I believe Carson Palmer's best days are in front of him. I think he has the tools and the drive to be the QB we all hope he can be.
Carson Needs an Offensive Line he Trusts
I really think a major issue this year was a matter of trust for Carson. I don't think he really trusted his offensive line. I think this is the reason for so many delay of game penalties. I think this can explain why he was trying to short arm so many passes instead of falling through properly. I think this is why he often had "happy feet" and did not have proper foot placement when making throws. I think he was so busy worrying about the opposing team's front seven that he was not as focused on where his receivers were and the other team's DBs. A major component to this year's off-season should be improving the offensive line.
Yes the offensive line was better then many people expected. Yes it did a great job blocking for the run, but I doubt anyone thought it did a good job protecting Carson Palmer. There were way to many sacks and QB pressures, especially up the middle. I would really like to see Whitworth moved back into the Left Guard position. First I think he is okay as a Left Tackle, but I think he can be more powerful and useful on the inside. Second I believe from that position he can be more effective calling line coverage. Carson Palmer still to this day misses Rich Brahm's ability to look at the defense and call line adjustments. I think of the current roster, Whitworth is the best player to take up this responsibility. I would then move Collins back to the Left Tackle position. He played well there in his rookie season, and I think with an entire spring training season could transition back, and then take a Tackle in the upcoming draft, someone who can be brought along.
Carson Needs Rhythm
I have always believed that the trick to the NFL is making sure you have the right system for the right player. Whether you have a player and you make the system work with his skills or you have a system and you bring in the right players to fit that system. It can go either way. A lot of bad coaching in the NFL has always been that coaches often try to make players fit a system that does not use their skills properly. My best example of this is Joe Montana. A very good quarterback to be sure, but if he had been the quarterback for say the Washington Redskins of his era, or the LA Raiders, he would have been an average quarterback; not one who is in the discussion of best of all times. Joe Montana was great because he played in a system that best utilized his skills. He was perfect for the West Coast offense, and he made it a near unstoppable force.
My reason for bringing this up, is I believe it is another reason that helps explain Carson's ho-hum year. I think there was a reason why this offense would sputter through a game, and then near the end, when it was needed most, Carson would lead the team down the field and hit his receivers with precision passing. That reason is that Carson is a rhythm quarterback. In those last minute drives, Carson and the team would play up-tempo, and would find a rhythm that was missing for much of the game.
Carson NEEDS a NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
Bob Bratowski has been here way too long. He was here before Marvin, and he just does not have anything new to offer the team. Bob Bratowski may be able to design good plays (I don't know this, but he must do something to have stayed here for so many years) but he has no feel for a game. He has no feel for his talent, he is terrible at making in-game adjustments (hence the third quarter was usually the worst for the Bengals), and has no couner punch when a defense effectively stifles his game plan. Where were the screens? Where were the slants? Where was the use of no-huddle when warrented? Bratowski just did not show much and must go.
Get Carson a real Tight-end.
Having a top notch Tight-end is highly under appreciated in this league. Look what Dallas Clark does for Payton, Jason Whitten does for Romo, and Gates does for Rivers. Having that threat in the middle gives a Quarterback a great weapon to get third downs, and increase a QB's passer rating.
Brian Leonard MUST be Utilized Better
One of the reasons I want Bob Bratowski removed is that he never figured out how to better utilize Leonard this year. We did not have a real Tight-end threat this year, and while Leonard would have been smaller than the average Tight-end, he could have filled that role. He should not have been just the third down back. Leonard should have been used in classic screens, bubble screens, and direct snaps. The guy gets yards, gets first downs, and plays with a high motor.
There should be more Quan Cosby in the passing game.
Every year the NFL has a player or two who don't meet the typical football looks. They were considered too small, too short, too slow, yet when they got on the field they out hustled, out worked, and just wanted it more than their peers. Quan Cosby has that look. Cosby could be the real inheritor of TJ's role. People thought that this might be Coles ( not likely now), or Caldwell (for those down on him, remember he is just finishing his second season, and receivers often come into their own in the third year), but it could be the undersized kid out of Texas with the shiftiness to cut underneath the coverage and speed to outrun the linebackers.
More Off Season Work With the Receivers
I loved the stories last year about Carson working with Caldwell and Henry. I hope I hear more this year. I hope he and Caldwell, Chad, Coffman, Brian Leonard, Quan Cosby, Jerome Simpson, and anyone else get together a couple times this spring and just work on timing and trust. Just like Carson lost trust in his line. I think he also had trust issues with some of his receivers.
A Healthy Left Hand
I do think that this injury played a role in Carson's trouble. Handing the ball off backwards was highly underrated. It is not something easy to do. It also made doing play action passes more difficult. The way he had to extend and reach out with the ball made it much easier for defenders to see what he was doing. This injury threw Carson off more than I believe he let on. That said, I also still believe he had other nagging injuries that we will hear about later.
Get Carson a New QB Coach
Carson needs a new Quarterback coach. He needs to get his fundamentals back on track. His footwork, his release, his vision all need to be reworked. This year he picked up some bad habits, and he will need someone to sit him down and work his way back to the technically sound quarterback we all remember from a few years ago.
Get Carson Another Deep Threat
The loss of Henry was real. The Bengals do need someone that teams have to worry about going deep. The Bengals need to work with Caldwell on his deep play ability, they need to see if Simpson has anything, and they need to either draft, trade for, or get through free agency, a receiver that has speed to take it deep, and teams have to respect. Chicago was able to find Knox, the Steelers were able to find Wallace, there are guys to be had with great speed, and the Bengals need to bring in one if not two.
Just my thoughts on how Carson Palmer can return to being a Pro-Bowl signal caller, who leads the team back to the play-offs.