Questions. From immediate to big picture.
The Bengals go back to work Monday with the most immediate question revolving around their kicker. As in, who is it going to be Sunday in the 1 p.m. Paul Brown Stadium game against the Super Bowl champion Saints? Marvin Lewis sure made it sound like it won’t be Aaron Pettrey.
The next most pressing question is the state of the secondary. As in, will there be more of one than has played the last seven quarters? The Saints come marching in with their cadre of receivers and quarterback Drew Brees’ deadly 105 passer rating on third down, so they’ll need to get at least a couple of defensive backs healthy. Cornerback Rico Murray (ankle) has indicated he’ll be ready to go and safety Roy Williams would have two weeks rest after his concussion. It would also be two weeks since cornerback Johnathan Joseph reaggravated his ankle sprain.
Plus, are they looking at a second straight blackout? Of the three remaining home games, the thinking had been this one has the best shot of selling out. As of Monday morning, they don’t expect it to be sold out.
The Bengals are 4-3 against Super Bowl champs in the last decade. They knocked off the Steelers twice last year, split with them in 2006, and in between lost to the Giants in overtime on the road. The 21-10 win over Baltimore at PBS came in the first game since 9/11 on Sept 23, 2001. Not a good 43rd birthday for future Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, then the Ravens defensive coordinator.
(But one of the touchdowns came on linebacker Takeo Spikes’ interception return.)
Then there are the longer-term questions that won’t be answered until after the season ends Jan. 2. The coaching situation figures to be resolved one way or another that week, but there are other questions pending a new collective bargaining agreement and that’s a question in itself.
The biggest on-field question is no doubt the offense. It has never hit stride since the first two games of 2007. In the 46 games quarterbacked by Carson Palmer since, the Bengals offense has scored three or more touchdowns eight times.
The next question – how to fix it – isn’t so easy.
It is easy to start with the quarterback, particularly when you look at the Monday morning passing stats. Carson Palmer’s 15 interceptions are fewer than only Brett Favre’s 17 and Eli Manning’s 16, and he’s ranked 30th in average gain and 26th in passer rating, behind former backups Jon Kitna and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
But out of all the pieces, the quarterback is the hardest to get. And there are those that insist the majority of the picks aren’t Palmer’s fault. Although, there seems to be no doubt the two in the end zone in the last two games fall squarely on his shoulders.
Yet here’s a guy that through those first two games in ’07 had 86 TDs and 45 interceptions in his first 47 starts and that doesn’t include the ’05 Wild Card Game. In the 46 games since (including the ’09 Wild Card game), he has 61 TDs and 50 interceptions. Palmer is a guy that has obviously been there, done that.
Personnel? Timing? Protection? Scheme?
Those are all factors impacting the quarterback and, at some point, that is the ultimate question facing the franchise.
Does fixing the factors make the quarterback better or not at age 31?
Not an easy answer, although the numbers would say the QB is in his prime and he can still wing it. Those guys don’t grow on trees.
Just some of the questions. Big and small.
Tags: kicker, quarterback, questions
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 21 Comments »
The text clicked in from Buffalo at 10:14 p.m. Sunday night.
“How wild was that hobs?”
Thanks to you Fitzy, it was wild. Not as wild as Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29. Not as wild as Frank Reich in the playoffs. But you’ve got your own niche in football history now, Fitz. Call it Harvard Sails, 14-17.
Take Sunday’s DVD of Buffalo’s 49-31 win over the Bengals and send it to every kid you care about. In the game’s first 20 minutes, Fitzpatrick threw the ball to everyone but Dean Wormer. He came off the field after throwing a pick-six to fall behind 28-7 and looking like some TSA agent had crawled into his bearded disguise.
Take note, kids. Fitzpatrick hit 14 of his last 17 passes to engineer the biggest comeback in NFL history. No one. Not Montana. Not Elway. Not Brady. No one before Sunday had been down by as much as 17 points at the half and ended up winning by 18.
If you ever feel down, take a look at Fitzy trailing, 28-7, and wondering if he had thrown a ball to Kate Middleton for an engagement gift. He never said never. He may not be blessed with all the talent. But kids, heart and brains go a long way.
Which is kind of ironic because there was a lot of Bengals ‘08 and ’09 in Fitzy’s comeback. There was a lot of Carson Palmer grit. It is head coach Marvin Lewis’ style and pitch. Never down, never out. That is one of the many surprising things about Sunday: a Lewis team rarely gets blown out. Win or lose, it always seems like a Lewis game is decided late either way. The big difference between last year and this year is a small number of plays. Last year they were third-down conversions and touchdowns. This year they are fumbles and interceptions.
The great debate continues. Are they underachievers this year or overachievers last year?
Did they give up Sunday?
No, the defense had nothing left, but the last four minutes or so looked bad enough that it sparked questions.
What will happen Thursday?
Lewis’ guys always seem to play hard. It is hard to see them not.
A few other thoughts:
» What a time to play the Jets. Just when their passing game is hitting all the notes. You’d have to say the only starting Bengals DB that looks probable is cornerback Leon Hall and it won’t be surprising if safety Chris Crocker goes on IR. You’ve got to believe they have to go get another cornerback for Thursday just to make sure they really don’t have to use wide receivers Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby.
Don’t look now, the Jets not only throw it, they throw it in the clutch. They went 72 yards in the final 49 seconds Sunday to beat the Texans, 30-27. Quarterback Mark Sanchez (315 yards) threw a 42-yard bomb to Braylon Edwards to set up a six-yard fade to Santonio Holmes for the winning touchdown with 10 seconds left.
Both Edwards and Holmes tortured the Bengals as members of the Browns and Steelers, respectively. Holmes knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs in ’06 when he ended their season with a run-and-catch touchdown in overtime, and in the past few weeks Holmes had ended two OTs and caught Sunday’s winner, one of seven catches for 126 yards.
» There seems to a split opinion on Terrell Owens’ Howard-Cosell-Tell-It-Like-It-Is news conference after the game. Using the word “terrible” may not have been the best choice. Carson Palmer said he wouldn’t have used it, but he himself opted for “not very good.” But overall Owens sounded like a guy being honest and he had the always important “include mes” in there. And, basically, Palmer and right guard Bobbie Williams said the same thing about the Jets drilling them if they don’t bounce back quickly.
Guys who play as well as Owens is playing right now have a right to say some things. And he kept it above board by not pointing fingers.
» The most stunning thing on a stunning Sunday was how the Bengals’ best players couldn’t deliver a decisive blow in key points against a 1-8 team:
Palmer’s first red-zone interception of the season, a perfect spot to slow down the comeback.
Running back Cedric Benson’s fourth lost fumble of the season on their opening drive of the second half, just when they needed to keep the ball for five minutes or so to cool off the Bills.
Cornerback Leon Hall getting beat on a fade route for the go-ahead touchdown. As the only starter in the secondary on the field, they couldn’t afford that from their most reliable and steady guy on defense.
Punter Kevin Huber’s 23-yard shank right after the three-and-out that followed the Bills’ go-ahead touchdown.
All very good, very tough players, very proven players.
But then, this entire season has been one mystery after the other.
A text went back to Buffalo this morning. The joke two years ago had been to name his youngest kid “Geoff with a G.”
“You should name the next one ‘Stevie,’ ” the text said.
Tags: Fitzy's comeback
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 23 Comments »
Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham is a nominee for the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week for his nine catches, 85 yards and TD last Sunday against the Colts. Please vote for Jermaine here.
Tags: gresham, Rookie of Week
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 7 Comments »
Leftovers from the ride back from Indy.
Cold leftovers. A lot of paper cups half full and half empty.
HALF FULL: This is the way we had the defense figured at the beginning of the year. Stingy in the red zone, give up nothing on the ground, and go toe-to-toe with a Pro Bowl quarterback.
HALF-EMPTY: Now we know what it’s like if Peyton Manning plays in one of those preseason games since he was missing three of his top five receivers and his running back.
REALITY: Any time you hold down Manning like that at home, whether he’s playing with just backup guys or not, it’s an accomplishment.
HALF FULL: The Bengals offensive line gets kudos for protecting Carson Palmer so well in the passing game. And it is a big accomplishment to keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis at bay at their place and down 17-0. Rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham has impressed with his blocking as much as his receiving and he was one of the guys chipping and helping out the tackles.
HALF EMPTY: How can the Bengals rush for 30 yards on 19 conventional runs against the NFL’s No. 29 rush defense that didn’t have a starting linebacker in a regular spot? How can they get no yards on runs by Cedric Benson on second-and-one and third-and-one? And one of them was with three tackles in the game. The game plan had been to run the ball and drain the clock, but they could never do it.
Note the snap before Palmer threw his first interception, a pick-six that put the Bengals down, 10-0. Again it was a play where right tackle Dennis Roland reported as eligible as a tight end. But Benson could only get one yard on the right edge to set up a second-and-nine and putting them off schedule.
HALF FULL: Maybe Palmer shouldn’t have even played, but it shows you the size of his guts. He gets a shot in the shoulder, completes 74 percent of his passes for 292 yards, and made some spectacular plays. That’s a franchise quarterback.
HALF EMPTY: From Nov. 25, 2007 to Oct. 10, 2010, he went 30 games without three picks. Now he’s had two in 35 days. It’s not just him, but he’s made some uncharacteristic bad decisions as of late. On Sunday, the rookie Jordan Shipley appeared to make the mistake on the pick-six. Terrell Owens has taken the blame on the last one. The overthrow to a wide open Chad Ochocinco came because he had to get rid of it. But on the pick to Gresham early in the fourth quarter, it looked like he left the pocket early.
But Palmer is right about one thing: He’s the ultimate source for blame. The way it’s going with his timing with the receivers, it looks like he can’t be as fine and has to back off the tight windows.
TELLTALE STAT OF SEASON: The Bengals have really struggled on third-and-short. After converting two of four third downs of two yards or less Sunday, the Bengals are 15-for-35 on that down and distance this season. They have run it 13 times (converting seven) and passed it 19 times (completing eight). There have been two sacks and a scramble on three other pass plays.
TOPIC OF THE THIS WEEK: The Carson-Fitzy Bowl is 1 p.m. Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium with Palmer facing Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, his backup in 2007 and 2008 and the man who started 12 games in his place in ’08. This year, Fitzpatrick, the seventh-rounder who became the first Harvard quarterback to throw an NFL pass, has slightly better numbers than Palmer and his Heisman Trophy with an 85.5 rating (14 TDs, seven picks) compared to Palmer’s 83 on 16 TDs and 11 picks. In ’08 he had a 70 rating (8 TDs and nine picks). His yards per throw that year was 5.1 compared to this year’s 6.6.
And Fitzpatrick has been out of this world on third down with the NFL’s second-best rating on that down at a 110 with another seventh-round pick, Kentucky’s Steve Johnson, second in the AFC in third-down catches. Shipley is tied for third, but Palmer is 27th on third down at below 60.
T.O. TAKE: Did Owens give up on the ball over the middle that was Palmer’s third pick? I don’t think so. He admited he screwed up the route. But anybody who took on Troy Polamalu like he did against the Steelers for that 20-yard catch that put the ball in the red zone Monday night with 61 seconds left has nothing to prove to me. From now on the only way I’ll be convinced he gives up on a ball is if he waves a white hanky. The one thing you’ve been able to count on is his competitiveness.
Tags: Indy leftovers
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 18 Comments »
Not a midseason report card. We don’t believe in report cards. There is one report card.
The AFC North standings.
But here are some classroom observations at the halfway point:
HEAD BANGERS: While the Bengals have everybody in the NFL scratching their heads about their record, they decided to bang some heads against the Steelers. Some of it is because of that Monday Night adrenaline. Some of it is because of the rivalry with the Steelers. Some of it is the style of the two teams. Some of it is Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’ ability to get his teams to play hard no matter the circumstance.
That is going to be his challenge now over the last half of the season. He did a hell of a job with an 0-8 injury-riddled start in ’08 and finished 4-3-1 with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to set the table for ’09. But there weren’t the crushing expectations since Carson Palmer was out. The irony is that Fitzpatrick brings a Bills team into Paul Brown Stadium in 12 days that is already 0-8 and could be 0-9 after playing Detroit at home this Sunday.
For the record, ProFootballTalk.com reported Tuesday that three Steelers suffered concussions Monday night. Safety Will Allen, running back Mewelde Moore, and fullback Isaac Redman went down, as did guard Chris Kemoeatu with a knee injury. Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey came back to play after bruising his tibia while left tackle Max Starks got some stingers.
All the Bengals did was make it easier on the visiting Patriots this week.
SHORT STUFF: Some people were surprised with the Bengals’ decision to pass on third and about half a yard (they got a great spot) on their first possession Monday night. That was after running back Cedric Benson pounded the NFL’s No. 1 run defense for 20 yards on the first four snaps.
But that’s how they’ve been attacking short yardage. Coming into the game they had faced 29 snaps of third-and two or less. They had dropped back to pass on 19 of them, completing seven of them for the first down. They had run it 10 times and made it six times, twice on Palmer sneaks.
They went 0-for-2 Monday. Palmer’s pass to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was incomplete and on third-and-two from the Pittsburgh 26 early in the third quarter, tight end Reggie Kelly couldn’t get a block on inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and he dropped Benson for a one-yard loss. That led to Mike Nugent’s missed field goal from 45 yards out. Before that play, Benson had been successful on four out of five third-and-short runs.
GRAHAM JOINS PATS: Reports have surfaced that former Bengals kicker Shayne Graham has signed with the Patriots to be a stopgap for the injured Stephen Gostkowski just in time for the Pats’ visit to Heinz Field this Sunday.
Of course Benagldom is ready for the gags and are advising Bill Belichick it better not come down to a 39-yard field goal for PatriotsNation.
PALMER HANGS IN: Monday night is why I’m a Carson Palmer guy. He’s tough and never gives in. He had less protection than credit card fraud and put his team in position to score 27 points, counting the two missed field goals, against a defense that came in giving up 14.5 points per game. You could count the number of guys in the league on one hand that could have made the 27-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens with James Farrior gnawing on his limbs.
The next-to-last play of the game shows you how much Palmer values Owens these days. He didn’t look at anybody else even though he had three defenders collapsing on Owens. He threw what amounted to a jump ball that only Owens could catch, but it was too high.
Not a bad percentage play these days in the red zone. Owens is on pace for 14 TD catches. The Bengals record is Carl Pickens’ 17. The next best is a dozen by Pickens and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
WORST DAY? Special teams coach Darrin Simmons has spent the last eight seasons legitimizing a unit that constantly killed them in the eight years before he arrived. But Monday night had to be the worst of his 122 games. Two missed field goals. A blocked punt. A fumbled kickoff return. They led to a combination of 16 points they gave up or didn’t get.
Tags: some bengals mid-season observations
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 36 Comments »
Election Day. Or election day, depending how you feel about it.
This year? Call it election day. When the campaign worker offered me some literature going in, I told him, “I’m just here for damage control.”
Which is about where the Bengals are, aren’t they? This isn’t the biggest flop in franchise history, which is the Doc-induced theme this week. There’s too much time left to put together a run. I would think the 4-12 team of ’78, the 7-9 team of ’83, the 8-8 team of ’89, the 7-9 team of ’97, the 8-8 team of ’06 and the 7-9 team of ’07 would have to lead the ballot.
But look around. The Bengals have been caught up in a classic NFL redistricting. Six of the defending division champs are in third or fourth place. Five of them have losing records. There are tears in San Diego, revolts in Minnesota and Washington, voter unrest in Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco.
The Bengals need a Give ‘Em Hell Harry finish like Truman beat Dewey ‘in 48 to pull anything out before the whistle stops. Here’s an Election Day (sorry, election day) swing through a campaign seeking traction.
NO ROSE GARDEN STRATEGY: While embattled President Obama searches for the magic of ‘08, quarterback Carson Palmer is searching for the karma of ’09 and it’s not exactly coming up roses.
Last year, Palmer seemed to have all the answers late in the fourth quarter. But in the Tampa Bay and Miami games, the old adage seemed to be in play. Sometimes your best throw is the one you don’t make.
It’s so easy to second guess. But with Terrell Owens covered on interceptions at the end of the Tampa Bay and Miami games, it reminds you that what makes Palmer so good in crunch time is that he usually makes the cool decision to live to fight another day and not risk a pick.
It’s a sign of how tight and up against it the Bengals have felt ever since they lost to Cleveland. The only time you ever really see Palmer visibly frustrated is when he tries to make a play when there is nothing there.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski alluded to it Monday when asked how well he thought Palmer played against the Dolphins.
“I think when you start off like that, you expect it to be like that the whole day then you get to a certain point where it’s not that way and then a little frustration is building,” Bratkowski said. “Take some chances you couldn’t take. It happened a little bit yesterday.”
THE BILL CLINTON-SARAH PALIN LONG BALL: Both sides are pulling out the big guns and that’s what the Bengals did Sunday when they took a lot of shots deep downfield, especially on first down.
Go back to Palmer’s underthrow to Owens on a 39-yard bomb that would have tied the Atlanta game early in the fourth quarter and the murmurings are growing about Palmer’s arm strength. You could even go back to halftime of the opener when his Hail Mary only made it to the 3.
Bratkowski says there is nothing wrong with the wing. He says Palmer underthrew one ball Sunday (just by “a touch” on the Bengals sideline), but the others had nothing to do with arm strength.
The tipped 37-yard TD pass to Owens, he says, was a misread of the coverage. The 37-yard bomb on the last drive where Owens had the safety beat by five yards in the end zone and had to wait on the ball was because defensive tackle Randy Starks got off a block up the middle of the line and hit Palmer as he threw it. A deep ball to the middle of the field didn’t get to the middle enough.
If you’re thinking Palmer used to make all those throws with ease, that’s what I’m thinking, too. The fact they’ve got him chucking it deep often shows you they think he’s fine physically. But his accuracy going deep isn’t as sharp as it once was.
Maybe it’s because he’s still trying to get the timing with Owens. He had great deep timing with Chris Henry, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ochocinco back in the day, but that’s because they were together more than one training camp. Maybe it’s because he’s 30. Maybe it’s because he’s got 88 games of NFL pounding.
But don’t take this as they’ve got to get rid of him. He’s had some issues, but he remains the least of their problems and keeps them a viable entity with all hell breaking loose around him.
THE NANCY PELOSI-HARRY REID EMBATTLED INCUMBENT: Speaking of The Ocho, never mind when is the last long ball he caught. When is the last time Palmer even looked at him deep?
The guess is on his last catch longer than 18 yards, the 42-yarder in Cleveland on Oct. 3. Right after the 78-yarder to Owens when it looked like they were going to bomb the Browns into submission.
Suddenly, nothing. Even when he’d been double-covered Ochocinco had been known to outrun it a few times a game and Palmer would take a few shots. He took one on Sunday at The Ocho down the right sideline but the bracket coverage was too much, and it just seems like Owens is the only consistent deep threat.
The Ocho is also taking some heat for dropping some easy balls. Owens has dropped far more, but that’s his M.O., and you can overlook it with his production. Chad has had his share of drops in the past, but he’s been more sure-handed than this.
And, look, The Ocho doesn’t get enough credit for being a competitor. He’s putting in the time watching tape with Marvin Lewis weekly and he’s a very prideful guy when it comes to football. He’s always around. And you get the sense that he’s pressing, too, and that he just needs some big catches in a win to get over the hump.
He knows Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the head coach that drafted him in Cincinnati, knows him inside-and-out. He has yet to have a 100-yard game in his 12 matchups with the Old Coach. That should get him simmering.
MR. SPEAKER: They say John Boehner of Cincinnati, the greatest ninth-inning flamethrower in these parts since Rob Dibble, is going to have to be more diplomatic when he becomes Speaker of the House. He can take notes from Owens, the fiery radical that gained a reputation for blowing up bridges with missiles from his lips.
But on Sunday, Owens played the role of an old-time, consensus-building Speaker of the House, like Joe Martin or Tip O’Neill, and reached across the aisle and took the blame for the two big misses in the fourth quarter. He said all the right things about the play in the end zone and the pick.
While everybody waits for him to blow up, anyone notice he’s having a hell of a year? Sure, you wish he was more consistent catching the ball (if he was, he’d be Jerry Rice) and he could adjust a little better to the ball in the air. But I love watching the guy play. He’s competitive and exciting and he’s been their MVP, hands down. Just think if they didn’t have him.
THE ELIOT SPITZER CLOCK STRATEGY: How do you go from being a national joke to getting your own cable TV show in two years?
You just hand it off and let time take care of it.
Which is what the Bengals have to be thinking after the clock has blown up on them like health care in three of the four losses.
Just hand it off.
RICHARD NIXON RETURN EDITION: Remember how well the Bengals returned in the preseason? They were like Nixon in ’52, ’68, and in the ‘80s. You couldn’t stop them. If it wasn’t Adam Jones, it was Quan Cosby. If it wasn’t Jordan Shipley, it was Bernard Scott.
Anybody saying on Labor Day that the Bengals would be 27th returning punts and 30th returning kicks on election day would have a head MRI.
But that’s where they are. And with Jones out for the year and Shipley one of their best receivers, they now go back to Cosby and Scott, two guys that were key to their success last season. Now Scott meets the Steelers he beat last year with a kick return the last time they met.
Tags: Politicial Bengals
Posted in Hobson's Choice | 19 Comments »