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Air Collapse

Whether it has to do with the loss of Chris Henry, or the elbow of Carson Palmer, or the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Cincinnati Bengals’ passing offense is lacking. It doesn’t matter if the opponent is the Detroit Lions or the Minnesota Vikings; the offense can not get a pass more than 20-25 yards past the line of scrimmage. At 9-4, the Bengals are still leading their division but still need a win to clinch their division. As long as we can win one more game, even if the Baltimore Ravens tie us with an overall record, we will still win the AFC North Division while owning the tiebreaker. But ending with six losses on the year does not do anything good for this team. When the Bengals lost to the Oakland Raiders 20-17, the team started a downhill, back to earth descent in which they have lost two of the last four games they have played.

After losing to the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday, the San Diego Chargers beat the Dallas Cowboys to take over the number two seed in the AFC Playoff picture. If this team plans on receiving a first round bye, we must beat San Diego next week and win the last two games of the year against the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets. If we lose one of the two games, the chances of the Bengals winning the number two seed is unlikely due to the Chargers having to play the Tennessee Titans, in Tennessee and the Washington Redskins in San Diego. If Vince Young is the quarterback for the Titans, then there’s a chance the Titans could pull an upset, but don’t hold your breath.

This past Sunday, we saw what happens when the passing game is non existent. Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis has said multiple times this season that this team is going to have a more balanced attack while trying to stuff the run down the opponent’s throat. This style of play has worked for the Bengals before, but in this game, Carson Palmer did not help the cause as he could not have been any less accurate. If there is no passing game to compliment the running game, then opposing teams will dare Palmer to throw the ball, knowing full well he won’t hit any of his targets, wide open or not. Defenders can then stay in the box and stop the Bengals one-dimensional running game. Cedric Benson had a decent day running the ball, piling up 96 yards on 16 carries but without a passing game that can produce more than six yards a pass, the offense is doomed from the start.

There are four obvious possibilities that the Bengals passing game is lacking in yards and efficiency. The first, and most fearful, is the fact that Carson Palmer’s elbow is not entirely healed. We know what happened in New York last year with Brett Favre, and I guarantee that Brett Favre made the decision of not being placed on the weekly injury list. Yes, Eric Mangini and the Jets should be held responsible in some way for not displaying the problem to the rest of the NFL, but it was Favre’s ultimate decision. The same situation could be happening in Cincinnati. Palmer elected against surgery and decided to rehab over the spring and summer. Whether or not it was a smart move, Carson hasn’t been the same since he got injured.

The next obvious problem is the loss of T.J. “Who’s Yo’ Momma” Houshmandzadeh. T.J. was Number 9’s third down target over the last few years because of his great hands and ability to gain yards after the catch. During the off-season, the Bengals signed former New York Jet wide receiver Laveranues Coles to a four year, $27 million dollar deal. Thus far, his signing has been a very big disappointment as he has dropped an allotment of passes that exceed the amount of fingers on both hands.

The third possibility that the passing game is faulting could be due to the loss of Chris Henry for the season. With his size, 6’4”, Henry is able to jump over almost all defensive backs when Palmer throws the ball in the air deep downfield. Before his injury, Carson Palmer was averaging 229.7 yards a game with 14 total touchdowns through the first eight games. Since his injury and placement on the Injured Reserve list, Palmer is now averaging 161.8 yards per game with three touchdowns. The last set of statistics is for the last five games. Henry only had 12 catches for 236 yards and two touchdowns through eight games, but you can see the influence he had on the field, as Carson average 67.9 yards more per game with him lining up in the slot.

The final reason that the Bengals are lacking through the air could be due to the fact that second round pick Jerome Simpson is yet to dress for a game this year. In his career, he has so far dressed for only six games, with all of those coming from last year. The following are Simpson’s career stats: one catch for two yards and one kickoff return for eight yards. By the way, all of these occurred in week seven last year against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The fans know it, the NFL knows it, and believe me, Marvin Lewis and Owner Mike Brown know it, the Bengals made a boo-boo. DeSean Jackson was selected three picks after Simpson and look how well he’s flourishing with the Philadelphia Eagles. It might help that he has Donovan McNabb throwing him the ball. Bengals Vice President Troy Blackburn has stated that when the Bengals passed on Jackson, it was because they believed he had “character issues.” Obviously this is hilarious to Bengals fans because draft history shows, the Bengals LOVE to draft players with character issues (see Henry, Chris or Thurman, Odell for examples). In the end, you have to give the Bengals credit. When they drafted guys with character issues in the past, it seemed as if the staff hit the jackpot. That is, until they were arrested. When the Bengals finally tried to do the right thing, and go with the receiver not known for having character problems, they ended up with Jerome Simpson.

The scouting staff has a lot of work to do, as the depth at wide receiver is quickly diminishing. Laveranues Coles is over the hill and will never be worth the money they’re paying him. Chad OchoCinco is the only receiver putting up numbers worth noticing as he needs just 63 more yards to reach his seventh season of 1,000 yards receiving. But age is catching up with him, as he is now 31 years old and his longest catch this year is 50 yards, which is his worst since his rookie campaign and last year’s debacle. Andre Caldwell has shown lots of promise, but will need another year or two before he has his breakout season. Maurice Purify and Quan Cosby just started to appear on the roster and are untested along with unknown. Mardy Gilyard, the wide receiver from the University of Cincinnati, has the chance to be available in the second round, and he would add depth, quickness, and a jolt of youth into this receiving corps.

For this team compete in the playoffs, the passing game must be addressed. The Bengals can no longer ride the coat tails of Cedric Benson on the way to a win. We saw this Sunday as the Vikings bullied the Bengals to a dominating and playoff clinching win. To beat the Indianapolis Colts, the Bengals will need to play shootout. The New Orleans Saints may have more weapons, but their main weapons, Drew Brees and Marques Colston, do not come close to touching Peyton Manning or Reggie Wayne.

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