Kickers facing the New York Jets are now 0-for-5 in the playoffs after San Diego’s Nate Kaeding missed three field goals to help put Not So Sexy-Rexy Ryan in the AFC Championship Game. If you’re like me, you’re left wondering what might have been if Shayne Graham could have put two – or maybe just one? – field goals through in the first round. Alas, Bengals fans we must move on.
So now, I’ll steal a page from Woodrow Wilson and offer my 14 points heading into the offseason.
1. This team overachieved. Any sane fan would have gladly taken a 10-6 record, an AFC North title and a 6-0 division record heading into this season (that means they beat Pittsburgh twice! Who Dey!). Before the year, the offensive line was unproven and the scrap-heap defense was still a question mark. Now, it’s a strength.
2. I can’t say I’m all that excited about offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski returning for another “W. Bushian” reign running the offense. The offense seemed disjointed all year. Yes, there was a clear commitment to the running game, but that shouldn’t render the passing game completely inept. Overall, the offense suffered from a lack of imagination and effectiveness.
3. Bernard Scott needs to be on the field more. I was hoping before the AFC playoff game that Bratkowski might give him some plays in the slot just to get him in the game. Instead he was limited to kickoffs, where he made a huge play out of the gate and never got to touch it again.
4. Quan Cosby looks good in the slot. I’m not exactly sure why Cosby hasn’t been used more to begin with. Maybe he doesn’t exactly possess prototypical NFL size, but he always seems to get open and catches just about everything near him. Wes Welker is a bit undersized too. Cosby derserves a long look in the offseason.
5. This team overcame a lot in regard to injuries. The top two tight ends went down in training camp. The best pass rusher was lost early on. The same happened to a starting safety. A gamebreaking receiver (Chris Henry) was injured and then died tragically. And later in the year, the team lost a top-flight linebacker (Rey Maualuga) and then a worthy replacement (Rashad Jeanty) on the first play of the postseason. A playoff game was a pretty good achievement in that light.
6. A few Bengals need to be coached up in the offseason:
Jerome Simpson – A good part of Bengaldom is clamoring for a receiver in the first round of April’s draft. The trouble is, receivers rarely make a huge impact in their first year. So a better bet for offensive sucess next season would be to get Simpson onto the next level. Have him in the weight room every day. Fly him out to California so he can catch passes from Carson and run routes with Chad all summer. The Bengals need Simpson to be good. He’s a better bet for an impact season than a rookie receiver.
Chase Coffman – Another segment of Bengaldom is going ga-ga over Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham. But the problem is, Cincy already has a solid receiving tight end on the roster. And Gresham’s knock is his ability to block. I’d rather take my chances with a Coffman-Reggie Kelly/J.P. Foschi platoon next season, than use a first-round pick on a position that could already be filled.
Michael Johnson – Johnson was great at knocking down passes this season, but I thought he would be a little bit better off the edge. He needs to enhance his quickness and pass-rush ability to help the Bengals next season. Once Antwaan Odom went down, Cincy’s pass rush wasn’t much better than it was a season ago. Johnson could play a big role in an improved rush.
7. Carson is getting a bad rap. Yes, his completion rate was down and yes, the passing game took a hit, but both statistics can be explained. Cincy’s receivers dropped a ton of passes this season (including a nice chunk from the tight ends alone) and the loss of Chris Henry really hurt the offense’s ability to go deep. No one was that upset with the passing game when it was carving up Chicago when Henry was healthy. Soon after his injury (and sadly his death), things fell apart. Laveranues Coles and Andre Calwell simply couldn’t replace what Henry had. Can Jerome Simpson or a free agent do it? If not, the team has to find someone who can.
8. Cedric Benson is going to need a break next season. Benson’s myriad carries this year come with a price. The team needs to work in B. Scott and my man-crush Brian Leonard (anyone else notice his hustle play in the playoffs to recover a crucial fumble?) a little more next year to save Ced from burning out. Those guys can steal some carries in the early quarters and set up Benson for a nice closer role in the fourth quarter.
9. Forget free agency. I’d rather see the team focus on re-signing some of its own. Jonathan Joseph has a year left on his rookie deal. Leon Hall has two. I’d like to lock them both up if possible. Plus, Tank Johnson and Roy Williams should come cheap enough to warrant a return. Bobbie Williams is a leader on the offensive line. It’s probably impossible to do everything on that list this season, but the team certainly needs to try. There was enough talent on this year’s team to advance deep into the playoffs with a few more breaks (or made field goals). No need to start over from scratch.
10. I think it’s time for the Shayne Graham era to end. Those two missed field goals against the Jets and another one a few years ago against Pittsburgh that cost the team a playoff berth are too much to overlook. He doesn’t have a very strong leg and his vaunted accuracy seems to disappear when it counts. He’s a nice guy for sure, but I think it’s time for both parties to move on. Perhaps Mike Nugent can rediscover his magic in the Buckeye State or a rookie placekicker can play as well as Kevin Huber did this past season. There are also a few veterans who could be available in free agency – Stephen Gostkowski, Jeff Reed and the always-entertaining Sebastian Janikowski.
11. It’s time to bargain shop in free agency this season, something the Bengals always seem to be good at. Receivers Malcolm Floyd, Ohio native Lance Moore, or Great White Hope Kevin Walter could be fairly cost-effective, but productive receivers. Filling that hole in free agency would free up the Bengals in the upcoming draft.
12. Marvin Lewis deserved Coach of the Year honors. He led a mostly flea-market type roster to a 6-0 record in perhaps the NFL’s toughest division. He held the team together through two tragedies. And he finished with double-digit wins in Cincinnati, something that escaped seemingly every coach in the 1990s. Kudos to Marvin. Now, take us to the Super Bowl.
13. For a change, the Bengals seem to have a good core of talent and a sense of stability. The team has drafted rather well in recent years and now needs to secure those players long-term. There is even a good bit of depth that has been severely lacking for a decade. A good offseason could make for a rosy outlook in 2010.
14. I think Taylor Mays would look pretty good in orange and black. Keep the USC pipeline flowing with a big safety who could be groomed to take over for Crocker or Williams. An edge rusher like Florida’s Carlos Dunlap, even though he has some alcohol issues (who doesn’t in Cincy?), would also be a nice addition. As the Giants showed a few Super Bowls ago, you can never have too many pass rushers. I’d rather not reach for offense if there’s a blue-chip defender staring the team in the face. I also would be willing to trade up in the draft for once if a big-time player is only a few spots away. I think this team is close enough to playoff success that a gamebreaker could bring just that. Keep your fingers crossed.
Enjoy the offseason Bengals fans. We’ll keep you posted when things heat up.