31 Days, 31 Teams: Cincinnati Bengals
By Jeff Falconio
Due to my computer getting fried I missed a few days for the 31 Days, 31 Teams update, so in the spirit of training camp, here's a two-a-day with the second preview for today.
The Cincinnati Bengals were finally on track after winning the AFC North in 2005 but injuries and off-the-field problems sent the Bengals spiraling to a 4-11-1 finish in 2008. Numerous arrests after the '05 season tarnished the franchise and the Bengals hit bottom last year with a thin roster, made thinner by an elbow injury to Carson Palmer that ended any chance of Cincinnati getting back to the playoffs.
Palmer returns to the Bengals at full strength after appearing in only four games last season. In a three year span from 2005 to 2007 Palmer recorded 86 touchdowns and almost 12,000 passing yards, making him one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league. But without Palmer the Bengals looked less than ordinary under the guidance of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The player most hurt by Palmer's absence was wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who's 53 catches for 540 yards in '08 were his lowest totals since his rookie year. A porous offensive line gave up 51 sacks and could not generate enough holes for running backs Cedric Benson and Chris Perry. As a result, the Bengals finished last in scoring and total offense. Though the Bengals lost T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Seattle, they replaced him with Laveranues Coles. To further help the offense the Bengals drafted mammoth tackle Andre Smith in the first round and pass catching tight end Chase Coffman in the third.
For as ugly as they were offensively, the Bengals held their own on defense, finishing a respectable 12th in total defense. The Bengals have nearly rebuilt their defense around young players like defensive end Antwan Odom and cornerback Leon Hall. Cincinnati also targeted Rey Maualuga in the draft to bring depth to the linebacker position. To plug the middle of the line the Bengals picked up free agent Tank Johnson, a bit of a surprise considering Johnson's problems off the field.
Burning Question: Can Palmer get through the season healthy? Palmer suffered a partially torn ligament but did not have surgery. He stated in the spring he is back to 100% and indications are he had no problems during the team's intrasquad scrimmage. The Bengals signed J.T. O'Sullivan as an insurance policy but clearly if Cincy wants to get back on track Palmer will need to start all 16 games.
The Bengals will be better than last year if: The addition of Coles and the presence of Palmer helps to re-ignite Ochocinco and the aerial attack. Smith holds down the offensive line protecting Palmer while opening much needed holes for the running game. The young defense continues to jell as Hall and Maualuga become playmakers. Cincinnati can return to 8-8 if Palmer remains healthy.
The Bengals will be worse than last year if: Palmer takes a shot on the arm and cannot re-gain his form from '05-'07. Coles struggles to adjust while Ochocinco, who was hurt last year, ends up on the IR. Defensively the Bengals take a step backward as high-profile receivers like Greg Jennings, Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall run roughshod through the young secondary.