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Fellow Reader Chimes In

At my former Bengals blogging venture, I had a small section called the "Veterans of Cincinnati". It started out as old time residents reflecting on the past Bengals teams and their best memories. I will always have that invitation open to you guys and all you need to do is email me at the address to the right (trying to prevent spam, so I won't write it here).

Fellow reader Edward, from Washington D.C., made a great observation the other day in response to my "what if" post.

I wrote you a few months ago that I thought the Bengals would win the Super Bowl this year.  And they still might; more on that below.  But rather than look back and wonder "what if" about those four losses, I prefer more of a narrative about their road to the Super Bowl.  More than anything, chapter one of that story is the return of Carson Palmer.  Like most everyone, I simply assumed he was back at the time of the Steelers's game.  But he wasn't; physically, his knee might have been okay, thanks to modern medicine and organ donation; but his mechanics and thus his timing were off.  Ron Jaworski publicized the problem some weeks ago.  And if Jaws saw it, so did every opposing coach and defensive player watching game film.  It's an axiom of NFL football that when an offensive player has a problem, defenses key on it.  For example, Tiki Barber had a fumble problem, and in 2002 and 2003, he fumbled 9 times and lost 6 both years; and so defenses keyed on making Tiki fumble.  His career was saved when Tom Coughlin taught him a new, safer way to carry the ball.  Last year, Palmer killed defense that blitzed.  Some of the YouTube videos of last year's games (before they were purged for trademark violation), you could hear the announcer say "Blitz, Palmer's got time . . . to Johnson, he's got it . . .".  This year, with the bad mechanics, Palmer was less effective on the blitz.  As a result, the cost to a defense blitzing--Palmer connecting to Johnson in single coverage--went down, and so teams blitzed more.  And the injuries on the O-line compounded this problem.  I don't know if Rich Braham was the glue that held the line together, but after he was injured, the line became undone; and as additional injuries occurred, it took weeks for the line to get back to last year's form.  Fortunately, in the last few games, it appears that Palmer has solved the problems with his mechanics, the O-line has reestablished last year's cohesion; and as you reported about the Oakland game, Palmer's timing appears back to last year's excellence.

In addition, Odell Thurman and David Pollack were lost for the year, and it took over half a season of trial and error for Marvin Lewis to discover that Caleb Miller was the guy.  Is the defense now as good as their most recent performances indicate; or are they still soft against the run?; and have they purged the "phone it in" attitude shown in the second half of the Chargers game (an attitude all too obvious in the Washington Redskins); or might that return?

Maybe, just maybe, all the pieces are now there for the Bengals to make a serious run at the championship.  What are they lacking right now that they'll get in another week or two?  Tab Perry isn't coming back; the return game is what it is.  The run defense is what it is.  The offense is back, if not to last year's efficiency, still, enough  to win.  What's exciting is, assuming they've got all the pieces, they've got to put it all together NOW!   The talent, the coaching, the toughness, now.  It appears--I haven't finished my analysis--but my partial analysis and memory is that no team with 10 wins or fewer has ever won a Super Bowl in the 16 game era.  Several teams, including last year's champion, won with 11 - 5 records.  Why that is, I'm not sure.  But like 60 feet, six inches and 90 feet between the bases is just the prefect distances for baseball, 11 wins in 16 games appears to be the minimum showing of a championship caliber team; 10 wins or fewer means the team had too many holes to win a championship; or the wrong attitude; or the wrong coach.  That was the difference last year between the two # 6 seeds; the 11 - 5 Steelers won, the 10 - 6 Redskins were one and done.  And that's the situation facing the Bengals right now.  A bad call in Tampa didn't play a part in Marvin Lewis finding Caleb Miller to play middle linebacker; and the Bengals weren't going to win with either Ahmad Brooks or Brian Simmons in the middle; or lengthen the time it took Carson Palmer to solve his mechanics and timing problems.  And there's a world of difference between a team, right now, tough enough to beat the suddenly-beatable Colts in Indianapolis, beat Jay Cutler's Broncos at Mile High, and beat the Steelers at home; and a team that loses one or two of those games.  A team good enough to win out against those opponents is good enough to win the championship; and a team not good enough isn't.  I really think it's as simple as that.  So either they win next Monday and the two games after that; and the three games after that; or they never were good enough this year to win anyway.  Any other excuse doesn't really matter.  

Washington DC