Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer To Leave Sinking Ship: Are They That Bad?

Dave HarrisCorrespondent IMarch 2, 2011

Carson Palmer wants out of Cincinnati, but is their decline partly of his making?
Carson Palmer wants out of Cincinnati, but is their decline partly of his making?Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

If the Cincinnati Bengals are so bad that Carson Palmer, after three underwhelming seasons out the last four, wants out, then exactly how bad are they?

Admittedly, it’s not as though Palmer’s 2005 playoff injury has sent the franchise over the cliff. After all, from 1991 to 2004, there were a total of zero playoff appearances for the Bengals. A team that had, perhaps, thought it had made a breakthrough, now seems destined to return to the bad old days of the '90s Bengals.

Coming into the 2010 season, things looked quite promising. Ten wins and a playoff appearance the previous year suggested that things were heading in the right direction, and that head coach Marvin Lewis’s job was secure for the foreseeable future.

How things can change over the course of one year!

A disastrous 4-12 season, which included 10 consecutive defeats, has led to all sorts of ramifications, including Palmer’s “Trade me or I quit” ultimatum.

Back in November, ESPN’s James Walker suggested that the core of the team for the last few years would seem to be on its way out.

So, how did it get this bad?

The surprising answer is that it appears to be in the rushing game.  Cincinnati’s receivers caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than their opponents in their games.  Palmer threw more interceptions than his opponents, but had a similar TD-INT ratio.

On the ground, though, the Bengals averaged more attempts per game than their opponents, but came up some 20 yards per game fewer, at only 3.6 yards per carry.  Indeed, the long-rush was almost absent, with only three carries of more than 20 yards all season, compared to 17 from their opponents, and half as many rushing touchdowns.

The brunt of this has to be borne by Cedric Benson, whose 2009 total of 1,251 yards at 4.2 ypc, now seems to be the blip rather than the norm, as he returned to his previous form.

However, Benson cannot be solely to blame.  With high-profile receivers like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, it wasn’t a surprise that the passing game was given greater prominence.  But you would have expected star players like these, in tandem with an adequate quarterback, to have made more of their chances.  That Owens led Cincinnati’s receiving yards with 983, perhaps says enough about his performance too that helps to explain why the Bengals looked so bad in 2010.

And it still isn’t too clear whether the loss of Owens and Ochocinco from the roster for 2011 would be a positive or negative result.  It leaves the receiving corps to be led by Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley, a pairing that looks less than likely to strike fear into the hearts of AFC North defences in 2011!

First-round pick from 2009, Andre Smith, has been completely unproductive at offensive tackle, starting just five games in his first two seasons, and eating into the salary cap.  Gary Horton’s analysis indicates that the Bengals have needs all over their defensive unit.  This might preclude any significant upgrades to the offense through the draft, though this could be mitigated if in any trade of Palmer they can get some form of value to fill other needs.

That still leaves a gaping hole at quarterback, though, with Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour not looking like adequate replacements for Palmer if he departs.

Rumors abound at the possibility of selecting Cam Newton or another QB in the first round and filling other needs later.

Newton would be a gamble, since the Bengals would need to install him as the starter right away, and it is clear that he is not yet “NFL-ready.”

In fact, selecting Newton might well be an indication that the Bengals’ management do feel that it is “that bad,” and with the future in mind are prepared to blood the youngster.

On the other hand, Cincinnati could be cautious and fill their needs on defense, under the hope that Ochocinco and Benson can recover some form in 2011. A 4-12 record in 2010 is only a disaster if it is followed up by a repeat performance in 2011—that really would show us that the Bengals have regressed. 

But if 2011 shows progress?  Well, perhaps things aren’t as bad a Carson Palmer is making out. 

Perhaps, he has been part of the problem.

Chad Ochocinco: More TV shows than Touchdown catches in 2010. Despite having TO alongside him, he's been a big part of the Bengals problems.
Chad Ochocinco: More TV shows than Touchdown catches in 2010. Despite having TO alongside him, he's been a big part of the Bengals problems.Joe Scarnici/Getty Images