Remember last year? I know, I know. Why bring up terrible memories of a team that started the season on an eight-game losing streak. Why bring up terrible memories of a team that actually finished a game in a tie causing the entire NFL world to shouting, asking why ties in the NFL? I remember when the active report came in during the fourth week of the season against Cleveland, seeing that Carson Palmer was inactive. It took weeks for me to fully comprehend the implications of Palmer's injury. I was in denial.
This week gave us a few reminders of how much better this team is, in terms of talent and pure luck, which is (if people want to admit it or not) critical to team's successes in a season.
The Bengals placed two players on Injured Reserve this week with arm injuries; wide receiver Chris Henry and safety Roy Williams. This brings the total to eight players on injured reserve since the start of training camp.
On November 28, 2008, the Bengals had just put Andrew Whitworth and Scott Kooistra on injured reserved, the 20th players lost for the season due to injury. In fact, I mused at the time that the Bengals could nearly fill out a starting lineup with players on Injured Reserve.
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
While the Bengals can't come close to filling out a starting roster, the biggest difference this year is that the team's depth is strong enough to replace those injured players -- except for maybe Tight End -- and lose limited production. Chinedum Ndukwe, the guy replacing Williams in the starting lineup, has 17 career starts. In the first game he started this season against Cleveland, Ndukwe recorded seven tackles and a quarterback sack. Against Houston, Ndukwe recorded a season-high 11 tackles. Along with Brandon Johnson, Ndukwe recorded a quarterback sack deep in the fourth quarter against Baltimore. NFL.com ranks Ndukwe fifth on the team with 35 total tackles.
Chris Henry is a loss in terms of taking advantage of match-up problems. However, through eight games, Henry only caught 12 passes -- then again, he averaged a team high 19.7 yards-per-reception. Based on the talent and depth chart ahead of him, Henry's loss, in terms of overall production, isn't very significant. The Bengals will likely replace Henry with the receiving committee of Maurice Purify and Jerome Simpson; two unproven players that could surprise/disappoint us.
Antwan Odom is perhaps the biggest injury this team has suffered. Through the first two games, the Bengals recorded nine quarterback sacks -- seven from Odom alone. After going down to injury against Houston, the Bengals production hasn't slacked much -- they've recorded five quarterback sacks in the past two games with the following combination of defensive players: Frostee Rucker (1.0), Brandon Johnson (1.5), Robert Geathers (1.0), Michael Johnson (0.5), Jonathan Fanene (0.5), Chinedum Ndukwe (0.5).
Even though Odom's injury was the biggest this team has suffered, in terms of season production coming to a premature end, the team's tight end spot was decimated by injury. However, there was never really any expectation that tight ends would become vital in the passing game, save for pass protection. J.P. Foschi and Daniel Coats are reasonably good when it comes to rush blocking and the biggest difference between the Foschi/Coats tight end era compared to the Kelly/Utecht era is the dropped passes -- admittedly, there's been a few but fortunately, they're not targeted as much.
Two of the biggest improvements this year over the 4-11-1 team in 2008, is that injury isn't crushing the team's chances and the depth chart is as strong as its ever been during the Marvin Lewis era. And the injuries suffered this season hasn't hurt the team's overall production.