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Chapter ending?

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on December 26, 2010 – 10:55 am

Ochocinco

Even as Marvin Lewis expresses optimism about coming back to coach next season, Sunday’s game against the Chargers still has an end-of-era feel to it at Paul Brown Stadium.

It is the era that started with the win over the undefeated Chiefs on Nov. 16, 2003 and spanned two division titles, two home playoff games, four Monday night games, two deaths, and a marriage proposal. Euphoria. Heartbreak. Celebrity. Injury. Headlines. Prayers. You name it, whatever you want to call it (The Marvin Era, The Carson Decade, The Age of Chad) it has had a little bit of everything for the Reality TV generation.

The conventional wisdom is that Lewis wants some changes if he’s going to return and Palmer is so beat up and frustrated one day shy of his 31st birthday that there have to be changes.  It can be assumed that Bengals president Mike Brown isn’t happy, either.  That’s where the guessing game starts.

In the end, he’s the guy that loaded up for this season. He signed two big-money receivers. He made defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer the highest-paid assistant coach in club history. He re-signed all the veterans on both sides of the ball, took Zimmer’s recommendation to sign cornerback Adam Jones (Zimmer took responsibility for what turned out to be a solid move), and Palmer’s recommendation for Terrell Owens. The fact that all he got out of it was a top three draft pick can’t sit well with Brown.

Even if Lewis comes back, there’s a sense this chapter is closed. Lewis and Palmer can mold young guns like Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Rey Maualuga, Jermain Gresham, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, Bernard Scott and Jerome Simpson as the roster balance shifts to a new generation.  Has a Bengals era ever ended with such young talent? The offseason question has to be how to grow it. 

Heightening the end-of-era feel is the CW and guesswork that wide receiver Chad Ochocinco won’t be back for an 11th season at age 33, making Sunday the end of The Age of Chad. If this it, what a run.

Never mind he did things no Bengals receiver has ever done, such as catch 10,000 yards (10,783) and 750 balls (751), and go to six Pro Bowls. But he also did things no NFL receiver did, such as leading his conference in receiving yards four straight seasons from 2003 to 2006, while becoming a mainstream celebrity in popular culture.

The debate is always going to be if that celebrity got in the way of his game. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer, but did his emotion and passion cross the line too many times? There are arguments either way.

His performance in big games is mixed. His numbers in the eight Decembers under Lewis are 14 touchdowns in 32 games with 149 catches for 2,050 yards. That’s 13.8 yards per catch for an average of 4.7 catches and 64 yards per game. That is less than his career averages of 14.4 yards per catch with an average of five catches for 71 yards per game.

Maybe not that big of a difference, but in an era in which the Bengals were oh-so-close, a difference just the same. In his two playoff games, he caught just six balls for 87 yards and no touchdowns. The talk shows and national pundits raged the Bengals would be better without him.

But he did come up big in some big moments. In the two home games the Bengals had to absolutely win to win the division - Cleveland in 2005 and Kansas City in 2009 - The Ocho bailed them put in the last seconds. Tied 20-20 with the Browns, he drew two pass-interference penalties to set up a last-snap field goal. Last year with the Bengals tied with the Chiefs at 10-10, he made a falling-back touchdown catch of Palmer’s six-yard bullet on third down with 2:03 left to win it. And in that December run he caught a TD in four straight games.

There were about three or four years there when no one could cover him. Ask a rookie Adam Jones about the game Ochocinco stole in the fourth quarter from the Titans in Tennessee in a huge over-the-hump win in ’05.

As usual with The Ocho, it’s never cut-and-dried. There are always a couple of layers to it, which makes him so damn fun.

If this is it, that may be the way to remember him. Don’t give yourself a headache trying to win a debate. He has been the leading receiver and one of the top NFL players on some of the best Bengals teams, and he made you smile at some point along the way.

It may not be a Super Bowl or Hall of Fame legacy. But it’s a hell of a legacy just the same.


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Musings

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on December 21, 2010 – 5:58 pm

» Biggest thing to come out of Sunday’s win besides the pass rush was the eyebrows that were raised by the blocking of the young wide receivers in the run game. Running back Cedric Benson has been a sitting duck for unblocked safeties all year. It looks different when they get blocked, huh?

Head coach Marvin Lewis has been fuming about it for years. And that’s one thing that Laveranues Coles willingly did last year and what Antonio Bryant was ready to do this year. Terrell Owens was brilliant at times (Jordan Shipley’s 64-yard run-and-catch in Atlanta), but wouldn’t always bring it. Same with The Ocho. Sometimes. Not always. But Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson were willing participants every snap.

And you could tell.

» Per Joe Reedy of  The Cincinnati Enquirer, Chad Ochocinco is going to have some candid comments about his situation next year Tuesday night at 10:30 on the T.Ocho Show on Versus. Let me guess.

The Ocho has indicated recently he doesn’t think the Bengals will pick up his $6 million option in 2011 and when asked Monday if he thought this Sunday would be his last game as a Bengal at Paul Brown, he said to check the stories from 2008. That’s back when he wanted out via a trade.

He’s probably right about the option. Heck, he’s putting out a poll on Twitter asking fans if they would pick up the option if they were a GM.

But say this about the man: He’s never backed down from playing hurt and it’s going to be a long time before anyone else breaks his team records. He should get several standing ovations Sunday to say thank you if this is what it looks like and this is it.

Think of it this way: With 10,783 yards, he has 3,682 more yards than the incomparable Isaac Curtis, the most gifted receiver in Bengals history and the man whose record he broke.

3,682 yards.

That’s more than Dan Ross, the best Bengals tight end ever, caught in his career.

It’ s also more yards than wide receivers like Chip Myers (3,079) and Peter Warrick (2,811) had in their entire Bengals careers, as well as their top receiving back of all time, James Brooks, with 3,012.

3,682.

It’s quite a run.

» Was anybody else wondering where that run on third-and-three with 1:55 left Sunday was against Tampa Bay on third-and-13 with 2:28 left back on Oct. 10? 

» This is why special teams coach Darrin Simmons loves Quan Cosby: Smart. Reliable. Always on the ball, literally.

With 2:13 left Sunday, who in Bengaldom didn’t think the Browns would recover the onside kick and win it on Phil Dawson’s kick at the gun? Not Cosby, in the middle up front on the hands team.

“We saw them do it on film,” Cosby said. “If it was an onside kick, he put it on the ground in front of the tee. If he teed it up, it was either deep kick or a middle bunt and the middle bunt was going to come right at me.”

But the film they saw was of a surprise onside, not one that was expected late in the game. Yet Simmons had them schooled Cosby digested it. Lewis has been telling  his team all year and did it last week, too: Smartest team wins. Cosby is that quintessential lunch-bucket reliable guy.

» It was emotional watching and listening to Benson get emotional like that after the game. How nice is it to see someone care that much about what he does and how much it means to succeed?

Reedy has a nice stat comparing Benson’s first 39 games to the first 39 of Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson, where his 3,004 yards and dozen 100-yard games trumped them. It did take Dillon half a season to get into the starting lineup his rookie year and Johnson played 22 games before he became the regular starter, but the point is made. Benson has been the heart of the team. As he goes, so they go.

Because these are my favorite Benson stats: In his 100-yard games, the Bengals are 10-2. In the games he carries it 20 or more times; they are 13-5-1. In games he started and he carried it less than 20, they are 3-15.

And that plus-20 stat really should be 15-3-1 because it includes the two losses this season the Bengals flat out gave away, Tampa Bay and Buffalo.

I agree with Reedy. The Bengals should try and re-sign Benson, but it will be a tough sell if there’s not at least some move back to the run-first philosophy of ’09.

» Watching the kids play up front on defense, Chris Pressley play fullback, and the young receivers run around, it makes you wonder how far this team is away.

This isn’t your 2002 roster.

There’s too much here to do a complete facelift on the field.

If it’s me, I re-sign cornerback Johnathan Joseph, draft a wide receiver that can fly in the first round, find out if Anthony Collins can play right tackle and think seriously about moving Andre Smith to right guard, and shore up safety. Whatever, the offensive line has to be a priority. If you decide Smith is too brittle, some bold things have to be done, but with those moves you’ve got a shot to get right back in it.

Would that be enough to salvage Carson Palmer? It would seem that he needs to be sold on what’s happening next. But Palmer is the guy that makes this all work if you’re looking for a quick turnaround, and they are. Say what you want. Palmer makes them dangerous. He is 22-14 in the NFL’s toughest division. He’s tough, smart, business-like, and disdains politics.

Give him a couple of kid receivers with Gresham and Shipley and let’s go.


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Numbing numbers for Nine

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on December 13, 2010 – 12:50 pm

Take the 12 worst games of quarterback Carson Palmer‘s career via passer rating and there aren’t many surprises.

PALMER’S 12 WORST PASSER RATING GAMES

Sept. 7, 2008     at Baltimore                          35.3   L, 17-10

Nov. 25, 2010      at Jets                                    41.0    L, 26-10

Sept. 14, 2008    TENNESSSEE                        41.3    L, 24-7

Sept. 26, 2004      BALTIMORE                       43.4    L, 23-9

Dec. 23, 2007        CLEVELAND                      44.8   W, 19-14

Dec. 12, 2010        at Pittsburgh                      48.7    L, 23-7

Dec. 2, 2007           at Pittsburgh                     51.6    L, 24-10

Oct. 3, 2004            at Pittsburgh                     52.1    L, 28-17

Nov. 5, 2006           at Baltimore                     52.4    L, 26-20

Sept. 19, 2004        MIAMI                               53.3    W, 16-13

Dec. 11, 2005      CLEVELAND                        53.5    W, 23-20

Oct. 23, 2005      PITTSBURGH                       53.8    L, 27-13

If Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau tortures Chad Ochocinco (he’s never had a 100-yard game against him), he also puts Palmer on the rack. Four of his bottom 12 are against Pittsburgh with Sunday’s Troy Polamalu highlight film (48.7) the worst and sixth overall on the list.  Three are against Rex Ryan (two with Baltimore, one last month with the Jets). Half are on the road. Half at home. Nine are in the division housing two of the game’s best defenses. The Bengals lost all but three of them.

Maybe the most disturbing thing is that two of the games from this season, his seventh year as a starter, are on the list and both are worse than only one of his three rookie entrants.

See any common denominators? I was trying to tie into the loss of Palmer’s two Pro Bowl tackles from back in the day, the lack of a running game, weather, but the bad ones come from all over the spectrum.  Two games from the T.O. era and none from the Laveranues Coles era. I’d be interested to see what people say about the list.

But one thing is clear: You just can’t do what he did Sunday. Just give them two touchdowns. Not against that defense, that team, in that building.  There is no question Palmer is not playing as consistently as the quarterback he was. We all know that. That’s the issue. Tell me why he is so inconsistent. Has the scheme failed him? Has the revolving door of receivers eaten away at his confidence? Has the lack of a truly consistent 4.0 yard per rush running game overexposed him?

(I would say the rest of the league has caught up with the Bengals offensive line with three practice squad starters, but then I watched the Steelers on Sunday win their 10th game of the season with a bunch of guys and a good rookie up front and aren’t the Bengals as talented as that? Although they’ve got to figure out right tackle if they can’t count on Andre Smith.)

With the way the Bengals ran the ball last year, the play-action pass should be Palmer’s best weapon. Instead, despite the fake, LaMarr Woodley is running into pass coverage. He still has to see Woodley, but there is just no respect for the run. And how that can happen after last season is crazy.

Clearly Palmer’s confidence is shot and there’s no question his body is battered from this season. Woodley and Lawrence Timmons nearly broke him in half early on a 15-yard throw to The Ocho, but injury had nothing to do with Sunday’s three picks. And they’ve protected him pretty well in general the last two weeks. He played so well last Sunday against the Super Bowl champs and then this. The inconsistency makes you think it’s not all him.

(And the offense is healthy. It looks like safety Chinedum Ndukwe is going to become the 15th player to go on IR, and only one (Smith) is an offensive starter.)

I’m sure you guys read Peter King Monday morning urging Mike Brown to trade Palmer to the Niners for a second-round pick, so that tells you some things are churning somewhere and it’s not from the Bengals. Peter talks a lot about Palmer’s “misfiring,” which means he has a lot more confidence in the routes of the Bengals receivers than most observers.

The way Brown feels about Palmer and quarterbacks, I don’t see a trade. He might collect them, but he won’t give them away and he’s got no veteran QB in sight to bring along with a highly drafted rookie. Certainly with this offseason of discontent looming in Bengaldom, there is no time to rebuild.  They have to win quickly.

Some other thoughts:

» Tell me again why the Bengals didn’t draft DeSean Jackson?

» Speaking of the Eagles, when was the last time an Andy Reid team ran out the clock on the ground like they did Sunday night against the Cowboys?

» When old friend Jon Kitna flipped that big screen pass to Cowboys running back Felix Jones, all I could think about was Bernard Scott.

» The Ocho really goes through the emotions on Twitter. On the trip home Sunday, he offered some profane-laced frustration. Then on Monday morning he had some breaking news on OCNN: “Chad Ocho whatever the (bleep) his name is is the reason for the Bengals down season again, he sends his deepest apology.”

» Here’s a better reason. Time of possession. This year it is 30:31. Last year it was 31:59. That means their defense has been on the field an extra 20 minutes. It is an offensive league. They protect the offensive players and they design the rules for the offense. No matter how good your defense is, you have to limit their exposure. Those 20 minutes are showing up.


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Jigsaw puzzle

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on December 6, 2010 – 11:08 am

The Bengals woke up this morning to get a “C’mon man” from ESPN’s Cris Carter and that’s about where it is at 2-10 and a nine-game losing streak that matches the longest skein in 12 years.

Carter riffed on the immovable fourth-and-two and he’s not the first or last. When it comes to fodder for the critics, the Bengals are the Santa Claus of the NFL because every week they just give and give.

It may be radio analyst Dave Lapham’s signature moment in 25 years broadcasting Bengals games. With Drew Brees barking Pig Latin and Bengaldom breathless on fourth-and-two, here was Lapham bellowing, “Hold your, hold your, hold your water.”

The next seven days will be consumed by punch lines about time management and staying onsides. After moving the ball against a top 10 defense all day, choking off one of the NFL’s great quarterbacks on his most dangerous down, and getting a winning effort from special teams, most of the questions surround the mechanics of the 34-30 loss.

Not talent or effort, which makes the frustration that much more palpable.

Other questions, of course, hang over the defense. If the offense is a disappointment, the defense is an enigma. They get back two healthy secondary starters, cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Roy Williams, and promptly allow four passes of at least 42 yards. And they go 57 games without allowing a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher, and 100-yard receiver, and now they’ve done it twice in three games.

The other riddle is, how can basically the same defensive cast last season allow just five runs of 20-plus yards in 16 games and then this season allow 16 with four games left? Sure they’ve had some guys hurt, but they did last season, too.

For a team that plays hard and has enough talent that Saints linebacker Scott Shanle allowed after the game, “There is no doubt they have talented players. We talked about that all week. They showed that today,” a nine-game losing streak is well, a mystery is the only way to put it.

Where are they headed?

Pittsburgh is the only known answer.

The Steelers won’t have punter Dan Sepulveda and tight end Heath Miller limped off the field in Baltimore on Sunday night. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, bad foot and broken nose, finished and won the game.

Any doubt next Sunday’s game at Heinz goes right to the nub?

Not here.

Which makes it all that much more confusing.


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