Monday, September 28, 2009

Bengals Beat Steelers...Marvin Lewis Still Stupid

Bengals 23, Steelers 20.

From where I'm sitting, there's a more important story.

Marvin Lewis is a big problem. If I didn't know any better, I'd accuse him of trying to blow the game on Sunday.

Win or lose, the following four 4th-quarter decisions are indefensible:

1. (14:56) Allowing Shayne Graham to attempt a 52-yard field goal.

It was week nine of the '06 season the last time Shayne Graham nailed a field goal longer than 49 yards. 2006! And over the course of his career he's only made 50 percent of his 50-yards-or-more attempts. While that might not overwhelm you, maybe this will: In his entire career Graham has only attempted fourteen field goals longer than 49 yards. Which means...what, exactly?

It means that he can't be trusted with kicks of that range. Want proof? Green Bay's Mason Crosby just played the third game of his third NFL season, and he's already attempted thirteen field goals over 49 yards.

Funny thing is, Marvin Lewis knows this too. Think back to all the instances when Lewis would order up a punt, even though the Bengals were on the opponents' 34-yard line (and passing up a 51-yard field goal in the process). Take your time. This exercise could last all day.

What I haven't mentioned is that the Bengals were trailing 20-9 at the time, and facing a 4th & 3. Had it been a three point game, or a 4th & 15, try the field goal. I understand. Two seconds left on the clock, ditto. But three yards is a manageable distance (and maybe even a better bet than a 52-yard FG attempt), especially considering (a.) you'll still need a touchdown at some point, and (b.) the offense hadn't moved the ball all day (i.e., now might be the best chance we have to score a touchdown).

I'd like to leave you with one final stat: In his 114-game NFL career Shayne Graham has connected on one kick longer than 51 yards.


2. (5:14) No sense of urgency at the start of the final drive.

Okay, you're starting the possession on your own 29-yard-line, down five with three timeouts in your pocket. When you consider that you've barely moved the ball all afternoon, it would be wise to speed up the tempo in case your drive stalls and you're forced to punt, right? Right? At least that way your defense can force a punt and you can get the ball back with a decent chunk of time left on the clock.

Well, that's not what Coach Lewis was thinking.

At first they were running the ball up the middle and taking their sweet ass time in the huddle. The ball was snapped on the first play at the 5:14 mark; it netted three yards. (Huddle) The next play didn't begin until the 4:34 mark. Palmer connected on a 17-yarder to Coles, but the Bengals went right back to the huddle. Once again, an eternity passed before the drive continued. It wasn't until the 3:50 mark when the Bengals began their third play of the drive (a Cedric Benson run that netted five yards). The fifth play of the drive got going at the 3:05 mark, and it put the Bengals at the Steelers' 38.

Let's stop right here.

From 5:14 to 2:27 (the sixth play would begin at 2:26), the Bengals ran five plays. So, in two minutes and forty-seven seconds they hadn't even entered field goal territory. Which means, had the drive stalled, or if Palmer had been sacked into one of those 4th-and-16-type situations, the Bengals couldn't punt and hope to quickly get the ball back with use of their three remaining timeouts. They were officially in no-man's land. After burning so much of the clock, the drive that started with 5:14 left had turned into a two-minute drill.

Did it work out? Yes. Miraculously. But not because of Marvin Lewis.

For the record, there are only a few times when you should try to milk the clock for a final score:
a. Tied game. This makes the most sense. You don't want to leave your opponent with any time left as you score the game-winner. And if it doesn't work out -- if the drive stalls along the way -- you punt. Simple as that.

b. A shootout. If you know your offense can score -- and you know your defense has been breaking more than bending -- it's not always a lousy idea to try to drain the clock on the final possession (and even sometimes when you're losing)

c. Trusting your offense. If the 2007 version of Tom Brady is you're guy, and you're trailing by a field goal with four minutes left -- and if you don't trust your two-minute defense -- maybe you feel confident soaking up the clock on a final drive.

But with 5:14 to go, three timeouts remaining, down five to your arch-nemesis, and with barely any offensive production to speak of for the previous 55 minutes?! No way. You try to do as much as you can, as fast as you can. If you go three and out with three incompletions, fine. Punt the damn thing away, and stop the Steelers. There was plenty of time to accomplish this.

Math: More possessions = More opportunities to score.

If it doesn't work this time, it might work the next. Is it that difficult?


3. (00:48) Spiking the ball.

So, let me get this straight: With five-plus minutes on the clock, holding three timeouts and the two-minute warning, you decided to play for one final drive. Correct? So, how is it possible that, after only a handful of plays, you're now rushing around and spiking the clock? Wasn't the idea to score a touchdown with little or no time remaining for Pittsburgh? That would be my first question to Marvin Lewis if I were still permitted in the PBS media room.

My second would be, "Have you ever heard of calling a timeout, jackass?"

The Bengals were down to the 15-yard-line, staring at a 1st & 10. The previous play ended with around 00:54 left, and they still had two timeouts available.

Any reasonable human can tell you that, with fifteen yards and nearly one minute to go, an NFL football team doesn't really need two timeouts. In fact, it often times doesn't need any timeouts. What it does need, however, especially in do-or-die situations, is all four downs to work with.

But spiking the ball with 00:48 left is inexcusable on every possible level. There isn't a single thing Marvin Lewis can tell me today that would make me see his side of things. Aside from his Monday-to-Saturday motivating skills this man is in way over his head.

Again, Marvin Lewis had the following options late in the Steelers game, when trailing by five from the 15-yard-line:

a. Three downs, 48 seconds and two timeouts.

b. Four downs, 54 seconds and one timeout.

Of course, he chose the first one. Of course he did. I know, I know, it seems impossible. But it happened.


4. (00:19) Spiking the ball.

(Note: The Bengals spent their second timeout to set up the 4th & 10 conversion)

After Palmer and Brian Leonard hooked up on what could be a season-defining play, Marvin Lewis ordered up another spike, instead of burning his last timeout and giving Palmer four cracks at the endzone from the 5-yard-line. Had Lewis called timeout at the conclusion of Leonard's miracle, 00:25 would have remained. And 25 seconds, if you've been reading me for more than a week, is an eternity when all you need is to squeeze out four plays from the 5-yard-line.

And don't give me any noise about, "What if Palmer gets sacked?" It's all nonsense. He's a $100 million franchise quarterback! I'm pretty sure he knows not to take a sack at that juncture. Besides, as I just pointed out, the difference between three downs and four is monumental.

I could go on and on, but my head is beginning to hurt. Watching Marvin Lewis coach my favorite football team will do that every now and again.


So, be happy about the win. Rejoice and whatnot. Scream "Who Dey!" in your neighbor's direction. Just understand that Marvin Lewis is a handicap to a franchise that's been in a wheelcair for the better part of twenty years.

This won't end well.

-Brad Spieser (

1 comments: said...

I'm with you on points 1 and 4. Especially #1. I would have liked a punt there to pin them inside the 10. Or go ballsy and try to convert. Field goal is the worst choice.
Number 4 I can understand a little. The benefit to keeping a timeout at that point is that the Steelers have to respect the run and it keeps you from being one dimensional from five yards out. If you don't make it running you have timeout and two more chances. However, four shots in 25 seconds? With Carson, you got to believe you make one of those even if they are looking for the pass.
On point 2, I think your exception c was in play. On point three, I'd take the timeouts over six seconds and a down but that's a little iffy.
BTW - I dig your columns keep up the good work!
Oh, and Who Dey!