For this week's Five Good Questions, I spoke with Josh Kirkendall from the Bengals blog, Cincy Jungle. He gave me the scoop on the Bengals as the Raiders head to Cincinnati on Sunday.
1. How does the injury to Andrew Hawkins affect the Bengals offense?
Not too much, to be honest. Hawkins has usually played the slot this year, gaining a significant percentage of yards during improvisation when Andy Dalton is scrambling out of the pocket. Yet he hasn't been the effective deep threat since beating Washington in Week Three. In fact his injured knee has opened the door for rookie Mohamed Sanu, who has scored a touchdown in the last two games, becoming a significant contributor on third and fourth downs.
The offense could have more stability and reliability with Sanu playing a hybrid slot flanking out wide during two-wide formations.
2. I get that there is a general disdain for Carson Palmer among Bengals fans, but what specific sentiments have you seen among them?
Think of it this way. Palmer wasn't just some random starter for seven years (eight including his rookie season); he was a fan-favorite for most Bengals fans, the proverbial messiah to take Cincinnati from the depths of a leaky basement, towering high over Pittsburgh and Baltimore, finally securing a place among the league's best teams. Then out of nowhere, during ESPN's pregame show during the conference championships, Chris Mortensen on ESPN told the world he so desperately wants a trade, that he'll play the retirement card. It felt embarrassing, but it was also a betrayal. This hit Bengals fans hard. It became personal after that.
We get that he's a Raiders quarterback and we're not saying anything personal against your quarterback; we're viewing this more as an issue with a former Bengals quarterback, than current Raiders quarterback (if that makes sense). But imagine your favorite player, the franchise guy, the face of the organization, doing the same thing. It would feel very personal.
3. Are the recent successes with the Bengals on offense attributed to Andy Dalton and therefore the past failings the fault of Carson Palmer? Or is there something else entirely that was not working before that is clicking now?
Yes and no. Palmer's failings weren't entirely his fault. Chad Johnson was declining and someone should have been fired for signing Terrell Owens. Yes, Owens had a good year in 2010, but it wasn't easy on Palmer to satisfy two massive egos like that; ironically two egos that haven't done anything in the NFL since (well, on the field at least). Plus the Bengals failed to rebuild certain positions after various departures, like the offensive line, wide receiver, and even tight end prior to Jermaine Gresham's arrival.
Yet there are different intangibles that Dalton has in which Palmer didn't have with Cincinnati. When Dalton throws an interception, he tends to have a closer's mindset in baseball. He forgets it by the next series, rarely affecting his play. Dalton has also shown a greater success for fourth-quarter performances, at one point generating a perfect passer rating this year. We didn't see those things much in Palmer during his stay with us. And an interception, including one of his legendary pick-six throws, showed a downtrodden Palmer and his games usually went downhill after that.
At the same time Dalton is a mix between a game manager for most of the game, but high-stakes passer when he crosses midfield. His best play is throwing the football high enough for A.J. Green to beat everyone else. It works out and without Green, this offense isn't very effective.
4. What are the Bengals three biggest strengths?
Lately. The line play. The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line is as good in pass protection as any team in the NFL. Though Dalton has been sacked over 20 times already, most have actually been attributed to him; he tends to get anxious in the pocket. On the other side of the football, we have three tremendous pass rushers in Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Atkins and Johnson have already put up career numbers and the amount of pressure they have generated translates into incomplete passes and turnovers.
But seriously. Watch Geno Atkins.
A.J. Green is obviously a strength, but let's also address special teams for your readers; something not normally touched on. Cincinnati's coverage team is one of the best in the league, rarely allowing a big return. Last year, composed mostly of the same players today, they lead the league with the smallest average per return on punts and kickoffs. Also the Bengals have fake punted twice with significant gains -- both of which have lead to scores.
Jermaine Gresham and the rest of Cincinnati's wide receivers could also be strengths, but they're very inconsistent. On their best days though, they're definitely an effective group.
5. What are the Bengals three biggest weaknesses?
Third downs on offense. Last week against the Chiefs, the Bengals went 0-6 on third downs, yet they converted three of those on fourth down -- one of which was a fake punt. Like most NFL teams, if you put the Bengals off-schedule (limiting their first and second downs), it becomes increasingly hard for them to convert third downs. They've had their fair share of similar scenarios.
Despite generating 189 yards against a really (and I mean really, really, really, really) bad Chiefs team, the running game has been largely ineffective this year, though offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will keep trying.
Finally, the secondary can have their moments. We're getting our best safety Reggie Nelson back this week, after being out with a hamstring the last two games. Leon Hall is a technician, even shut down Victor Cruz two weeks ago to 26 yards receiving. Beyond that there's opportunities for Palmer and the Raiders passing game. But that is if you sustain the blocks from the Bengals front four, who are largely responsible for most of the team's turnovers during the opposition's passing game.
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