a season in which they started 4-1. They lost to the Browns 35-20 this past week, and the game wasn’t as close as the score would suggest.

The franchise has been surpassed in respectif not in the standings (yet)—by the Browns.

It’s an understatement to say the Bengals are at a crossroads.

They need to undergo major changes. But team executives and coaches around the NFL tell Bleacher Report that they don’t see that happening. Instead, they believe Brown will take the safest—and cheapest—route possible.

That will lead to more Bengals losing. 

Lewis is part of the problem, and he will be the scapegoat, but the execs and coaches who spoke to Bleacher Report didn’t identify him as one the Bengals’ three main problems. Here’s what they said are:

The team is cheap: That’s long been an accusation, although it’s unfair in many ways. The team doesn’t balk at paying its own stars, and Lewis is reportedly earning around $6 million a season, according to Geoff Hobson of the Bengals website, making him one of the league’s highest-paid coaches.

League personnel say Brown’s cheapness rep is most accurate with regard to paying for big-name free agents. The belief around football right now is that a team can’t win unless it dips heavily into that market, but doing so costs a lot of cash. Brown has rarely shown interest in doing that.

This is one of the biggest reasons the Bengals lose. Most Super Bowl-winning franchises make significant moves in free agency. The Bengals don’t.

And while Lewis earns a hefty salary, sources say the Bengals need to be willing to pay even more for a coach. They have to overpay due to Brown’s reputation as a bad owner. If they want Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, for example, he’d want a lot of money to take that sort of risk.

This is one reason that former Browns coach and current Lewis advisor Hue Jackson has been rumored as a possible replacement for Lewis, sources say. Jackson would be cheap.

John Minchillo/Associated Press

Brown doesn’t have the passion to win: At least not as much as other owners.

This is also possibly unfair, but more than a few people in football possess that view.

Most owners have their faults. Some, like the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, have many. But no one would say Jones doesn’t have enough passion for winning. Some sources do say that about Brown, and if so, that’s an enormous reason the team doesn’t do enough to win.

The team is overcommitted to quarterback Andy DaltonThe Bengals put Dalton on injured reserve this week with a thumb injury, so he’ll miss the rest of the season. But he has two years left on his deal at cap hits of $16.2 and $17.7 million, respectively, according to Spotrac.

The team’s continued commitment to him will be one of the biggest decisions for whoever replaces Lewis.

But some coaches think moving on from Dalton would be tricky because Brown likes him. An agent who represents several potential head-coaching candidates said one of his clients thinks Dalton “is serviceable,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. 

That’s yet another reason Brown may like Jackson. He’s believed to be willing to work with Dalton.

So, you have an owner who’s seen as cheap, not passionate enough and possibly unwilling to allow a coach to move on from a “serviceable” QB. That should put Lewis’ place in Cincinnati’s hierarchy of issues into perspective.

In November, the Bengals were one of four teams that didn’t win a game, along with the Jaguars, Cardinals and Jets. Their fans’ pain won’t end anytime soon. Not this season, and likely not for some years.

It isn’t because Lewis is in charge. It’s because Brown is.

               

2. Baker Mayfield’s accuracy is staggering

Frank Victores/Associated Press

Many of us questioned whether Baker Mayfield’s passing accuracy in college would translate to the pros. Throwing against Big 12 defenses is one thing; doing it against the NFL is different.

But Mayfield has displayed stunning accuracy for a rookie. Defenses have attempted to use a number of schemes to confuse him, but few have worked.

In his last two games against Atlanta and Cincinnati, Mayfield has passer ratings of 151.2 and 143.9, respectively. Yes, those are terrible defenses, but it’s still impressive.

Even more impressive is this statistic from NFL guru Gil Brandt: 

Mayfield’s accuracy isn’t just impressive. It’s proving to be transformational for an organization that hasn’t had anything like it in the past few decades.

         

3. The Pats’ remarkable consistency

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

After improving to 8-3 with a win over the Jets on Sunday, the Patriots are guaranteed to finish with at least a .500 record for the 18th consecutive season.

That stands as one of the most impressive feats Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have achieved.

When other teams have great runs, they’re preceded and followed by down periods or speckled with occasional down years. The Patriots’ consistency is nearly unmatched.

The only team that’s had a longer run is the Cowboys, who went 21 consecutive seasons from 1965 to 1985 without a sub-.500 season.

Dynasties are measured by any number of factors: The Super Bowl wins. The records broken. The Hall of Famers associated with them.

There’s another metric as well: never being bad.

      

4. Trusting Jameis Winston would be a mistake

TAMPA, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 25: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gets interviewed after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 27-9 at Raymond James Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

This year, the NFL suspended Jameis Winston three games for allegedly sexually assaulting an Uber driver. He lost his starting job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Got it back. Lost it again. And is now the starter again.

He played well against the 49ers on Sunday, throwing for 312 yards and two touchdowns.

Maybe it was the start of something. Maybe he’ll use the remainder of the season to solidify his future with the Buccaneers. The team will be using the remainder of the season to evaluate how he handles himself.

But one NFC South executive said the Buccaneers even thinking about trusting Winston again would be a huge mistake.

“He will let them down,” the executive put it.

This has been a refrain from around the league. I’ve heard from more than a few teams that they think Winston will play well in this last part of the year, giving the Buccaneers a false sense of confidence that he can be trusted on and off the field. Then Winston will do something to break the trust. Again.

League sources point to how he was accused of sexual assault at Florida State and should have learned a lesson then. Instead, he was accused of sexual assault a second time as a Buccaneer. 

They don’t believe Winston has truly learned anything, and they don’t believe he ever will.

Is this harsh? Sure. There’s also some truth to it.

          

5. Russell Wilson‘s magic lost in wild QB season

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 25:  Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks rolls out against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Ge

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

No player in football today does more with less than Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks are 6-5 and have quietly climbed into the playoff race. The biggest reason, without question, has been Wilson.

His receivers are good, not great. He’s playing with a solid running back in Chris Carson, but he doesn’t have Todd Gurley or Christian McCaffrey in the backfield. His defense isn’t good.

The Seahawks are clearly in rebuilding mode. But they’re right in the thick of the playoff race because Wilson has repeatedly made throws like this:

Wilson’s golly gee, aw shucks routine has always betrayed his nastiness and ruthlessness as a player, and that’s meant as a compliment. His continuing excellence might be overshadowed this season by flashier stories like the emergence of Patrick Mahomes or the return of Andrew Luck, but Wilson has 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His passer rating is 112.0, the best of his seven-year career and fifth in the league.

In many ways, he is having his best season yet. That’s saying something.  

         

6. Christian McCaffrey transforming the Panthers…

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

McCaffrey continues to make Carolina more than just a Cam Newton offense. The Panthers are the most multidimensional they’ve been since they started playing in 1995.

McCaffrey lit up the Seahawks for 125 rushing yards on 17 carries and 112 receiving yards on 11 catches Sunday, making franchise history:

The Panthers lost the game because Wilson was too good, and the Panthers are far from perfect. Still, McCaffrey makes the Panthers a tough team to beat not just for this season, but for years to come.

            

7. …and Saquon Barkley is doing the same for Giants

We all know rookie running back Saquon Barkley has been incredible. I’m not sure if people understand just how incredible he’s been, though.

This statistic from ESPN Stats & Info perfectly illustrates what he’s done this season:

The fact Barkley’s been able to do this on a terrible team is even more impressive.

            

8. Flips concerning teams

If you missed this play, you missed a spectacular feat of athleticism and concentration from Seahawks running back Chris Carson.

We are seeing an increasing number of these plays. Players feel more emboldened, and if they have the athletic ability to do it, why the hell not try it?

But I’ve heard from an increasing number of team officials who are terrified of this trend. They feel it’s only a matter of time before a player jumps, gets flipped, lands and blows out both of his ACLs. Or worse.

In the meantime, we’re going to keep seeing these spectacularly dangerous plays. 

          

9. A striking photo

NFL teams constantly stated privately that if they signed Colin Kaepernick or Eric Reid, fans would be outraged and the team that signed them would potentially lose their fanbase.

Then the Panthers signed Reid, and of course that didn’t happen. It was never going to happen.

At the Seahawks-Panthers game, a photo emerged of a woman wearing a Reid jersey while holding the American flag.

Most fans have always been capable of understanding nuance. Maybe you didn’t agree with Reid taking a knee during the anthem, but you believed in his cause. You believed in the core ideals of America and knew that Kaepernick and Reid were upholding them with peaceful protests.

Fans were never going to revolt. That was always a lie. And this picture, in many ways, shows it.

           

10. Jaguars: Ya’ basic!

There are many candidates for most disappointing team of the season, but the Jaguars have to be near or at the top of the list.

The Jaguars will have some tough choices ahead, and the biggest remains quarterback Blake Bortles. It’s evident that Bortles isn’t the answer. Not a single person (well, maybe one) should believe he is.

If the Jags ditch Bortles, they can be good again. If they don’t, expect more of the same.

                     

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

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