CINCINNATI -- A lot of has been said and written about what’s gone wrong with the Bengals this season. What you hear weekly in the locker room is the same song:
"We’ve got to execute better.”
"We’ve got to make more plays.”
"It’s a play here, a play there.”
The players said it again after the loss in Baltimore Sunday. “We can’t catch a break. We’ve got to make our own breaks," is how Marvin Lewis put it Monday in his news conference.
Perhaps. But maybe it’s a draft here and a draft there. The margin for error in the NFL is slim. If you don’t feed the talent monster every year, a team can go from a playoff contender to 3-7-1.
The Bengals built this team with good drafts from 2010 to 2013. Those players formed the core that made the playoffs five straight years.
The three drafts since 2013? Not so good.
Look at Sunday’s loss to the Ravens: Of the nine players chosen in the first three rounds of the last three drafts, two had a positive impact on the game. Jeremy Hill had six catches for 61 yards, and Tyler Boyd caught five passes for 62 yards.
This year’s No. 1 pick, cornerback William Jackson, is lost for the year with a chest injury.
Some other high picks from those three drafts have disappointed. Cedric Ogbuehi, the No. 1 pick from '15, continues to struggle at right tackle. He’s rated 69th by Pro Football Focus among tackles. The No. 2 pick, tackle Jake Fisher, cannot even get on the field.
Defensive back Darqueze Dennard, the No. 1 pick in '14, got his most snaps of the year Sunday. He was in on eight tackles (not always a good thing with a DB), but he allowed a touchdown pass. His rating with PFF is poor.
This Bengals team was built with good drafts starting in 2010. They got Jermaine Gresham in the first round, Carlos Dunlap in the second and Geno Atkins in the fourth. In 2011, they got A.J. Green in the first and Andy Dalton in the second. In 2012, they got Dre Kirkpatrick in the first Kevin Zeitler in the second, Mohamed Sanu in the third and Marvin Jones and George Iloka in the fifth.
Vontaze Burfict joined the team as an undrafted college free agent in '12. In 2013, they got Tyler Eifert in the first and Giovani Bernard in the second.
That’s seven Pro Bowl players in those four years, but none since.
As a result, the Bengals have gotten old. The defense, with an average age of 27.3 years, is the oldest in the NFL.
The Bengals have drafted 12 defensive players in the last three drafts. Only one, Josh Shaw, started Sunday.
Duke Tobin, the architect of this team, is on record as saying the Bengals will stay the course, i.e, build through the draft. The free agents the club added this year -- linebacker Carlos Dansby and wide receiver Brandon LaFell -- haven’t had much of an impact.
But the root of the problem is the draft. Missing on Oghuehi and Fisher would be huge. Andrew Whitworth, the team’s best offensive lineman, is on a one-year contract.
Oghuehi has been splitting time with Eric Winston.
"(Oghuehi) did some better things in this football game," Lewis said. "That’s what he’s got to keep doing. The rushers don’t get easier as we go. He continues to learn on the job. Training under fire would be the term for it."
Oghuehi isn’t the only player under scrutiny. When you’re 3-7-1, everyone gets looked at.
"In professional football, players realize their jobs are never secure," Lewis said. “They have to perform each and every time out. They’re always being evaluated. That’s why I say: Their job is to play as well as they can and win football games."
The only personnel issue Lewis addressed Monday was kicker Mike Nugent’s status. The team won't bring in anyone else, but the Bengals will certainly tweak things in the offseason.
"As coaches our job is pull (good performances) out of the players as much as we can," Lewis said. “When it’s not there, we’ve got to get a new player."
That will start with the draft. The good news for the Bengals is they’ll have their highest picks since 2011. The bad news is they’ll have a lot of spots to address.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.