Cincinnati Bengals: Five Factors To Help Reach the Playoffs in '09

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Cincinnati Bengals: Five Factors To Help Reach the Playoffs in '09
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The 2008 season was one of those years that the fans and players of the Cincinnati Bengals would like to pretend never happened. Everything that could have gone wrong seemed to go wrong for Carson Palmer and company.

Despite finishing the 2008 season on a three-game winning streak, the Bengals started 1-8-1, causing them to finish with a disappointing 4-11-1 record.

Believe it or not, the city of Cincinnati has high expectations entering the 2009 regular season.They may play in a tough AFC North division, but there is no reason to not believe that this team has what it takes to make the playoffs in January.

Of course, nothing in life comes easy. There are five important factors that will determine whether or not the Bengals will find themselves playing in January or watching from their living room.

 

1. The Return of a Healthy Carson Palmer

Last season, Bengals starting quarterback Carson Palmer was limited to four games due to an elbow injury. In the four games he played in, he threw for 731 yards, 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

It's obvious Palmer's absence was one of the reasons behind the Bengals' disappointing campaign last season. In three seasons prior to 2008, Palmer led the team to a 26-22 record, throwing for 12,002 yards and 86 touchdowns. In 2005, he led the organization to their  first playoff appearance in 15 years after claiming the AFC North title. 

If Palmer remains healthy, he should help the Bengals improve their record from last season. One fact we learned about the team last season is that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not nearly the same type of quarterback as Palmer is. It's difficult to replace a former Heisman Trophy winner with a former Ivy League standout.

Once again, the Bengals appear to have one of the best offenses in the league on paper. The team may have gone their separate ways with T.J. Houshmandzadeh (who signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason), but they found his replacement by signing Laveranues Coles.

Not to mention many analysts are predicting a break-out season from Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry.

We learned last season how heavily this team relies on Palmer. Last season, the team finished last in the league as far as total offense per game (12.2 points). The previous year, they finished 10th in the league with Palmer at quarterback by averaging 23.8 points per game.

If Palmer can stay healthy, this team has the potential to make a strong case for a playoff position by having one of the best offenses in the league. With all of the weapons they have on offense, it's hard to see them struggle like they did last season.

 

2. Second-Half and Fourth Quarter Performance

There is a popular phrase in sports about how a game is never over until it's over. Each game in the NFL lasts 60 minutes, meaning no team is determined a winner until that 60 minutes comes to a close (unless overtime is needed of course).

Looking back at the Bengals 2008 season, they appeared to be one of the worst second-half performers in the league. Take a look at the facts:

  • In 16 games last season, the Bengals scored 58 total points in the second half of games.
  • In six games, the Bengals were scoreless the entire second half.
  • In 10  games, the Bengals failed to score a single point in the fourth quarter.

The Bengals may have finished 4-11-1 on the year. However, there were numerous occasions where the Bengals' second-half performance could have won them the game.

In Week Three against the New York Giants, Carson Palmer threw a late touchdown to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 4:39 left in the game to give the Bengals a 20-16 lead.

Unfortunately, the Bengals appeared to be wearing down on defense as Eli Manning led the Giants down the field before tossing a four-yard strike to tight end Kevin Boss in the end zone with 1:50 left to give the Giants a 23-20 lead.

All of a sudden, a sure upset seemed to turn into another disappointment for the Bengals squad. Even though the Bengals managed to tie the game as time expired after a questionable last couple of play calls by Marvin Lewis, they ended up losing in overtime after John Carney kicked a 22-yard field goal to win the game.

This was only one of many disappointing second-half performances for the Bengals in 2008. In a Week Four game against the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals were winning the entire game before giving up the lead in the fourth quarter and losing 20-12.

They even had a chance to defeat the Eagles during Week 11 when Shayne Graham failed to make a field goal as time expired in overtime, resulting in a 13-13 tie.

The Bengals have what it takes to be a playoff contender in 2009. However, they will have no shot at making the playoffs if they fail to perform well in the second-half and fourth quarter of each game. They need to play strong for an entire 60 minutes if they plan on succeeding.

 

3. Chad Ochocinco and the Rest of the Wide Receivers

It's not surprise that Chad Ochocinco continues to make headlines on a weekly basis. Last week, Carson Palmer took a shot at Ochocinco during an interview on "Movin' The Chains" for missing out on voluntary workouts for the Bengals.

Palmer discussed how he was excited about the group of receivers competing for the spots that were once occupied by Houshmandzadeh and Ochocinco.

Ochocinco may still be on the Bengals' roster, but there is no telling what will happen with him in the future. For the last two seasons, his request to be traded has been declined over and over again by owner Mike Brown.

According to Palmer, he hasn't spoken to Ochocinco lately not has any other of the Bengals players. Whether or not he is going to be a factor for the Bengals this season is still up in the air, but statistics show he could be a major factor.

For the first time since his rookie season, Ochocinco failed to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season. In the four seasons prior to 2008, he had over 5,000 yards receiving and 31 touchdowns. Last season, he had 53 receptions for 540 yards and four touchdowns.

Whether or not Ochocinco and Palmer can rekindle their chemistry will be a debatable topic until the season starts in September. However, let's not forget about the rest of the wide receivers that can make an impact for the Bengals this season.

No player has benefited more from Ochocinco than former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Over the last four seasons, he has a total of 4,084 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns. Some say he was a No. 1 wide receiver playing at the No. 2 spot and succeeded since defenders focused mainly on Ochocinco.

After Houshmandzadeh signed with the Seattle Seahawks, they signed free agent wide receiver Laveranues Coles from the New York Jets. His numbers may not match Houshmanzadah's, but he has the potential to benefit off of defenders focusing most of their time on Ochocinco.

Another player that has the potential for a break-out season is fifth-year wide receiver Chris Henry. According to Palmer's interview on "Movin' The Chains", Henry has had an amazing offseason and is looking for a fresh start after his incidents with the law over the last couple of years.

As mentioned before, the Bengals have one of the best offenses in the NFL on paper. Not only do they have a former Pro Bowl quarterback in Palmer, but they have two wide receivers with experience as a No. 1 go-to guy. If everything goes according to plan in Cincinnati, the Bengals may see Palmer having another career year.

 

4. Offseason Acquisitions

Over the last couple of years, the Bengals have been known to be quiet in the offseason. This year, they took advantage of the players available to them through free agency and the draft that should have an impact on making improvements from last season.

With the No. 6 pick in the 2009 Draft, the Bengals selected offensive tackle Andre Smith from Alabama to help protect Carson Palmer. Smith should have an immediate impact improving an offensive line that ranked third in the NFL last season allowing opposing defenses to record 51 sacks.

The addition of Smith should allow not only more time for Palmer, but for running back Cedric Benson to find more holes.

The Bengals also lucked out in the draft when University of Southern California linebacker Rey Maualuga fell into their hands at No. 38. The former Trojan recorded 194 tackles in three seasons while earning All-American and All-Pac 10 honors each season.

With him in the starting lineup playing alongside second-year linebacker Keith Rivers, the Bengals defense could cause headaches for opposing teams.

Laveranues Coles was one of the biggest headlines as far as the Bengals' free agent signings this offseason. However, it was the reuniting of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and former Pro Bowl safety Roy Williams that got the city of Cincinnati excited.

The ex-Cowboy Williams signed a one-year deal with the Bengals after he was released back in March. Williams was a perfect fit for Zimmer's 4-3 defense in Dallas and hopes to regain his reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the league.

Last season, the Bengals finished 12th in the league by allowing 325.5 yards per game. On top of that, they only allowed 22.8 points per game, ranking them 14th in the league.

The Bengals defense has been decent over the last couple of seasons. The offseason acquisitions should improve the defense from the 2008 season. If they can get the job done to help Palmer and the rest of the offense, this team could be making a push for a playoff spot in January.

 

5. Discipline, Discipline, Discipline!

Let's do a word association. What comes to mind when I say professional football team and law enforcement?

If the answer that came to mind was the Cincinnati Bengals, make sure you pickup your prize on the way out.

The Bengals have established a reputation in the NFL over the last couple of seasons. Unfortunately, the reputation is one of the ones people wish not to be known by.

There have been over a dozen Bengals players arrested this decade, including cornerback Leon Hall who was arrested at the beginning of April for drunk-driving.

In fact, the Bengals have had so many issues over the last couple of years, they recently agreed to a deal with HBO to be the featured team in the series Hard Knocks.

What's even more frustrating for Cincinnati is their lack of discipline from head coach Marvin Lewis. Entering his seventh year with the Bengals, Lewis has been criticized by the media for the lack of discipline on his players.

After the organization released Chris Henry in March 2008 because of his most recent arrest, they ended up re-signing him in August before the start of the regular season.

There are some fans around the league who like to make jokes about how no matter how much trouble a player gets in with the law, they can always sign with the Bengals. Henry did. Cedric Benson did.

However, these players may have had their run in with the law but they are trying to clean up their act. Benson played well enough towards the end of last season to be rewarded another contract for this season. Henry wouldn't be back again if Lewis and the rest of the organization didn't think he could have an impact on offense.

Still, the matter of fact is that the Bengals will never achieve their desire of a playoff birth if their guys can't stay out of trouble. When a player gets in trouble with the law, it not only affects them on an individual level but the entire team.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how to stay out of trouble with the law. All the players have to do is be smart about the decisions they make so they can continue to play football. 

The last thing a player wants to do is perform a stupid act that impacts how a team finishes their regular season.

 

"Dan Parzych covers the Eagles for NFLTouchdown.com. You can view his work here"

"For questions or comments, email him at djp746@gmail.com"

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