The Cincinnati Bengals squandered yet another golden opportunity. They walked into Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field Monday night facing a winless Steelers squad giving up 442 yards and 28.3 points per game. It was the Bengals’ chance to make a statement against a longtime division bully. Instead, they mustered just 175 total yards on offense and 3 points in a 27-3 shellacking.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton finished 21-37 for 171 yards and two turnovers, including an interception and a fumble (a second fumble was recovered by the Bengals). While he was sacked eight times, that can’t always be the default excuse for losing. Last year Texans QB Deshaun Watson was sacked a league-leading 62 times and Houston still won the AFC South.
Same old culture
No, the sacks are simply an allegory for a systemic problem within the Bengals organization. Bengals fans are all too familiar with the scenario. They’ve been watching it since 1991 when Mike Brown took control of the team. Another high-profile primetime matchup, another embarrassing performance. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
Last week I wrote about the potential for Cincinnati to change the culture created under Marvin Lewis with a win Monday night. The loss in Pittsburgh shows that despite the head man on the sideline, it still matters who sits in the owner’s box. The Bengals were consistently losing important games long before former Lewis arrived. If Monday was any indication, they’ll be losing important games long after he’s gone. For fans, it can be miserable. For players, it is their livelihood.
Which brings us to wide receiver A.J. Green. Until this season, his entire career has been tethered to both Dalton and Lewis. Green was once considered one of the best receivers in the game. Over the years, however, the Bengals hardships have slowly eroded that recognition. The numbers don’t lie. Since 2014 Green has topped 1,100 yards just once. In four career playoff games, he’s never topped 80 yards receiving and has just one touchdown.
Green will be 32 at the start of the 2020 season and the injuries are starting to add up. Since 2016 he’s missed 17 of a possible 52 games due to injury, with more to come this season. Green’s most recent injury, torn ankle ligaments, occurred when playing on a practice field littered with “rocks and pebbles” according to teammate Tyler Boyd. It’s a scary realization that the team is not that far from the days it recycled jockstraps to save money.
There has been plenty of speculation from fans and pundits about how the team should proceed with Green. I would argue that it’s Green that holds all the cards, and the rest of his career is at stake. Rather than coming back for a lost season, it’s not absurd to ask to be put on the shelf for the remainder of the year.
At 0-4 and a dismal season ahead, the Bengals’ top priority is simple: trade A.J. Green for the best possible return. https://t.co/8RFAwVqp6T
— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) October 1, 2019
Asking for a trade is another option, though it is unlikely. It’s just not inherently in the Bengals DNA. Mike Brown doesn’t like change, so calls to trade away veterans for draft capital are unrealistic. Remember, Brown was ready to let franchise quarterback Carson Palmer retire rather than trade him, even if it meant getting nothing in return. The team eventually received an offer from the Raiders they couldn’t refuse.
Brown’s belligerence means Green’s future is likely in his own hands. One option is to come back to a potentially winless team and play out his contract. In doing so, he risks putting his body and future earnings on the line for team ownership that time and time again has proven it has no interest in anything other than turning a profit. The other option is to call it a day in Cincinnati and look forward to 2020 with a new team. If I’m Green, I take a page from Palmer’s old playbook and tell the team he’s done sacrificing his health and well being while getting nothing in return.
Travis Yates is a writer for PFN covering the Cincinnati Bengals. He is also a co-host of the Fantasy Fixers Podcast, a feature of the PFN Podcast Network. You can follow him @TheTravisYates on Twitter.