They say defense carries teams through the postseason. But can a high-powered offense and a tweaked defense be enough to get a disappointing team with a hot-seat coach back into the postseason?
Enter the Bengals: Great offense, deficient defense. How will they fair this season? With their defense no one would be surprised with another 7-9 finish. But with that offense, 10-6 or even 11-5 isn’t a stretch.
On offense everyone knows about quarterback Carson Palmer. Last season Palmer threw a career-high 20 interceptions, due mainly to a weak running game which forced him to pass more, often in long-yardage situations.
Running back Rudi Johnson shed 15 pounds for the ’07 season in hopes of becoming quicker and more agile, but that didn’t go as planned. Johnson was plagued by injuries and tallied just 497 yards, his lowest total since the ’02 season. In the off-season, Johnson gained back the 15 pounds in order to return to the tackle-breaking running back he was in ‘05 when he rushed for a career-high 1,458 yards.
If he can regain that style of play and become the horse on first and second downs the team was used to, there will be less pressure on Palmer to make big plays. That could mean a more successful season for the star QB, which could mean a return to the playoffs.
Palmer’s receiving corps includes playmakers Chad Johnson and T.J Houshmandzadeh, just as in years past. Adding pass catching tight end (something the Bengals haven’t had in awhile) Ben Utecht and a healthy Chris Perry gives Palmer two more soft-handed weapons to play with.
But it’s the defense which remains a liability, which is why in the off-season Cincinnati added two big components in defensive end Antwan Odom and rookie linebacker Keith Rivers.
Problems? Of course, we are talking about the Bengals. Luckily, they’re only on-the-field problems.
Right now Odom is in a boot because of an injury to his foot, and Rivers signed late and missed time in training camp. The Bengals are hoping for Odom to have the same type of year he had last season for the Titans, when he recorded a career-high eight sacks. Head coach Marvin Lewis expects Odom to be ready for Week One, but will the missed time hamper his effectiveness the first couple weeks?
Speaking of Lewis, how much longer is his leash? Since the playoffs in ’05 he has led the team to 8-8 and 7-9 finishes. If he was anywhere else he might have already been fired, but his work bringing the Bengals back into modest respectability has bought him some time. But do the Bengals need a new coach to take them to the next level?
So the question remains: How good will the Bengals be in 2008? Look for the offense to carry the team…again. But if the defense can play like it did in ’05 and create turnovers, this Bengals team could be on the prowl for the playoffs come January.