Carson Palmer, Hothouse Flower? ...and did the D-Line improve?

As I mentioned in a prior post, the Bengals managed to eke out a top 10 rating in pass protection metrics.  Like all metrics, the STATS pass protection metric is open to some discussion about accuracy.  For instance, Indianapolis leads the metrics for the season, and most folks who know anything about football think their line is average.  Given, that Peyton Manning has one of the quickest releases in football and rarely is sacked, however, makes the line look a lot better.  I'd also say that while Indy's line isn't overpowering -- it is smart.  They rarely let dangerous blitzers go unchecked.

Anyway, I've always wondered if Carson is a bit of a hothouse flower-- given great protection and great conditions, he has great games.  Give him average protection, and he's average.  I think some of this perception comes from 2007, when Carson was forced to throw late in games to get the team back into it-- and threw a ton of interceptions in the last 4-5 minutes of some contests.  I thought that syncing up the passing protection metrics to Carson's passer rating might tell us if Carson succeeded due to great protection-- or if he succeeded despite poor protection.

Flipping this around, we can also look at how well our opponents pass protected -- and if the perception that we "got after" the quarterback late in the season (thank you Geno and Carlos) was accurate.  Here's the data:


Pass Protection Passer Rating
Game Opponent Bengals Opponent Bengals Opponent
1 at Patriots 96.6 88.1 92.5 120.9
2 vs Ravens 55.0 67.9 60.1 23.8
3 at Panthers 69.3 56.9 53.3 53.6
4 at Browns 63.7 79.1 121.4 74.9
5 vs Buccaneers 78.5 50.7 58.7 85.9
6 at Falcons 88.4 94.3 116.4 118.1
7 vs Dolphins 96.3 96.0 63.0 69.3
8 vs Steelers 44.2 77.6 88.7 76.6
9 at Colts 72.7 81.0 78.7 69.8
10 vs Bills 43.7 75.2 75.1 107.0
11 at Jets 52.8 79.4 41.0 71.4
12 vs Saints 56.1 55.5 101.7 120.3
13 at Steelers 54.9 21.5 48.7 87.7
14 vs Browns 78.2 46.1 90.7 132.6
15 vs Chargers 85.4 94.0 157.2 82.9
16 at Ravens 107.5 -9.6 78.5 69.0
Bengals Opponent Bengals Opponent
Home 67.2 70.4 86.9 87.3
Away 75.7 61.3 78.8 83.2
Bengals Opponent Bengals Opponent
Early Season 72.6 68.5 77.2 71.8
Mid-Season 66.4 83.9 77.2 85.4
Late Season 76.4 41.5 95.4 98.5
Bengals Bengals
Good protection 88.0 92.0
Bad protection 55.0 73.8


A couple of definitions -- "home" means at Paul Brown Stadium -- so opponents statistics at "Home" are actually their statistics on the road.  Early Season is the first 5 games, Late Season is the last 5 games.

Good protection is a pass protection rating north of 70.

A few things jump out:

1)  Carson's success doesn't seem to be perfectly correlated with good offensive line play. While he clearly does better with good protection (QB rating of 92) than bad (QB rating of 74), he did have some monster games with poor pass protection -- notably @ Cleveland with a rating of 121.4, and vs. New Orleans with 101.7.

2)  Carson seems to struggle most with the Steelers and Jets-- and so does the offensive line.

3) The offensive line got better as the season went on.  During the mid-part of the season the line seemed to be really struggling, and the metrics bear that out.  The last 3 games look great -- and given that two of those games were the Chargers and Ravens, I think that's excellent news.  I think some of the credit for these strong performances goes to having Anthony Collins in the lineup.  While he's not an overpowering RT, he's very solid, and this analysis echoes those who are calling for looking at moving Andre inside.

As a side note, I was calling for Collins to start ever since Andre went down.  Was he injured or hampered earlier in the season (I know there's no statement of such - but why didn't he start earlier)?  He's just a much better pass blocker than Roland.  Some of this could also be due to improvements in Gresham's pass blocking and/or the employment of a fullback in pass protection.  Sadly the metrics don't go that deep.

4)  The defensive line was also much, much better at putting pressure on opponent's passing games in the last 5 games-- our opponents' passing protection stats decline from a ridiculous 84 rating in the mid-season to 41 during the last 5 games-- validating what our eyes told us -- Atkins, Dunlap, and Johnson started getting after the QB during the final 3 games.

5)  All that increased pressure, however, didn't affect opposing quarterbacks as much as we'd like-- opposing QB's actually had an average rating of 98.5 during the final 5 games.  Personally, I think this has to do with the fact that the secondary was decimated, and even though Hall and Joseph were out there for stretches, neither was close to 100%.

6)  Opposing QBs outplayed Carson 10 times this season.  Opposing offense lines only outplayed our offensive line 7 times this season.  If you want to say you hate Carson, this is the statistic to cite.  That said, there was a lot made of the fact that Carson "faded" as the year went on.  Nothing could be further from the (statistical) truth-- Carson was very good the last five games -- with only a clunker against the Steelers.  I actually think this is understating the truth -- he clearly forces some redzone throws that he might not normally due to the absence of a reliable kicking game (see:  2nd interception in Baltimore.)

7)  Here's the surprise of the analysis.  To get Carson to play badly, you fail to protect him two weeks in a row.  Carson was bad on the 2nd week of back-to-back weeks of bad line play.  Here's the deconstruct:

Week 2 and Week 3 featured poor line play.  Week 3-- Carson posts a 53.3 passer rating against Carolina.

Week 10 and Week 11 featured really poor line play.  Week 11 - Carson posts a 41 rating against the Jets.

Week 12 and Week 13 featured poor line play.  Week 13 - Carson posts a 48.7 against the Steelers.

These are Carson's three worst games of the season.

Strangely, 3 weeks of bad line play in a row don't have the same effect -- week 12 was the third straight week of pressure and poor line play, and Carson played well against the Saints.  Same thing for Week 4 -- weeks 2, 3, and 4 were bad for the line, but Carson bounced back to play very well against the Browns.

It's almost as if Carson realizes that his line is in a bad slide that he compensates for it -- but only after being awful the game before.

Because I hate Bob Bratkowski, I blame him for inadequate game planning -- but I'll let you draw your own conclusions.  Net, Carson can thrive without excellent line play -- but like most quarterbacks, he prefers better pass protection to worse-- and protecting him poorly two weeks in a row is a recipe for disaster.

The good news-- both the O-line and the D-line played much better down the stretch, giving hope for next season....

Bratkowski delenda esse

PS  Got to love the Raven's negative offensive line rating for that last game....makes you wonder if they should really be favored against the Chiefs...

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Cincy Jungle's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Cincy Jungle's writers or editors.

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