Monday, September 29, 2008

Football, Ohio Style

Rumor has it that Ohio is home to two professional football teams. I was skeptical about this until I did a little research and discovered that there are two NFL franchises in Ohio. As luck would have it they played each other yesterday. So being an Ohioan I tuned in, hoping to learn more about these elusive teams. I don’t know what they were playing, but whatever it was sure didn’t look like professional football to me.

In all seriousness, the NFL has to step in and do something about the Bengals. Even though the Browns stink this year, they did go 10-6 last season and they are taking strides to become more competitive. The Bengals are a disgrace to the NFL. There are teams that fare worse but the Bengals’ legacy is consistency. The Bengals went 12-4 in 1988 and made it to the Super Bowl where they lost to the 49ers 20-16. Since then the Bengals have only managed to post two winning seasons. Coaches have come and gone and so have great players. The Bengals always drift just below the surface of mediocrity.

There’s a pretty good chance the Marvin Lewis will be fired either during or after this season but he is not the problem. The problem is Mike Brown. Mike is the son of the legendary Paul Brown. Mike took over control of the team when Paul passed away in 1991 and since then Mike has tried to run the team the way his father did. This presents two problems: 1. He’s not his father, and 2. Times have changed.

The Bengals started experiencing problems shortly after the 1988 season. Paul Brown struggled with the attitudes and demands of modern era players. When the collective bargaining agreement gave players more freedom in choosing teams and negotiating contracts, the Bengals began to lose ground in the free agent market. Mike Brown simply continued his father’s path of resistance. The problem with the Bengals is that there are teams who do worse each season so nobody really notices just how flawed the franchise is. The Bengals have finished a number of campaigns with an 8-8 record leading people to believe that they’re on the right track. They aren’t.

The Bengals won the AFC North in 2005 with and 11-5 record. Then Carson Palmer went down with a knee injury in the Wild Card game and the Bengals had a convenient excuse for failing to advance. They also had a great excuse for performing poorly in 2006. The Bengals always have a great excuse for coming up short. The problem is that people accept those excuses and it breeds a culture of failure.

The Browns are a different story. Even though the Browns carry a rich football tradition the current incarnation of the team was born in 1999. A number of very poor decisions were made over the first five years and the current front office is just now starting to sort out the mess left behind by the likes of Carmen Policy, Dwight Clark and Butch Davis. Romeo Crennel seems to be out of his league as a head coach but General Manager Phil Savage knows what he’s doing and the Browns finally appear to be headed in the right direction.

That being said, one has to question why Brady Quinn wasn’t given the nod against the Bengals this past Sunday. Derek Anderson has been playing poorly dating back to the end of the 2007 season. His passes tend to float and he telegraphs his intentions to the defensive backs. Anderson is on track to throw for twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and he is clearly not reading defenses. The Browns are 1-3 to start a season many people felt would be a very good campaign for them.

The Browns were smart to hold on to Anderson after the way he performed last year, but Anderson had a lot of work to do. He needed to hone his accuracy, perfect his ability to check down receivers and learn how to call audibles to exploit defensive alignments. Anderson failed on all counts. He has proven himself to be what scouts thought he would be all along: a fairly talented back up quarterback with a soft touch and a slow delivery.

Quinn might not be the answer but the Browns need to know. If Anderson is incapable of stepping up and being an elite QB in the NFL, the Browns need to see if Quinn is. Anderson has had four games to put it together and he’s failed. The Browns have no choice but to hand the ball to Quinn and see if he can rise to the challenge. If Quinn proves to be a bust then the Browns need to take a long hard look at the quarterbacks who will be available in the upcoming draft and make a move. The Browns can’t afford to be like the Bengals and make excuses for themselves. There must be a sense of urgency.

The Bengals are in the midst of a 20 year slump. This January will mark the 20th anniversary of their last Super Bowl appearance and 1990 is the last time the Bengals won a playoff game. That’s just unacceptable.

The Browns aren’t much better with zero Super Bowl appearances in the team’s entire history but in their defense this team isn’t even 10 years old yet. People sometimes forget that the team that played in Cleveland for all those years packed up shop and moved to Baltimore. It’s disappointing to see the Browns fail to improve on last year’s 10-6 record but comparing Cleveland’s legacy of failure to Cincinnati’s is unfair. Both teams need to make some serious changes. Both teams owe their fans better but the Bengals have elevated underachieving to an art. If they can’t right the ship the NFL should step in and reorganize the franchise.

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