(CINCINNATI, OH) – When Roger Daltrey of the British rock band The Who, belted out those iconic words “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss,” he may have been referring to Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. Likewise, when Bill Murray, the lead character in the hit movie Groundhog Day, woke up to the exact same routine day after day, he was probably channeling Bengals owner Mike Brown. Lewis and Brown have now been dancing together for the past 15 years. For die-hard Bengals fans, if the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” then Brown keeping Lewis on board after another disappointing campaign is sure to drive many in the Queen City absolutely crazy.
For the 2018 NFL football season, Marvin Lewis returns once again as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. But that’s not all. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be yet again serving a four-game suspension, and tight end Tyler Eifert remains forever questionable as he recovers from offseason back surgery. As far as the Bengals are concerned, it seems as though the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the team’s pre-camp luncheon last month, Brown was asked about bringing Lewis back after two consecutive losing seasons (6-9-1 in 2016 and 7-9 in 2017). “It’s a very sturdy relationship,” he said. “We know each other. We’re comfortable with each other. I think he can right our ship this year and go forward the way we want.”
That sounds exactly like an owner comfortable with mediocrity. Lewis hasn’t been horrible in his 15-year stint. A 125-112-3 record and seven playoff appearances, including five straight from 2011-2015, isn’t something long-suffering fans should ever take for granted. But neither is it something Super Bowl dreams are made of. Lewis told me last year that his goal every year is the Super Bowl. For a coach who has never won a playoff game, he’s got some ground to make up before he makes a believer out of me.
It’s hard to glean much from your first pre-season game, but if the Bengals 30-27 victory over the Chicago Bears in Paul Brown Stadium tonight is any indication, perhaps there is hope after all. A 33-yd touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel to Auden Tate with 2:04 to go in the game capped an exciting Cincinnati comeback.
Offensively, the starters looked smooth and efficient. Andy Dalton was 6 for 8 passing, for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. This team should be able to score. Remember, last year the Bengals offense finished last in the NFL in total offense and 26th in points per game. Let’s hope the first half tonight is a harbinger of good things to come, as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s machine finally cranks into high gear. Running back Joe Mixon moved up everybody’s fantasy draft board, while the speedy wide receiver duo of A.J. Green and John Ross are sure to cause headaches for many in the opponent’s secondary.
On the other side of the ball, Paul Guenther seems like a distant memory. Under his leadership last year, the Bengals ranked 18th in yards allowed. Worse yet, they were next to last in takeaways with a measly 14. New defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, swoops in from Detroit for the timely rescue. Last year, the Lions were 9th in the league in total defense and had 32—more than double—the number of takeaways.
“We flew around pretty well,” said Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. “Things happen in the regular season that can set you back, but it’s how you respond and reset that determines whether or not you’ll be able to do what you want to do. This was a good preseason test.”
A nice preseason opening night crowd of 35,633 went home happy and entertained—if not with Super Bowl visions dancing in their heads, at least with the hopes of changes for the better coming from the top down throughout the organization. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part, but I sensed a definite desire for creativity amongst the entire Bengals coaching staff. If the talent is there, sometimes you just have to shake up the schemes to maximize your chances of success.
“We’re doing a lot of things differently,” Mike Brown elaborated. “I don’t think the public understands that. We have put in a whole new offensive system. We’ve put in a whole new defensive system. When you do that in pro football, that’s big. But that goes under the radar because it isn’t the head coach.”
The head coach is still Marvin Lewis. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. How much things change from here on out remains to be seen.
John Huang is a columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation, Sports View America, and Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.