Cincinnati Bengals Preview: You Can't Build a Winner Without Chemistry
The Bengals are, to put it mildly, an absolute mess.
I have no doubt that Marvin Lewis is going to make a great head coach one day. The problem is, he has absolutely no idea how to fill out a professional roster.
You can’t build an NFL team as if you were playing the Madden NFL video game, stockpiling players with no regard for their personalities or off-field problems.
Like no other sport, football requires chemistry.
The best offensive lines don’t always consist of the best offensive linemen. They’re made up of five guys who can work together as one. The sum is greater than its parts.
You build the rest of the team the same way you build the offensive line. That’s why Super Bowl champions aren’t always the best teams. The 2001 New England Patriots and the 2007 New York Giants are perfect examples of this. Neither team was the most talented, yet they managed to win.
The Giants were arguably the sixth or seventh most talented team in the NFL last season. The Patriots in 2001 might not have even been in the top ten in talent. But those teams came together, played as a singular unit with a singular goal, and ended up becoming the best “team” in the NFL.
You can’t build a team with no regard for chemistry and expect to win in the NFL. You can’t bring in character issue (Odell Thurman) after character issue (Chris Henry) and expect to win.
It seemed like the Bengals were starting to “get it” this off-season. Then the injury bug struck, and instead of relying on guys like Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, or one of the many serviceable street free agents that were available to fill in at wide receiver, they panicked and brought back Chris Henry.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It’s too bad, because there is talent on this team. Carson Palmer is one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are both upper-tier wide receivers when healthy.
Unfortunately, Chad Johnson isn’t healthy right now. He plans to play with an injured shoulder, but it remains to be seen just how effective he can be.
They’re thin at wide receiver behind their starters, and may end up relying heavily on (gasp) Chris Henry.
Rudi Johnson was terrible last season. This season, he’s free to be terrible somewhere other than Cincinnati. In a move that was expected (there had been rumors floating around for weeks that the Bengals were trying to trade him for a wide receiver), the Bengals cut Rudi Johnson on Saturday.
The move opens the door for the oft injured Chris Perry. He is currently listed at the top of the depth chart. If he can’t stay healthy, Kenny Watson will be waiting in the wings.
The offensive line should be a pretty good run-blocking unit. Levi Jones is a stud. Andrew Whitworth is a beast. Stacy Andrews is gigantic. Bobbie Williams is above average. Eric Ghiaciuc holds the whole thing together at center.
If they can get their wide receiver situation settled, the Bengals will be pretty good on offense.
In an effort to fix their perennially pathetic defense, the Bengals brought in new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Zimmer coaches an aggressive, physical, blitzing defense. It remains to be seen whether or not he has to horses to make it work in Cincinnati.
He does have a couple of corners who can handle man-to-man coverage in blitzing situations.
Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph are underrated. Joseph struggled at times last year, but don’t let that fool you. He’s quality, and should be a good player in Zimmer’s defense. Deltha O’Neal is a decent nickel who can make a play every now and then.
Haven’t seen much of Marvin White, but the scouting report says he’s an average player with an above average motor and the ability to lay some lumber.
Dexter Jackson is an OK veteran, but Chinedum Ndukwe is the guy I’m sure they want out there on a regular basis.
Ndukwe has a knee issue that may keep him out week one, while Jackson is dealing with an ankle problem of his own. This could make for a sketchy situation in the back end of the secondary for their season opener against Baltimore.
Keith Rivers may be the key to the linebacking situation. He’s clearly the best talent on the roster, and it’ll be a disappointment if he doesn’t eventually take either Brandon Johnson or Dhani Jones’ job.
The defensive line is relatively pedestrian, and is definitely the weak link in this defense.
Antwan Odom needs to prove he can do it for more than one season. Robert Geathers needs to prove that he’s the guy from 2006 (10.5 sacks) and not the guy from 2007 (3.5 sacks). John Thornton should be a backup. Domata Peko is probably the most consistent player on the line.
The Bengals are going to have some trouble against the run, and if they can’t pressure the quarterback they run the risk of hanging their secondary out to dry.
A good defense is built from the line out. This defense gets better the further you get from the line. Not a good thing.
Chris Perry’s never stayed healthy before. No reason to think he’s going to start now.
Fighting for draft picks, fighting for the playoffs, or contending for the Super Bowl?
The Bengals will be fighting for the playoffs, but it’s a fight they’ll eventually lose because of their issues on defense.
A respectable 9-7, assuming the bulk of their roster can stay out of prison and Chad Johnson’s injury doesn’t keep him off the field.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at email@example.com. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.
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