Cincinnati Chilly?

As Bengals fans beg for change, particularly on offense, head coach Marvin Lewis and owner Mike Brown have been largely mum on any potential moves.  While both promised changes in some form, neither would state how far they would go, even suggesting that the staff may undergo only subtle changes. So far, the only news regarding coaching has been word that linebackers coach Jeff Fitzgerald was given permission to seek other opportunities-not exactly Earth-shattering news.  

The target of most of Bengaldom’s angst has been offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and what is seen as a stale, undisciplined, and overly unimaginative offense. While Bratkowski returned to work along with the rest of the staff late this week in preparation for their Senior Bowl coaching assignment, fan disappointment was at a near fever pitch.  Concerns about the uncertainty of the current CBA situation and the time required to install an entirely new offense were cited as the ‘wise’ reasoning for continuity.

“A new system, a new nomenclature is harder,” Lewis said. “If we lopped off some heads, maybe we’d get better. But maybe we wouldn’t.”

Enter Brad Childress

Multiple NFL sources indicated Friday that Lewis had dinner with Childress in at Jeff Ruby’s in Cincinnati on Thursday night.  Childress, the recently-fired head coach in Minnesota ran a West Coast scheme in Minnesota learned under Andy Reid in Philadelphia. That offense would be a significant departure from Bratkowski’s offense. Lewis and Childress got to know each other during last offseason, when they spent a part of the summer together on an NFL USO tour overseas.  But it wasn’t entirely social.  According to the sources, the content of the discussions revolved heavily around X’s and O’s. 

And now there are mixed signals from the ever-ambiguous Lewis.”I think we still have a chance for change,” Lewis was quoted as saying on on Thursday. “I still think we have an opportunity to revise things.” 

If Childress were to come to Cincinnati, he’d be fairly affordable for the Bengals.  He is still being paid the remainder of his contract from Minnesota. Childress did interview for the offensive coordinator position in Miami, but the job went to former Browns OC Brian Daboll.  In a bit of irony, Childress could also be in the running for the OC job in Cleveland, where new head coach Pat Shurmur worked with Chilly in Philadelphia. 

So while the Bengals will provide precious few details, let’s analyze and speculate for a moment.  Could Chilly help the Bengals?  Is he a better option than Bratkowsi? 

Looking at the cons first, he would be installing an entirely new offensive scheme.  As Lewis stated, the nomenclature, formations, and assignments would certainly change. With the potential that a CBA may not be signed until the summer (or later), Childress could have basically a training camp and two preseason games to make such a major change.

Jerome Simpson, who looked to finally have turned the corner at the end of the season after two years of struggling with the playbook, would have to start over. 

Despite his over 30 years of experience coaching, Chilly has only one season of experience calling plays.  His football knowledge was called into question by Brett Favre last year, and he has a budding reputation for difficulty with players. 

The team will be heading to Mobile shortly to coach in the Under Armor Senior Bowl.  It would be impossible for the team to make any changes for that game, and the uncertainty hanging over Bratkowski, who’s believed to be under contract, isn’t Brown’s style. 

That said, let’s look at the pro’s:

Childress has head coaching experience, having taken the Vikings to the playoffs.  

His style of the West Coast offense is more run-based than others.  It’s widely known that Lewis wants the Bengals to be a run-first team. Adrian Peterson thrived under Childress in Minnesota, a fact that won’t be lost on Cedric Benson.  Benson, who will be a free agent this spring, expressed interest in returning to the Queen City, but only under the condition that the team committed to the run.  Lewis has respect for Benson and wants him back. 

Lewis came out of a recent review of the 2010 game tape with one primary message:  His team lacked an offensive identity.  This seems to be an indictment of Bratkowski in Lewis’ eyes. 

He’d come relatively cheap, with his Minny contract paying him 3 million next year.  Whatever the Bengals negotiate with him will simply be subtracted from that total. 

Childress is close friends with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.  Zimmer is highly-respected by Lewis, and a vote of confidence from Zimmer would carry a lot of weight inside the organization. 

Overall, we’re in favor of the move.  There would be some minor difficulties to overcome for the offseason, and the threat of an extended labor dispute certainly doesn’t help things, but what’s the worst that can happen there?  The team would struggle next year learning a new system the same way they struggled with their current system this year?  Whatever.  There’s no reason to believe the offense will improve next season under Bratkowski’s leadership.  For those of us who rely on things other than blind faith, there’s little downside to consider in that regard. 

The Simpson thing is a non-issue as well.  If Childress could get production out of Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, I believe he’ll be able to get similar results from Simpson and Andre Caldwell.  He likewise got excellent production from journeyman TE Viscanthe Shiancoe, and helped Adrian Peterson dominate.  Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard could likewise see an expanded role as Childress would find more ways to exploit opposing defenses. 

His run-oriented offense would certainly match Lewis’ desires, and be a big selling point for Cedric Benson.  I’d also downplay his supposed lack of experience calling plays.  With over 30 years of coaching experience, he knows what plays to call. 

WR coach Mike Sheppard could help the team through the Senior Bowl with the existing offense.  He’s been an OC in the league before, and could certainly help the team during the week’s practices and the game. 

Maybe I’m a blind optimist, but I see all the arguing over the CBA as posturing.  At the end of the day, both sides have to see the value of what they have going for them, and what’s at stake with a work stoppage. Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, like their predecessors, will make the deal happen and on time in my view. 

When you consider how stale and predictable the current offense is, and the fact that the team has tried to overhaul it twice now since 2007 with the existing staff, I see Lewis as favoring change now. He’s clearly of the opinion that the team has no identity, and he’s right.  Assuming Lewis and Childress had a productive dinner, which it appears they did, I would expect Childress could join the Bengals—soon.  It makes sense.

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