The first thing to say this week is thanks to all the readers who have been tuning in each week and participating in the discussions in this column. This has been one of my best ever experiences in openly discussing football without getting into the ad hominem attacks that sometimes can unfortunately mar a good time. So Cheers to Josh Kirkendall who works hard to make this a nice place to come for everyone as well as staff writers such as Joe Goodberry who have been good enough to add to our discussions!
The second thing here is an admission. This week I sadly missed the entire game for the first time in over a year. I had some work responsibilities and could only follow here and there with ESPN updates on my cell phone. So this week I'll have to tap more into commentary from others, statistics and trends in order to stimulate the topics. I think that's okay because we depend on a lot of inputs in order to form judgments, and it's probably good to break routines and look at things from a different vantage point from time to time.
I think one of the items that is being seen now is the thought that the Bengals might be able to turn this season around and make the playoffs. Animal Like Football has a nice post today (http://www.cincyjungle.com/2012/11/14/3644904/how-good-are-the-bengals-playoff-chances) addressing this, and we can expect this talk to amp up as long as the team keeps winning. I tend to bore one of my better friends when attempting to spell out the playoff track, so I won't do that here. I will, however, note that the Bengals best approach to getting a playoff spot is to get back in front of the Steelers in the standings. Right now we are 1 game behind in overall record, two losses behind in the Divisional race and one loss behind in the Conference record. Thus, we need help. I think a reasonable hope would be to see the Ravens beat the Steelers again in Baltimore on December 2nd (week 13). If that happens and if we keep winning, that would take us into Pittsburgh for week 16 with no less than an overall tie and with the opportunity to move ahead of the Steelers in the Wild Card race. Any losses for us between now and then would dramatically reduce our chances. And even if we would win that one, we'd still need to beat Baltimore at home in week 17 if the Steelers were also able to keep winning their other games. That sounds like a lot of pressure. However, we have to ask ourselves whether we're satisfied with just getting to the playoffs or whether we might like to win one of those games some day. For me, I really don't think we can hope to win a playoff game unless we can prevail every week under a lot of pressure these last 6 games. And frankly, I'd rather not go to the playoffs than to go and take a butt whipping again as we have done in '05, '09 & '11.
I brought up in the comments last week that the Law Firm only needed to average a smidgeon over 66 yards a game to get 1,000 yards on the season and that it was possible for him to do that without having a single 100 yard game. Of course he then runs for 101 vs. KC to make that irrelevant, but I'm still wondering whether any NFL back has ever gone over 1,000 on a season without having a 100 yard game? For the record Green-Ellis now needs to average 60.3 yards per game over the final 6 games to reach the 1,000 yard milestone.
So before moving onto our focus spots, I want to note that it's a odd weekend coming in which Carson Palmer has a chance to throw battery acid in the eyes of Mike Brown and the Bengals. A win by Oakland would reverse this modest winning streak and would significantly drop our chances of a playoff appearance. I keep reminding myself that this franchise won't ever come out of the doldrums unless it shows a new way of doing things, and 2012 has presented an awesome opportunity for that. Even though we don't have a top end RB, a reasonable #2 WR or decent support in the middle of our D, the team is showing some fight -- and that feels kinda good.
PRIOR 5 OVERRIDING THEMES
1. Is a Central Leadership to this team Emerging? I think the answer to this is YES. On offense Andy Dalton is back into this groove, AJ Green continues to provide a quiet example of consistently great play, Gresham is illustrating great focus and the O line shows up better each week. On D Geno Atkins has become a monster beyond anyone's wildest dreams while Maualuga continues to show more focus, Leon Hall is making a pretty amazing comeback and Chris Crocker is doing his best Dhani Jones imitation. Did I mention that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is consistently average to the point that you can count on him?
2. Where are we at RB? #2 WR? LB? Safety? Let's take 'em one at a time. At RB we're light in the loafers even though Peerman is showing good chops in limited attempts and Green-Ellis puts out a tremendous effort on every carry. The #2 WR spot is looking more hopeful with Sanu taking Binns' snaps and Marvin Jones almost ready to get his chance. The LB spots get an upgrade when Maualuga brings his lunch pail, which he has done several weeks in a row lately. At Safety we're finally finding success in pairing our younger guys with older veterans. Overall, these trends appear to minimize our major weaknesses.
3. Is the Defense gelling? I want to say YES. Here's why. Zimmer is too experienced to lose the crew for an entire season. We had injuries (Howard, Dunlap, Sims, Kirkpatrick, Allen) and have needed to adjust. That was painful, but it appears that the plan is heading in the right direction.
4. Young O -- Interior OL and WRs: Real or Memorex? Real deal. First, there is no model for the sudden success we've found in our two OGs and OC who all combined have one year of experience on an NFL roster. At WR we add Sanu and Jones to Whalen and Hawkins ... and throw in AJ Green for the trump card. Just gotta keep getting better.
5. When will the Fat Lady Sing? I hope not to know.
NEW THEMES TO CONSIDER
* Can the Bengals accomplish anything new? I noted it earlier. The franchise has never been able to win the next big one after winning the first big one. Looking stable this week @ KC was a baby step after the big win vs. the Giants in a move to change our fate. Now the question, for me anyway, is whether this team can play with champion mentality. What that means is that you play with such great focus and drive that you are essentially impossible to beat. This team has the personnel to do that. The talent on the DL for instance is so superior to most of the league that is should be dominating games. The OL has also moved up in ratings to occupy a top 10 spot. This suggests a few things about the earlier aspects of this season. The injuries really hurt the team even though we hate that excuse. Also, there was a lot of learning still going on for both players and coaches. Finally, negativism entered the minds of a critical mass. I guess my main focus here is simple however: if the team is ever going to win something meaningful, it will have to take the next step of winning the mental game that separates winners from losers. You win that game before you ever step foot on the field.
* What have we accomplished the last two weeks? I'll just say that it was an incredible change to lose four in a row and have the fortitude to turn things around before all chances were extinguished. That shows character, and this franchise really hasn't had true character for a long, long time.
* Game Stats: What good; what bad? I think it's tough to go overboard in drawing conclusions when you beat a 1-8 team. However, on the good side the team kept Jamal Charles from taking over the game (the only way the Chiefs could have won). They didn't let the Chief QBs get untracked, played solid STs and won the turnover game. On O they ran the ball consistently, avoided key mistakes and got some plays made by Green & Sanu. Sanu's pass route on his TD catch was ridiculous in how easily he turned around Brandon Flowers, a relatively decent CB. Peerman continued to show that he can contribute as the second RB. On the bad side, they are still struggling to contain TEs in pass coverage and aren't getting a lot of production from the Safeties. On O they still need to complete more passes to the #2 WR, which is going to take more time with Sanu still developing and Tate not really a guy who will ever be a true #2. The bad continue to be old stories (e.g., Safety and #2 WR production). The good tells us that some things are turning around (e.g., Sanu's and Robinson's play; Maualuga's run support; Dalton's consistency).