Here’s a guess on what will be the handful of sound bites buzzing around Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Tampa Bay after the Bengals whiffed their chance to move into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with their loss to winless Cleveland.
» The only good thing that came out of Sunday is that people will get off quarterback Carson Palmer’s back for at least a week. He clearly showed he’s still got gamebreaking skills and that he and T.O. and The Ocho and Gresham can make some beautiful music together. He threw a couple of long ones and he fired some sideline-lasers. His only questionable play seemed to come in that ugly red-zone sequence late in the third quarter. There was a sack and a checkdown pass with no shot into the end zone. But then, he’s won a lot North games taking what they give him.
What Palmer showed Sunday is that he’s obviously still able to take over a game.
» Cornerback Leon Hall quietly keeps doing his thing. He’s got an interception in each of the last three games, giving him 17 for his career. It shows you how much the game has changed. That puts him in a tie for sixth on the all-time Bengals list in 52 games. He’s tied with safety Tommy Casanova’s 17 in 71 games from 1972-77.
» Is it my imagination, or is running back Cedric Benson Palmer’s best pass protector in more ways than one?
Forget the way Benson picked up three blitzes in the touchdown drive that cut the lead to 23-20 Sunday. He simply manned up and didn’t let anyone touch Palmer with an extremely gutty effort.
And his numbers also suggest he keeps people off Palmer and his offense. The Bengals are 9-0 when Benson carries it at least 25 times and 12-1-1 when he gets it at least 21.
But it’s more than the numbers and more than blitz pickups. It’s the feel, the pace, the energy, the running formations that keeps defenses honest. They can’t tee it up and go after an offensive line that clearly has trouble protecting. That’s why they ran it first last year and they may have to head that way again this year if they want to keep Palmer healthy.
The bid for balance is precarious. The passing game looked good as it has looked in years. But Benson’s 15 carries made them almost look more like the sub-.500 finesse team that struggled in 2007 than the smashmouth running team that won the division in 2009. It is hard to see them passing on all five situations of third-and-three or less last year. But they did in Cleveland, and converted two.
You had to love the way the pass game worked Sunday, though. But the sacks make you wonder if they still have to protect their line with some more Benson.
» The improved pass rush just isn’t there. Sunday’s one sack came on WILL linebacker Keith Rivers’ blitz. They need to get something from their pass-rushing ends. Seneca Wallace’s ability to extend plays out of the pocket didn’t happen last year against this defense, never mind all the crucial rush yardage. Three sacks in four games are going to be fodder for comment this week.
» With rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley spread out unconscious on the field Sunday, it looked like what rookie cornerback Brandon Ghee went through in the Sept. 2 preseason finale at Indianapolis. And he didn’t return to practice for two weeks. So don’t look for Shipley this week. But the Oct. 17 bye comes at a good time for him. He could be back for the game in Atlanta in three weeks.
» You have to feel that all the Redsmania is spreading and is going to help the Bengals extend their sellout streak to 55 and make Sunday quite a festive day on the riverfront.
Tags: benson, Palmer, postgame takes on Bengals' loss to Browns, Shipley
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