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NFL Preview: #23

July 15, 2008

Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Division: AFC North
Last Year's Record: 7-9
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis

Schedule:
WK 1 @ Baltimore
WK 2 Tennessee
WK 3 @ NY Giants
WK 4 Cleveland
WK 5 @ Dallas
WK 6 @ NY Jets
WK 7 Pittsburgh
WK 8 BYE
WK 9 Jacksonville
WK 10 @ Houston
WK 11 Philadelphia
WK 12 @ Pittsburgh
WK 13 Baltimore
WK 14 @ Indianapolis
WK 15 Washington
WK 16 @ Cleveland
WK 17 Kansas City

Key Losses:
Justin Smith DE
Chris Henry WR
Alex Stepanovich C
Landon Johnson OLB
Madieu Williams FS

Key Additions:
Ben Utecht TE
Antwan Odom DE
Darryl Blackstock OLB
Brandon Johnson OLB
Andre Caldwell WR (rookie)


Breakdown of the Offense:
In 2005, the Bengals burst onto the scene with an explosive offense. The team was filled with fantasy studs at just about every position: Carson Palmer at quarterback, Chad Johnson at wide receiver, Rudi Johnson at running back, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at the second receiver spot. Chris Henry even made a name for himself as their third receiver, and the offense was not just putting up numbers for numbers' sake; the Bengals offense was what got them into the playoffs that year and had everyone picking them as a darkhorse in the AFC. Then Carson Palmer's knee got obliterated in the first round of the playoffs against the Steelers. If the Bengals were a rock band, this was their Mother Love Bone moment, and Carson's knee played the role of Andrew Wood, dying tragically before the band's major label debut.

The 2006 campaign saw the Bengals stumble to an 8-8 record and was mired in off the field arrests. The 2007 season pretty much followed the same road with the team going 7-9 and missing the playoffs, however; the offense did finish eleventh in scoring last year, which suggests the Bengals still have the pieces to move forward because they have always won with offense.

The problem is that the offense they have going into the 2008 season is not what they had back in 2005. Rudi Johnson showed signs last year that he's breaking down physically. He only rushed for 497 yards on 170 carries, allowing Kenny Watson to make a name for himself with 763 yards on 178 carries. Expect the two to split carries in the hopes that less of a work load will help Rudi Johnson rediscover his youth. This strategy can be seen at thousands of college campuses across the country during any random beer pong tournament. The strategy requests that when one player starts to get a little sloppy his partner begins drinking for him, hoping that if he can handle his partner's share of the alcohol, as well as his own, then his partner can continue making cups. Results tend to vary (widely), as do opinions on this Bengals team.

Some experts probably feel the Bengals are moving in the right direction again. The two biggest off the field headaches are gone, Chris Henry and Odell Thurman. The franchise stood its ground with Chad Johnson, and he will continue wearing orange and black this season, but I can't help stretching the beer pong analogy further by suggesting that this whole offense seems to be a college party that's lasted too long.

Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson are too drunk to play beer pong, but they're still clinging to the table, and even when they lose, they sign up again and are somehow back on the table immediately. Chad Johnson was hilarious a couple hours ago, but now it's hard to tell if he's hitting on people or arguing with them about whose resume is better; and Carson Palmer, knowing that it's four in the morning and everyone is going to be hungover tomorrow, is trying desperately to collect money, order pizza, clean up, and convince everyone that it's a better idea to urinate in the toilet than off the balcony.

It just seems a long time since the Bengals offense inspired Bootsy Collins to ask "who dey," and now they just seem like a parody of themselves, like they're just another college comedy where the frat has to throw one last amazing party to save their house.

Is there anyway to get Jeremy Piven into orange and black? I mean, isn't this the equivalent of listening in on a Bengals halftime speech?


Breakdown of the Defense:
If Achilles' heel had a heel, then the Cinnati defense would be it. The unit lost three of their top four tacklers from last season: Justin Smith, Landon Johnson, and Madieu Williams. The good news about the Bengals on this side of the ball is that all but three of their projected starters are in their early to mid-twenties. Dexter Jackson at safety, John Thorton at defensive tackle, and Dhani Jones at middle linebacker are the only guys that are at least thirty, so there is room for improvement (but also mistakes).

Position Grades:
QB---A: Carson Palmer can pretty much be counted on to regularly be a top three to five fantasy quarterback. The only knock on him one can make really is that he needs to produce not only statistics but wins.

RB---B: Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson don't really provide anything spectacular, but hopefully, together they can be solid. They rushed for about 1,260 yards combined last year and ten touchdowns. The most important statistic for these two will be their yards per carry. Rudi only averaged 2.9 ypc last season, while average 4.0 ypc for his career. Watson averaged 4.3 ypc last season.

WR/TE---A: Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are still one of the best receiving tandems in the league. T.J. had more catches and touchdowns last year, but Chad led the team in yards. Rookie Andre Caldwell will be asked to fill the role of third receiver, and Ben Utecht, formerly of the Colts, adds depth at tight end.

OL---B: Defenses sacked Carson Palmer only seventeen times last year, so the line did its job, and they have to be given credit for helping Kenny Watson average over four yards every time he ran the ball. The biggest question for this group is how will Eric Ghiaciuc do replacing ALex Stepanovich at center.

DL---D+: This group is not very imposing. They got to the opposing team's quarterback a total of fourteen times last season. Of course, eight of those sacks were by Antwan Odom, who played for the Tennessee Titans last season.

LB---D+: This low grade is mainly due to the lack of experience at the position. The Bengals expect to start a rookie at OLB in Keith River, but there are no standout players on the unit to help him quickly adjust to the professional game. Dhani Jones is the leading returning tackler for the team with ninety, not exactly a standout number for the position.

DB---C: Expect this group to gamble a lot. These guys go for big plays, which means they also get burned for big plays. The expected starters at corner are Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. The starters at safety are Dexter Jackson, a former Super Bowl MVP, and Chinedum Ndukwe.

Special Teams---B: Shayne Graham is always a solid fantasy play at kicker because he plays with what tends to be a high scoring offense. Last season, he missed a total of three field goals and all of his extra points. Antonio Chatman returns punts and also kickoffs along with Glenn Holt. Chatman averages over ten yards a punt return for his career.

Season Outlook: I can't see this group being above .500. They'll be in the six to eight win range. I'd bet on another 7-9 campaign. The problem is they have not done anything since 2005 to improve, but the teams around them have. The Steelers are still the model of consistency in the division. The Browns are making strides, and the Ravens have always been a tough matchup, even in down years.

The Bengals are the kind of team that tries so hard to look cool while driving that they run stop signs and get T-boned in the intersection. Marvin Lewis needs to assert himself and get this group to drive with both hands on the 10 and the 2, while coming to a complete stop. I'm writing these lines with tears in my eyes because I thoroughly enjoyed the Chad Johnson antics, but where have the antics taken such a talented team? Nowhere.

Berndon 4's Thoughts: Too much chaos and not enough defense means the Bengals will be interesting, but still not very good. At least Chad Johnson will keep people entertained.

Langston's Thoughts: Chad Johnson has become a major distraction and will continue to tear the team in half until Marvin or he is gone.

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