Six-Pack of Hu-Dey: Bengals passing game, Cedric Benson's expected return

Perhaps expectations for Laveranues Coles were misplaced. When the Bengals signed wide receiver Laveranues Coles to a $28 million contract soon after losing out on the T.J. "ain't no way I'm staying in poor ass Cincinnati" Houshmandzadeh puppet show, we tried to justify that signing Coles was sensible because, while he brought different attributes to the table, the Bengals offense wouldn't miss that much. Boy, we nailed that one like Homer Simpson reroofing his house.

Through 11 games this season, Coles has recorded only 31 receptions for 379 yards receiving and three receiving touchdowns. At this pace, he'll finish the season with 45 receptions for 551 yards receiving. This would be, by far, his worst 16-game season in his career (he missed four games in 2007 and three games in 2000). Of the 61 times Carson Palmer has thrown to Coles, the 31-year old wide receiver has caught only 51% of his passes, of at least six being drops. And during the team's 16-7 loss win over Cleveland, Coles caught two of nine passes thrown his way.

Now, let's also be fair. Palmer hasn't been the most accurate passer -- especially under pressure where his completion rates dip considerably to under 54%. Cincinnati has changed philosophy to a much more aggressive rushing offense, reflective of Palmer's and Chad Ochocinco's season statistics compared to their 16-game averages.

However, the notable issue is cost over production. When Coles signed his $28 million deal earlier this year, we broke it down. His base salary this year is a lowly $1.9 million. That number significantly jumps in 2010 ($4.65 million), 2011 and 2012 ($6.4 million respectively). Furthermore, a majority of Coles' guaranteed money was reportedly earned already in 2009, making us conclude at the time that his four-year deal could be viewed as a one-year deal with three option seasons.

Cincinnati will have to answer the question if Coles is worth having on the roster next year, after a projected 45-reception season, with an increasing base pay, or if the Bengals will finally start showcasing some of their younger talent in Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson and Maurice Purify.

Can the Bengals finish the Trilogy of Terrible Teams with a winning record? The loss to the Oakland Raiders, while heartbreaking, wasn't totally unexpected. Having watched these Bengals for so long, and the NFL for that matter, games in which an underdog beats a heavy favorite is completely within the realm of possibility. Oh, and the Bengals have never won in Oakland and sport a .257 winning percentage when playing games in California. Hey, it happens. Even Ohio State University lost to Purdue. In 2005, the Cincinnati Bengals were 11-3 heading to Buffalo, only to lose by ten points to the 5-11 Bills. Hey, it happens.

Even though some called it the biggest loss of the season, I maintained that losing to Oakland was a mulligan. I believe it still. The entire division lost that weekend, including Pittsburgh to their own 2-7 opponent. However, the thing about mulligans in the NFL is that you only get one. While the score never reflected it, the Bengals dominated the Cleveland Browns the following week.

This week, the Bengals play host to the 2-9 Detroit Lions. If the Bengals lose Sunday, in one of the few potential trap games left this season, they'll lose all momentum at a very inopportune time with the Vikings and Chargers on deck. Now, this is the pessimistic old Bengals fan point of view where anyone associated with the Cincinnati Bengals would do something disastrous; like how a sneeze can set up a series of events that entire nations declare war on each other. With a win over Detroit and then two losses against the Chargers and Vikings, the Bengals will at least hold the division lead by way of tie-breakers if the sinking Steelers and Ravens win their next two. Win the games you're suppose to win.

Starting Cedric Benson against Detroit is the right choice. With the Lions coming into town this weekend, it's a sound decision to bring Cedric Benson back into the fold. But slowly. Detroit ranks 19th against the rush allowing 112.9 yards per game, a 4.3 yards-per-rush average and 13 20-yard rushing plays allowed, which is only two away from Oakland's league leading 15. Detroit will help Benson get his legs under him again, but more importantly, the team could rotate backs this weekend to ease Benson back.

After Detroit, the Bengals will play another critical stretch of games in Minnesota and in San Diego. Minnesota sports the league's second best rush defense and the Bengals are currently battling the Chargers for the second seed in the AFC. If Benson gets sporadic work against the Lions, he'll start getting into the offense's rhythm, to prepare for the Vikings, as well as be nasty once again against the Chargers.

Speaking of which. Is it time to air out the football against the Lions? Cincinnati has rushed the football 40 times or more in three games this year (Chicago, Oakland, Cleveland II). In two of those games, the Bengals averaged 4.7 yards rushing or more and won by at least two possessions, dominating the time of possession. Four times this year the Bengals rushed the football less than 30 times; they lost to Denver and Houston, beat the Steelers twice by less than a touchdown. As written above, the Detroit Lions sport a middle-of-the-road rushing defense.

On the other hand, Detroit has the league's worst passing defense, allowing 281.4 yards passing a game, an opposing quarterback rating of 111.8, a 70.5 completion percentage allowed, 13 passes of 40 yards or more and an average of 8.2 yards allowed per pass.

Chad Ochocinco jokingly said, "We would like to throw the ball 50 times." It's not egotism playing a factor. I think he knows what we know. The Detroit Lions can't stop the pass.

Where is Palmer's deep pass accuracy? Even though we think that the Bengals should air it out against the Lions, there is some general concern that Palmer's accuracy on the deep pass isn't what it used to be. For example, when passing beyond 20 yards, Palmer has completed six of 23 passes for 266 yards. More importantly, that's where three of his eight interceptions have come from.

An argument could be made that Palmer just doesn't have time to throw it deep. That's certainly been true the past two weeks. Another argument could be made that the Bengals simply don't have that deep threat outside of Chad Ochocinco, who is double covered and smothered on nearly every play.

Still, if the Bengals are going to go back to their old school explosive offense, they'll need Palmer to make better throws down field. Actually, the Bengals will just need to make more throws down field. Only 23 passes beyond 20 yards? That's surprising.

Note: five of Palmer's eight picks have come when he throws to his right.

How could Tennessee factor into the Bengals playoff race? The Bengals still hold the second seed for the playoffs with five games to go. The San Diego Chargers have the same record as Cincinnati, but are on the losing end of a tie-breaker that gives Cincinnati the edge. If we look at both team's remaining schedule, you'll see several similarities. Each team faces three teams with a losing record, one team with a winning record and each other. The Titans play a Wild Card in this because while they're 5-6, they're also on a five-game winning streak and could present the biggest problem for San Diego -- other than Cincinnati of course.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the remaining games with the Bengals and Chargers.

Week Bengals Record Chargers Record
13 Detroit 2-9 @ Cleveland 1-10
14 @ Minnesota 10-1 @ Dallas 8-3
15 @ San Diego 8-3 Cincinnati 8-3
16 Kansas City 3-8 @ Tennessee 5-6
17 @ NY Jets 5-6 Washington 3-8

All stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com, Stats, Inc. and NFL.com. If you have a topic you'd like explored, email me.

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