Anyone else remember Corey Dillon throwing his shoulder pads into the stands during his last moments as a Bengal? This was the epitome of frustrations for the Bengals. Few could not relate to how miserable it was to be associated with the Bengals. He gave them 1,000 yards or more for so many years the Bengals didn’t produce as a team. All that frustration built up in him and who could blame him? The Bengals were a perennial top 5 pick in the NFL draft.
Enter Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals unloaded Corey Dillon and started a rapid change in personnel for the entire team. Corey Dillon was an iconic figure for Bengals fan. Every year he single handily gave hope to the masses. This is our year. He was truly a great running back. Setting single game rushing records and being a dominant back any team could be proud of. And before anyone knew, the Bengals' all-time leading rusher was quickly becoming more loathed than a Roger Goodell character meeting.
There were many bright spots in 2003.The Bengals had a new coach, new system, the kind of smash mouth guy who made the Ravens the most feared defense in the NFL and now he was all ours, and our most prized possession, again, the top pick in the draft.
The Bengals drafted The Golden Boy from Southern Cal in Carson Palmer who is supposed to lead the Bengals to the promise land. Step Aside Akili Smith and Jeff Blake.
What put a damper on things was this was the breakout season for Jon Kitna, who finished the season at an impressive and parade worthy 8-8 record. The first “non losing” season in what seemed like two decades (literally). Kitna remained the only player in the NFL to take every snap for his team that year. And in an instant, Palmer was declared the starting quarterback for the Bengals after watching his entire rookie season from the sidelines.
Controversy ensued. Questions were raised. Why sit a quarterback who rescued us from darkness? Eventually it was settled once Palmer reached the field and Palmer remained the No. 1. Kitna being a great cheerleader played the part, helped groom in what would be the new franchise QB for the Bengals. Hoping to be a starter somewhere else, he eventually landed the starting gig at Detroit and had mild success there.
The Bengals had momentum going in their direction, and again finished the season at 8-8 in 2004.
Enter Franchise Quarterback.
The Bengals repeated their amazing 8-8 season. Their second straight year of a non-losing season with the emergence of Auburn product Rudi Johnson. That year had great promise because after the bitter breakup with Dillon, Bengals fan wanted something sweet. Johnson delivered on that expectation. He played with a chip on his shoulder and broke Dillon’s single season rushing record. Soon Dillon would be forgotten as he too would find success with another team with the Patriots.
The Bengals will continue to be haunted of that 2005 season, not because they went 11-5 and Palmer broke all kinds of records, not because of Palmers' injury in the playoff game vs bitter enemy Steelers, not because of the stud season Rudi Johnson had. It will continue to haunt the Bengals because, they had too much success too soon. Even as I write this, the Bengals are 3-1, still they are compared to a team with less than half the players they had in 2005, and are routinely hammered on when will they be in 2005 season form? Four years removed from that wonderful season and glimpse of what the future may hold.
The Bengals brush aside criticisms of the monster passing game it once had by claiming they are a run first team now instead of the passing behemoth they were in 2005. That’s fine. But wait, run first? Are you kidding me? Why? Cedric Benson. Ummm…. Rudi Johnson anyone?
It is possible to have Pro Bowl QB numbers that Palmer threw for, and still have a thoroughbred in the backfield. After all Johnson did it for three straight years before the offensive line became so terrible he couldn’t get to the line of scrimmage. Combine that with an aging running back and there will be problems. Are you going to tell me that the receiving depth we have now where our No. 2 or No. 3 (Henry and Coles, Caldwell is still on proving grounds but an excellent #2 or slot guy) could easily be No. 1 on most teams? No thanks on that excuse, Bengals. Step up the passing game now.
In 2006 Johnson, put on his last show for the Bengals and in 2007 Rudi Johnson suffered from a hamstring injury. Hamstring injuries are feared, because they can be more devastating to a RB career than knee surgery. Why? Because a hamstring is never fully recovered and the only way to know if it is healed is to play risking further injury. And that can end careers.
He was pressed into coming back too soon and with nagging injuries his production dropped. When it was clear the Bengals would not be duplicating the wildly successful year of '04 and '05, the fingers again pointed at Johnson. He was constantly grilled for lacking the extra gear, that get away gear to break big runs and was then accused of not running as hard as he should be.
He received similar criticism to Shaun Alexander would eventually get. Anyone remember that MVP? Johnson received plenty of blame. Lack of deep runs and statistics such as the 20+ yd run seemed to favor this argument. Unceremoniously when the Bengals couldn’t trade Johnson after denying trade rumors, (their Single Season Rushing Record Holder) they released him to the wild where he too would end up at the Lions.
What can be learned from Johnson?
What does all this mean for Cedric Benson who has great second chance runs, yards after contact and excellent ball carrier vision? He is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards, tied for first with the most carries, and has faced two top-five defenses, plus an underrated defense with the Packers. Ironically he would garner few yards against the Browns, and they are last in terms of defense. However he is seen as the next great savior for the Bengals. And why not, he has worked hard for it.
With his success though, the Bengals have found an excuse for their poor passing game that everyone knows what they are capable of. Don’t believe me? Watch two minutes of game tape of the last moments of the Bengals previous four games, and you will see absolute brilliance. You know when you see all the good moments in the movie in the trailer and being disappointed when you watch the whole thing. That’s what the Bengals are doing to their fans. Wake up the sleeping beast.
If the Bengals are going to duplicate previous seasons of success, they shouldn’t rely on this ‘new found run game’, they had it in years past. No one was complaining when Johnson was successful or claimed to be any particular offense. What they were missing were star receivers and a franchise quarterback.
Injuries have decimated the Bengals' backfield last couple years. Chris Perry, Kenny Irons, Johnson, most recently released DeDe Dorsey. Let’s not place all our eggs on Cedric Benson’s back and hope for the best. Let’s learn. Let us adapt. The Bengals have always had good running backs.
I no longer accept the Bengals' excuses for a weak pass game. The Bengals' pass game better get into high gear if they want to stay competitive. Laveranues Coles, Chris Henry, Chad Ocho Cinco, Andre Caldwell are all capable of 1000+ yd seasons with Palmer. Maybe not all at once, but they all have the potential. Let’s not sell these guys short because the Bengals landed a first round stud running back. Please get off his back, let him get his runs when they count, and let Palmer open it up and firmly place himself as an elite quarterback of this league with the amazing receivers we have.
Note: I am extremely happy for Corey Dillon and all his success in NE following his split from the Bengals. He single handily dismantled the Colts and was easily the true MVP of the Patriots post season success.