Carson Palmer might be the story heading into Sunday's game, but where the Bengals should win this is on offense against a struggling Raiders defense.
Carson Palmer this. Carson Palmer that. Blah, blah, blah.
We might be divided on how interesting Carson Palmer's return might or might not be (if ticket sales are any indication, not that much), the simple truth of it is, the Cincinnati Bengals desperately need to continue their playoff mentality this week to keep postseason ambitions alive. Lose and they're back to sub-.500 ball at 5-6 with five games remaining. Elimination isn't a mathematical technicality just yet but could become emotionally devastating. Yet a win gives Cincinnati a shot for the No. 6 seed, depending on how well the Indianapolis Colts fare against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Regardless Cincinnati can't clinch a postseason berth yet, so the critical arguments right now are simplistic: Winning. Let prognostication scenarios play themselves out with a firm control-your-own destiny theme.
That's the microscopic line bordering despair and momentum this weekend. As the former owner of this weekend's opponent cliched, "Just Win Baby". We hate cliches. They're a precursor to mental exhaustion; or lessons taught by professional athletes and coaches not named Les Miles.
Another simple truth of it is that the Bengals defense will face a rather big threat in Oakland's passing game, currently ranked seventh in the NFL. Palmer has thrown for a whopping 1,094 yards in the past three games; something he never did with the Bengals. Yet the Raiders haven't just lost those games against the Buccaneers, Ravens and Saints, they've been manhandled by an average 22 points/game with Palmer throwing six interceptions during the three-game span. That's something he did quite frequently. But we're not trivial mongers of pettiness. It's just not that interesting to me.
Doesn't mean that the Cincinnati Bengals defense isn't aware of it.
"He’s playing great," said Bengals assistant coach Hue Jackson. "I think they have a really good player. I said that when he came to Oakland, and I still feel that way now."
On the other hand Cincinnati's defense hasn't allowed a 300-yard passer since Brandon Weeden during a Week Two win over the Cleveland Browns; a stretch of eight games that includes eight touchdowns allowed, seven interceptions and 26 quarterback sacks. Nor have they allowed a passing touchdown since Peyton Manning's three score performance on November 4. You can debate if Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn touch the physical talents of Carson Palmer; but you can't discharge the probability that Cincinnati's defense faces an enhances passing game; at least yardage-wise.
Pressure could be the secondary's biggest friend, with eight quarterback sacks in the past two weeks, six from the Bengals front four. Additionally the Bengals front four have generated 19 hurries and nine hits combined against the Giants and Chiefs, led by future All-Everything Geno Atkins with heavy contributions from Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap.
Ironically where the Bengals could really take advantage against the Oakland Raiders isn't so much a Thunderdome celebration between the Raiders offense vs. Bengals defense.
Consider this: The Raiders have allowed 135 points, 1,314 yards from scrimmage with a -6 turnover differential in the past three games. Comparatively speaking the Bengals have outscored their last two opponents by 40 points, generated a +4 turnover ratio, six touchdowns and a combined 265 yards rushing -- the best stretch running the football this season by far. Jermaine Gresham is rising, Andy Dalton is focusing (no interceptions in two straight), the rushing offense is productive and the most effective coverage against A.J. Green right now is mental mistakes (which he doesn't make).
Will Cincinnati pound the Raiders like they did the Chiefs last week, scoring 28 while holding Kansas City to six? No. Even if the Bengals take a commanding lead early in the game, Palmer will get his garbage time against a prevent defense looking to limit the opposition's bigger plays. Every NFL defense does it with remarkable clarity, frustrating every fan that's ever raised a foam finger.