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Another Qualified Defense of Marvin Lewis

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I should start by saying that Marvin Lewis is not entirely blameless for the meltdown at the end of tonight’s game. Preparation is part of a coach’s job; when players take stupid, costly penalties at the end of the game the coach bears some responsibility for that. Combined with Lewis’s playoff goose egg…it’s a negative variable you take into account when evaluating him.

Was Lewis the primary villain today? Should he be fired? I think that would almost certainly be a terrible decision.

  • Where there any major tactical mistakes Lewis made in the game? Not that I can see. The numbers support the field goal he kicked in the 4th quarter. His challenge was upheld. Saying he should have just had McCarran take a knee after the Burfict INT would be just egregious second-guessing. There’s more than a minute left and the Steelers had all of their timeouts; making conservative play calls and trying to get the first down is obviously the right call.  Hill didn’t execute the play (and the Steeler defense made a great play.)
  • The lack of discipline cut both ways, and indeed of Hill holds onto the ball there could just as easily have been a STEELERS WERE OUT OF CONTROL narrative told about this game. A Steeler assistant coach took a penalty for pulling a player’s hair. The very dirty and (clueless announcers aside) illegal hit by Shazier on Bernard could have had a yoooge impact on the game — turning a turnover into a red zone first down, plus Hill fumbles more than twice as often as Bernard.  Is Tomlin a better coach at instilling discipline than Lewis because the refs blew the call?
  • It’s also entirely obvious that Lewis’s ability to get strong performances out of players with attitude raps like Burfict and Jones has, on balance, been a major net positive for the organization (plus, AFITCT, Jones hasn’t had any major issues in Cincinnati.)  I’d also add here that the Burfict and Jones penalties are different. The Burfict hit was vicious and stupid and selfish — no argument there. The Jones shove of Porter…the refs had to call it in the context of that game, no question, but it was pretty ticky-tack and I think a lot of players would have reacted that way. It was stupid but I don’t think it’s great evidence that Lewis can’t control his players or that the Bengals shouldn’t have Jones on the roster or something.  And again, if Hill holds onto the ball these plays almost certainly don’t happen and Burfict is a major hero.
  • When evaluating Lewis, it’s important to put the game into context. Lewis was a fumble away from beating a very good team with a C- QB prospect making his fourth NFL start, and the team came from behind to take the lead. Yes, the Bengals did catch a break with the Roethlisberger injury, but given that they didn’t have Dalton at all and lost two key defensive players it’s hard to argue that injuries benefited Cincinnati on balance. If the Bengals lose to Pittsburgh with Dalton starting, I’d consider moving on from Lewis.  After this game? I don’t see it. 
  • And, again, if the Bengals are considering firing Lewis, I again have to ask…compared to what?  What do you think the odds are that they find a better head coach? Look again at this list.  Maybe you can make a case for firing Lewis to keep Jackson, but that’s it, and even then I’m not sure the case is that strong.
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