The Cincinnati Bengals look to start 2009 on a better foot than they did last season.
Last season, the Bengals lost their first eight games and finished the season 4-11-1. One of the main reasons why they struggled so much was because quarterback Carson Palmer only played four games because of an elbow injury, leaving the Bengals with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback.
Palmer looks to enter the 2009 season fully recovered, in hopes that the Bengals can bounce back from last year's horrendous season. If Palmer and the Bengals have any intention of improving from last season, they will need to make some adjustments on the offensive side of the ball.
Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has a lot of work ahead of him as he looks to improve an offense that finished last in the league last year by averaging 12.8 points per game. Lucky for Bratkowski, that ranking should increase this season now that Palmer is returning.
The return of Palmer should have an immediate impact as far as points are concerned. In the first four seasons in which Palmer was the Bengals' starter, the team's lowest ranking in points per game was 11th in 2007. Over the span of those four seasons, the Bengals have averaged 24.2 points per game.
When looking at the statistics, it's obvious how much of an impact the offense has when Palmer is taking the snaps. He's had the opportunity to play with a talented group of wide receivers throughout his career in Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. However, Palmer may have to get used to a few adjustments when the season starts up in September.
For starters, the status of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco continues to remain a question for Cincinnati. The 31-year-old wideout is coming off the worst season of his career in which he only caught 53 passes for 540 yards and four touchdowns. Before last season, Ochocinco posted six-straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards.
Whether or not Ochocinco suits up for the Bengals this season could be a deciding factor on how well the Bengals perform this season. For the last two seasons, he has requested a trade from Cincinnati but has been denied each time. The fact that his numbers were down last season doesn't help his cause considering the fact that the Bengals know his trade value went down.
For anyone who has watched Ochocinco play football, it's obvious what he is capable of doing against his components. From 2003-2007, Palmer and Ochocinco connected 33 times in the end zone. They need to rekindle that chemistry if the Bengals look to be contenders in the AFC this season.
After T.J. Houshmandzadeh signed with the Seattle Seahawks through free agency, the Bengals wasted no time in finding a replacement by signing former Jet Laveraneous Coles. Coles may not have the same numbers on paper as Houshmandzadeh over the last couple of seasons.
However, he has enough experience as a No. 1 wide receiver that could give him results the Bengals need. Not to mention if Ochocinco ends up playing for the Bengals again this season, more opponents may focus on him, leaving more opportunities for Coles to get open.
Sometimes, two star wide receivers just isn't enough to satisfy a team. If fifth-year wide receiver Chris Henry can continue to stay out of trouble with the law, the Bengals offense has a chance to return to their dominant form from the 2005 season, when they finished fourth in the league by averaging 26.3 points per game.
As a rookie in 2005, Chris Henry finished with 31 receptions for 422 yards and 6 touchdowns. The following season, he found the end zone nine times in just 13 games, as he caught 36 passes for 605 yards. Not bad for a wide receiver who was considered the Bengals' third option.
The Bengals are hoping that Henry's legal troubles are all part of his past. After sitting out the first four games of last season, Henry returned to play the last 12 games of the season. However, he appeared to struggle to find his old form as the once-dominant third wide receiver the Bengals loved.
During the offseason, Palmer has acknowledged how impressed he is with Henry's play. In fact, Palmer said Henry has looked so good during workouts, he wouldn't be surprised if he took over Ochocinco's spot at wide receiver for the Bengals. He is ready to begin a fresh state after his past with the law and has worked so hard to get to where he is right now that he won't give up the position easily.
The wide receiver position could be an interesting factor for the Bengals as far as which plays are called for what wide receiver. Even though the Bengals are loaded with weapons at the wideout position, look for them to take advantage of running the ball this season.
The Bengals finished 29th in the league last season by averaging 95 yards per game on the ground. This average should increase thanks to the play of Cedric Benson and Andre Smith.
Cincinnati signed Benson in the middle of last season after he was released by the Chicago Bears because of his legal troubles. It took some time to adjust, but Benson looked more comfortable with the Bengals offense towards the end of last season and will hopefully continue his stride into 2009.
Benson finished the 2008 season averaging 118.3 yards rushing his final three games. This season, Bratkowski looks to use Benson more in the running game to help take pressure off of Palmer. After drafting offensive lineman Andre Smith from Alabama, this recipe may actually work for the Bengals this upcoming season.
The Bengals selected Smith with the No. 6 pick in hopes of improving an offensive line that found itself ranked near the bottom of the league last season. In 2008, the Bengals offensive lineman surrendered 51 sacks, which ranked them third-worst in the league.
The 6'4" lineman should have an immediate impact for a Bengals offensive line in need of improvement when it comes to protecting its quarterback and running back. During his junior year at Alabama, Smith recorded 103 knockdowns and recorded 17 blocks that resulted in a touchdown.
If Smith and the rest of the offensive line can provide the protection needed for Palmer and Benson to get the ball down the field, the Bengals should find themselves back near the top of the league in scoring.
The Bengals offense has the potential to play as well as they did during their 2005 campaign. If Bratkowski can call all the right plays and figure out a way to take advantage of all the weapons on offense, the Bengals could be in for an exciting season.
If not, well, at least we can enjoy the drama on tap for the Bengals on HBO's hit series Hard Knocks.
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