Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
Carson Palmer returns to show who was right after all.
The idea of quitting is an interesting one. Usually the act is pretty stark—either you quit or you didn't. We all quit something: little league, smoking, book clubs, the Bengals. Carson Palmer quit on the Bengals but not on football, so did he really quit at all? No one seems to care anymore, except for this week.
Even then, no one cares enough for a sellout or much national media coverage. The Bengal fan remains a kind of mystery to me. How do you not want to go to this game and see it unfold before your very eyes? There's no chance of rain, temperatures in the low 40s and the most notorious turncoat in franchise history makes his first trip back to the Queen City. I circled this game on the schedule so vigorously that I poked a hole through it with my pencil. I hear you about the cost of an NFL ticket, but sometimes you have to remind yourself about only living once and collecting memories for later on, I think. Live football in meaningful games is a different level of sensory perception; one that cannot truly be captured on television. My point is not to guilt-trip anyone into selling out the stadium—I'm well versed in the arguments against ownership—I just want to know what game is big enough for Bengal fans to sell it out? I don't mean Steelers fans nor Peyton Manning fans nor Cowboys fans, but dare I say, The Jungle, a dying moniker for our fan base. I can't disguise my mild disappointment in the lack of enthusiasm for such an event. Those fans downplaying it as no big deal are not reveling in football enough. The drama is rich, enjoy it while you can.
Of course the players and coaches say they aren't making a big deal of it, and that's to be expected, but I don't think it's true. Even to the player who never played with Carson Palmer, they know what happened and how he left, and even they should want to show him that he quit on the wrong team. There's a lot of proving to be done on Sunday. A lot of pride at stake. When the Bengals take the field against Palmer, they are playing more for us than for Mike Brown. We are eager to beat our chest and yell our throats horse in victory. One giant "I told you so, mother******!" A visceral instinct to lash out against a person we harbored such high hopes for.
I think that's why Bengal fans will boo him. Not because they are simple hominids who are eager to hate, but because we all really believed in Carson Palmer and he walked away an ultimate failure. The disappointment is too great not to succumb to its ugliness. In that same spirit, though, a win would allow the Bengal fan to feel vindicated and ease up hating him so much. It would allow for acceptable closure on the matter and everyone can move on amicably.
Yet with all the stored up venom to be undoubtedly spewed in his direction, he too has reason to play at his best. This kind of revenge is a two-way street and if he pulls it off, he could ride off into the western sunset with a smirk on his face and a sack full of stolen Cincinnati pride. It's a chance for him to stand up for himself and show that he isn't a chump after all. A chance to remind us of what we're missing.
If the stage wasn't set enough, enter Hue Jackson, the seemingly double-agent for the Bengals, who orchestrated the trade for Palmer, gave up some prime Raider draft picks, and took a job with the Bengals the next year—the name Bob Bedinghaus comes to mind. Hue knows the Raiders like Palmer knows the Bengals—probably more so—and his input in the coaches room this week will be more valuable than usual.
There are many things we know about the playing ability of Carson Palmer without being an insider. We know he likes to throw it deep. The deep ball is a siren that lures him into trying it more often than he should. It was a major problem in his last year in Cincinnati and it still crops up often in Raider games. Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey are very fast, but neither are very reliable in both receiving and staying healthy. Nonetheless, CP3 will look for them streaking down field. Safeties must play a true center field on Sunday and show the range necessary to stick with the burners on deep patterns.
We also know that while Carson can throw far, he doesn't throw particularly fast. I still see him throw a lot of incompletions on out patterns to the sideline simply because the ball takes too long to get there. Since 2010, Palmer has thrown 47 interceptions in 36 games and a lot of that is because the defensive backs get good breaks on Palmer's slow ball. While the Bengals corners aren't speed blazers, they do play with good technique and jump routes well, particularly Terence Newman. Look for the veterans to be chancy against Palmer and bait him into a pick or two.
The other thing we know about the California Golden Boy is that he panics easily under pressure. His maneuverability has become extremely limited over the years and he needs a good pocket to succeed. The Bengals pass rush is built to sack pocket passers. The scramblers and the improvisors tend to give this structured defense problems, but go against them with a standard drop back and throw style and your quarterback will be hurried. The Raiders offensive line is not that impressive while the Bengals defensive line appears rejuvenated over the last two wins. Unlike the more mobile quarterbacks, if Palmer can't get comfortable in the pocket, he has no chance.
The Raiders best player is their fullback who was once a receiver and is now their starting tailback. His name is Marcel Reece and he has an impressive skill set. His ability to run routes and catch may be his best attribute, but he has shown himself to be an effective runner when taking hand offs and is good in the open field on screens and such too. I became a big fan of him last season before the Jason Campbell injury when he became a terrific compliment to Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Then Palmer wisely warmed up to him once he arrived and now Reece is the focal point of their offense. There's no one way to stop a player like that; you just have to keep a person on him at all times. When he goes out for passes, it will probably be up to the linebackers to cover him since the safety help will likely focus more on the speed receivers on the outside. That means the Raiders have an advantage on third-and-short situations and it will be up to the Bengals defense to win on first and second downs to avoid those kind of scenarios.
The other man to watch within the Raiders offense is Brandon Myers. Carson throws to this guy a lot and he seems like a fairly trustworthy safety valve, but he has dropped touchdowns in consecutive weeks. Between Myers and Reece, Mike Zimmer may have to use a nickel back to mark one of these bigger guys. If that's the case, open-field tackling becomes paramount for the secondary.
As for the Raiders defense, it's still about their front four. They are oversized guys who get a good push on the line of scrimmage, though Drew Breese showed them last week how good footwork in the pocket can lead to touchdowns. The interior linemen seem to have stabilized to some degree thanks to the health of center, Trevor Robinson. Since he became a steady starter, practicing every day with the number ones, the protection has become stronger, and Dalton appears way more comfortable than he did earlier in the year. Those inside guys will be challenged by Pro-Bowlers Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, but those guys are getting older and don't have quite the bite they used to. With a terrible defensive backfield, giving Dalton time will allow him to score enough points to win.
It was lovely to see BenJarvus Green-Ellis eclipse the century mark for the first time in stripes, but the whole rushing offense needs to prove that wasn't an aberration by doing it again. Cedric Peerman getting more carries is showing positive results, but any real improvement that might exist in the running game is, once again, the stability of the offensive line.
The Raiders aren't terrible, but they are close. They still rack up a lot of penalties and simply lack the talent necessary to mask their weaknesses. The Bengals aren't a good team, but they are close. There is a positive vibe about the team right now, and the sense of urgency now appears real. If Cincinnati strikes early again, Oakland may mentally pack it in for the season. Blitzing Palmer, knocking him down and sending the brutal crowd into a frenzy, should result in turnovers, which should result in points and should result in a win. With so much pride and drama on the line, I can't see the Bengals letting us down or quitting on us. I think they're strong on Sunday and really stick it the former No. 9.
Bengals 30, Raiders 17
Mojokong—big enough for me.