CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 10: Quarterback Carson Palmer #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals gets set to throw from the pocket against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Paul Brown Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Whether it's fair or not, Carson Palmer is the franchise player on this team. He was the team's first overall pick in 2003, handed the keys to the offense in 2004 and was rewarded with a lofty contract extension in 2005 that's comparable to the league's best quarterbacks. So far this year, while being ripped by the media and Bengals fans, Palmer has thrown for over 340 yards in two games and -- save for the team's two wins ironically enough -- has thrown for multiple touchdowns. Some will argue that Palmer's 345 yards against the Patriots is a bit misleading because of New England's sizable lead. And that's fine. However, the Patriots also have the league's fourth WORST passing defense, allowing on average 273.4 yards passing per game.
At the same time Palmer is on pace to reach a career-high 20 interceptions and the team, simply put, shuts down when teasing our knickers near the red zone. Even though it's difficult to lay all of the blame on Palmer with penalties forcing Palmer to throw into tight coverage because the team has 15 yards to go on third down or with receivers allowing passes to bounce off their hands that led to interceptions, Palmer is the franchise guy and he needs to be the guy that overcomes the team's adversity.
Otherwise, what's the point in having him here? There are 24 NFL quarterbacks with a better passer rating, which includes guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chad Henne, Seneca Wallace, Shaun Hill, Matt Cassel, David Garrard just to name a few. Quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Hill, Garrard and Kyle Orton have thrown more touchdown passes. Again, what's the point of having a $100 million quarterback when guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Garrard and Matt Cassell are outperforming Palmer? Because he is the franchise guy, Palmer has to be the one that overcome the team's adversity. He has to lead this team to an unbelievable stretch if they are to make the playoffs this year.
Through five games this year, the Bengals passing offense ranks fifth in the NFL averaging 248 yards/passing per game. Then again, Cincinnati's passing offense has only recorded seven touchdown passes, tied for 18th in the NFL. Compared to the 2009 squad, if you compare the offenses through the first five games, there's some differences. This year the Bengals are throwing the football 57% of the time. Through five games last year, Cincinnati threw the football 52% of the time. Then again, Cedric Benson was rushing for 4.4 yards/rush last year, which is half a yard more than his 3.9 yard/rush average this year. Here's a side-by-side breakdown of the 2009 offense compared to the 2010 offense through five games.
Atlanta, who will be missing cornerback Dunta Robinson, sports the league's 25th best passing defense. Be wary of such rankings. Seven teams may have a worse passing defense, but Atlanta has only allowed two 300-yard performances and limited four opponents to less than 250 yards passing. Furthermore, those same opponents that the Falcons' passing offense allowed 300-yard performances to, the Saints and Eagles, also account for six of their eight passing touchdowns allowed. Alternatively, the four teams that displayed poor passing offenses -- the Steelers, the Cardinals, the 49ers and the Browns -- aren't particularly strong passing offenses. If our passing offense plays status quo, then Cincinnati may have to rely on their 18th ranked rushing offense to beat the Falcons 9th ranked rushing defense.
While talking about making the offense being the simplest version that he's produced in seven years, mostly because of new pieces in Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham, Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said he "tinkered with a few things" that should help the offense.
“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction, now we have to go prove it,” Bratkowski said.
Whether or not the team can, we have to hope that they will. And it won't be all on Bratkowski. Palmer has to go back to being the man. Or else this season will simply extend what we've seen already and with Pittsburgh and Baltimore playing the way they are, this season will be over quickly.