Help Wanted: Cincinati Bengals Need a Safety, Pronto

Eric Ball@@BigLeagueEballFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2009

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 15: Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tries to escape the tackle of Chris Crocker #42 and Dhani Jones #57 of  the Cincinnati Bengals  at Heinz Field on November 15, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Bengals won 18-12.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Bengals came up well short of the measuring stick against the Minnesota Vikings.

And that's not even the worst news.

One of the worst facets of the Minnesota debacle (aside from the 11 penalties and completely invisible passing game of 20-plus yards) was Chris Crocker's re-aggravated ankle injury.

Crocker had been bothered by a bum ankle for a few weeks, but re-injured it during the 30-10 loss. He has been a key cog in the secondary in both the run and pass, and provided vocal support in the locker room.

Roy Williams has been on IR for almost two months and Chinedum Ndukwe has filled in just fine, collecting 67 tackles. He hasn't been beat with the deep ball and is a reliable one-on-one tackler, but his man coverage leaves something to be desired.

According to ESPN's James Walker, Crocker is expected to miss the next two to three weeks with the ankle injury.

Backup safety Tom Nelson filled in against Minnesota and is expected to start until Crocker returns. He was a star on HBO's Hard Knocks this summer as one of the last guys to find out he made the squad. The undrafted free agent made a huge splash in training camp and survived being knifed. But he has only been active for six games this year and has seemed a step slow in coverage.

That's it.

Kyries Hebert is listed at safety but the special teams captain is injured as well. That's it. Cornerback Rico Murray was promoted off the practice squad to the 53-man roster before last week. Expect the inexperienced non-drafted rookie from Kent St. to be tested by QB Phillip Rivers and Co. as soon as he comes in. 

The secondary concerns are being over shadowed by the penalties and stale passing ouchfense.

The fact that seven of Cincinnati's 11 penalties were mental errors screams a lack of focus. Yes, the Meterodome is loud, but baiting on Favre's hard counts multiple times is inexcusable. The Bengals need to wake-up from the sleep-walking mode they have fallen into since beating the Steelers last month. The O-Line and Chad need to fix this false start issue quick if they want to actually strike some momentum.

Carson Palmer looks hurt; or at least that's what the speculation was. In reality it seems as if Palmer has simply not been as accurate lately. Every other player on offense has been blamed for the deficiencies, but it is time to point right at the franchise. Palmer needs to do some big-time soul searching this week. The Bengals need him to be the guy he was earlier in the year.

Aside from all the sky-is-falling sentiment, this is not the time to panic.

In the grand scheme of things, a win at San Diego puts the Bengals back in the drivers seat for the No. 2 seed and that all-important bye in the AFC. The Bengals got a huge reality check and will come in with lots to prove against the Chargers.

Palmer will air it out and the Bengals will kick themselves for taking the ball out of No. 9's hands in previous games.

The Chargers are rolling and the Bengals are reeling. The Chargers will more than likely abuse the Bengals secondary with slants to TE Antonie Gates. But the Bengals can stop L.T. and contain WE Vincent Jackson.

Can the Bengals complete a deep pass and can they cover a deep pass? Check back Sunday for that answer.