Another day another win full of question marks for the Cincinnati Bengals after Sunday’s 23-13 victory over the Detroit Lions. Of course it’s incredible that the Bengals control the AFC North at 9-3, only a year after finishing 4-11-1.
Cedric Benson picked up where he left off after a two game hiatus to gain 110 yards on 36 carries. The run blocking continues to impress and Benson looked fresh (although 36 carries is too much when you have a healthy Larry Johnson).
The problem is that the standards have been set for this team. The bar has been raised a few feet and now the new expectations are not being met.
This has nothing to do with the defense that has given up the fewest points in the league at 187.
The job that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has done will likely earn him a head coaching gig next year. Middle linebacker Dhani Jones is the definition of a leader, both on and off the field. And the starting corners Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall both deserve Pro Bowl consideration.
Kudos to the entire D. BUT, let’s talk about the offense. Throw out the Jonathan Fanene defensive TD, and the Bengals offense scored 16 points on the leagues worst secondary. This is a week after dropping 16 on the punch-less Browns.
Is it the QB’s fault?
For the first time since 2004 Carson Palmer is looking quite average. He finished 17-of-29 for 220 yards with one TD and two INT's plus a lost fumble. Although both INT’s looked to be Laveranues Coles’ fault, Palmer was not very accurate. He missed a couple of throws down the field and at times got “happy feet” in the pocket.
Maybe it’s due to the multiple injuries he has suffered over the years, but Palmer does not hang in the pocket and trust his lineman the same way Tom Brady or Brett Favre does. He is tucking the ball away and running more than ever.
The issues with any receiver without a Hispanic last name are becoming more apparent as well. As stated above, Coles was either not breaking correctly out of his routes or Palmer miss read the defense on multiple plays.
Caldwell, the supposed third receiver, didn’t have a single catch. A closer look reveals that he simply wasn’t open. If he can’t create separation against the Lions 31st rank pass coverage then there is a problem.
The lack of a deep threat continues to plague this team. Without Chris Henry, the deep ball isn’t even an option any more. And the second round pick of last year, Jerome Simpson, is unable to get on the field. He was drafted for his explosive play ability and superior speed. He has been a complete bust so far, especially considering the outstanding play of this years second round pick—linebacker Rey Malaluga.
Simpson has one catch for two yards in his career.
Having said that, Chad OchoCinco is looking just fine (except for the false start that has become routine). Nine catches for 137 and a TD is another day at the office for “the interesting one." The best play of the game was a 36-yard beauty that Palmer led right into the hands of Chad for the lone offensive TD. It was a reminder of what could be done in this offense.
But Chad can’t do it alone. The tight end position continues to be a major weakness. Ben “stone hand” Coats dropped yet another TD. J.P. Foschi wasn’t much better; he only had a 16-yard grab with a holding penalty to boot. As the season rolls along it has become clear that the tight end spot is the weakest on the team.
Meanwhile fourth round pick Chase Coffman, out of Missouri, rots away on the practice squad. He had all the opportunity to make a difference, but it seems he is simply not NFL ready yet. Consider this a red shirt season for Coffman.
Penalties are not helping either. Nine more for 75 is not going to cut it against better teams. The offensive line has been called for way to many false starts and holding penalties. Andrew Whitworth seemingly has at least one of each per game. Dennis Roland has been guilty of similar crimes in recent weeks.
As the season rolls along the cliché “we are who we are” begins to ring true. The 2009 Bengals are a team built off defense and running the ball. The offense isn’t going to light up the scoreboard. Yards are gained in chunks, not gobs. The big play, quick strike ability doesn’t exist in Cincinnati this year.
It’s about ball control, time of possession, and sound special teams coverage. Will this formula work outside of the AFC North? A date at the Metrodome with the Vikings is on tap, followed by a trip to sunny San Diego to decide who get the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
The Bengals have played to the level of competition all year long, will this trend continue?