Updated Nov. 23
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told me this summer that his team was better than the 2009 version that won a division title. I looked at his roster, watched the players work for a couple of days, and then came to my own dumb conclusion.
The Bengals would win the AFC North in 2010.
Thanks for the advice, Marvin. We were both so wrong. The Bengals stink. They are one of the biggest disappointments this season. I picked them to win the AFC North. Now they're down in the bottom of the CBSSports.com Power Rankings.
How could things go so wrong?
Don't blame this on chemistry issues because they brought in Terrell Owens. He's actually played well. This is bigger than him.
Here are some reasons for their troubles:
• They don't stop the run. Teams are averaging 4.4 yards per rush against them and 118.3 per game. That's not good enough.
• No pass rush. They had a bunch of bodies that looked the part in camp, but they don't get after the quarterback. They have 10 sacks this season, which is one per game and a league low. That won't win many football games.
• Carson Palmer isn't the same player. He insisted to me this summer that there were no issues with his elbow. But he's clearly been a different quarterback the past two seasons than the one we saw earlier in his career. He looks indecisive. He forces passes. He just doesn't look good. He's not playing horribly, but something is off.
• The running game isn't as good. The additions of Owens, rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham and rookie receiver Jordan Shipley were done to help the passing game. But the emphasis to open up the offense has hurt the running game. Cincinnati is 23rd in rushing with 96.6 yards per game and 3.8 per carry. In 2009, they were ninth with 128.9 yards per game and 4.1 per carry.
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Add it all up, and it's no wonder the Bengals are 2-8 and in last place in the division, playing out the string.
Now comes the tough part, trying to figure out what to do going forward. It starts with Lewis. He is in the final year of his contract. He gambled that his team would be good. He crapped out.
That's not to say he doesn't deserve to stay. The word you hear is that Lewis wouldn't have minded leaving the Bengals, but does he get a job with this season on his resume?
I do think he's a good coach. What I think happens is he re-ups with the Bengals. Some people say the problem in Cincinnati is that president Mike Brown also serves as the personnel man. That, I hear, rubs Lewis the wrong way.
Lewis might have had more juice to get help in terms of personnel men if he won this season. But that juice is gone now. So it's either stay with the way things are or take a chance on landing a contract with a team that probably won't win five games.
It's amazing how things change so quickly in the NFL. Three months ago, they were talking potential Super Bowl in Cincinnati.
Now they can't wait until the Reds report for spring training.