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Analyzing the Bengals first quarter of the season

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Even though the season's first quarter is finished, with the Bengals sporting a discouraging 1-3 start, there's still this: The Bengals have lost two of their three games by one possession. Without late turnovers in both games -- Seattle (fumble on kickoff return), Cleveland (interception)-- the Bengals had a chance to take the lead on the final offensive possession. One play, in each game, from being 3-1 -- the New England game was hopeless. The other losses are examples of the microscopic difference between winning and losing in the NFL among the fat middle teams (in between the elite and the horrible).

Also take solace in this: If all the AFC North teams lose Sunday, the Bengals would only be 1.5 games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's a far cry from the evil interpretations of total suckism we've heard since Monday night.

It puts things in simple perspective. Minus one game, the Bengals aren't losing by a wide margin. With a softer schedule coming up, the Bengals are a quick run from rejoining the ranks of competitive success.

Since the future is unknown (no, REALLY?!), let's examine the team's first quarter of the season.

Offense.

The Bengals are passing on 62% of their total offensive plays -- which is roughly 9-10% more than the past three seasons -- 52% in 2006, 53% in 2005, 53% in 2004. Note: that shows the Bengals are playing more from behind. On 259 total offensive plays, the Bengals are averaging 5.6 yards per play. Their average 365.5 offensive yards ranks 6th in the league with a 39% third down conversion rate -- t-21st in the league.

In the scope of metrics, the Bengals offense ranks 4th with a 17.3% DVOA. When passing, the DVOA increases to 38.8% (4th) but drops horrifically to -14.1% (23rd) on rush attempts.

Ah, the Bengals rush offense. Rudi Johnson's career-degradation continues. If you combine his play against Seattle and Baltimore, he's rushed 35 times for 59 yards. He's been shutout of the endzone on the ground -- first time without a touchdown in three straight games since Chicago (9/25), Houston (10/02) and Jacksonville (10/09) in 2005. On pace for 232 rush attempts in 2007, it would seem that Rudi Johnson is really falling off. I'll give Kenny Watson some props for coming in and moving the ball, but he's not improving the running game on his own. The Bengals have one rushing touchdown all season.

It's not just the numbers though. Rudi's rushing style has changed. Whereas he was once a pounder, Rudi's experiment to make himself a smaller back, overhauled his style. He dances more in the backfield and sits looking for holes rather than squaring his shoulders and exploding through. The team runs more disastrous pitch left plays than I can remember.

The offensive line hasn't blocked well for him either. In a lot of negative rush attempts, Rudi Johnson is forced to negotiate with at least one defender in the backfield. On 29% of all rush attempts, the Bengals were stuffed -- percentage of runs that result in (on first down) zero or negative gain or (on second through fourth down) less than one-fourth the yards needed for another first down -- which ranks 27th in the league. The Bengals offensive line scored a 3.64 adjusted line yards -- ranked 29th. Their power success -- percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown -- improves (71%) with a respectable 11th.

But the line's injuries are partially to blame for the lack of rushing success. Levi Jones was eased into the season finally listed as first team after the loss to the Patriots. Scott Kooistra has spent more time on the field than Willie Anderson. Alex Stepanovich has started three games over incumbent, Eric Ghiaciuc. Andrew Whitworth -- my call for best offensive linemen in the first quarter -- has played guard and left tackle. He and Bobbie Williams are the only ones to play with any consistency from our projections earlier this year.

Where they've struggled against the run, they've flourished on pass protection. Ranked third with a 3.5% adjusted sack rate -- gives sacks per pass attempt adjusted for opponent, down, and distance -- the offensive line has given up five sacks all season. Considering the line has to make calls and identify blitzes trusting your mate next door to make the block, while playing the injury-variation of musical chairs, that's not bad.

Moving onto the more successful passing game. After Carson Palmer started the season with an 8-2 touchdown-interception ratio against Baltimore and Cleveland, he's went 2-4 since. He's finished with 40 attempts in two games -- only four games between 2006 (3) and 2005 (1). Palmer has games of 401 yards passing (Cleveland) and 342 yards passing (Seattle) with over 60% completions in every game.

Heading into the bye week, T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 39 receptions is six more than second place Antonio Gates and Derrick Mason (33). T.J. is on pace for 156 receptions on the season -- nearly 10 receptions/game average. Where his receptions are leaps and bounds over the NFL, his yards per reception is way down. Of the top ten reception leaders, T.J. (9.2) is rated as the third lowest -- Derrick Mason (8.7), Laveranues Coles (8.8). In four games, T.J. hasn't caught less than eight passes and went into the bye week with consecutive 10+ reception games (12 against Seattle, 10 against New England).

Before Monday Night, Chad Johnson led the NFL with most receiving yards. His Monday Night counterpart took the Bengals defense to task with Johnson's monumental struggle. Now, Chad is 10 yards behind Randy Moss but 107 yards ahead of second place. Chad blows away his competition with 11 plays of 20 yards or more with an NFL leading 27 receptions that pick up a first down.

This is where the Bengals receivers fall. Of all the passes thrown to Chad Johnson, he's only caught 58% of them. Of all the passes thrown to T.J., he's only caught 68%. Both receivers combine for 80% of the Bengals receiving touchdowns and 66% of Palmer's total completions. Who has been that #3 receiver? Rudi Johnson is third on the team with eight receptions followed by Reggie Kelly (5), Glenn Holt (5) and Kenny Watson (4). Ouch. Dear Chris Henry, walk the straight and narrow.

Concluding the offense: With injury at offensive line, the discouraging rushing results and spreading out the ball to only two receivers, this offense has struggle a lot more than they've succeeded. If I were to compare this Bengals offense against the league, then we're decent. I'd say above the middle of the road offenses. But we're better than that. Compare it to previous Bengals offenses, then we're way off pace from historical success.

Defense.

What can you really say? I'm thinking that I just say defense, and no matter what I put here, it'll be overlooked simply because what I'll say will include "duh" moments. The defense can be summed up in colorful metaphors, if you'd like. And not a single person would have to go through the drummings of why they deserve colorful metaphor descriptions. We already know.

The plight of the linebackers didn't surprise anyone. David Pollack is out another season. Odell Thurman is out another season. Rashad Jeanty was expected be out nearly the first half of the season. Ahmad Brooks was an unknown variable. Caleb Miller isn't really that good. While Landon Johnson has been our best linebacker, he's not the type of defender that opposing team's game plan around.

When you add all that together, before the season even started, you have a bad situation. Enter the injury variable. Lemar Marshall, Anthony Schlegel and Dhani Jones were responses to injured players. The Bengals now need to respond to the season-ending injury suffered by Marshall. Brooks and Miller have missed time and Landon Johnson suffered an eye injury against New England.

If there's surprise about our linebackers, then you're not paying attention.

The secondary's play has been the most disappointing. Severely disappointing. What? Linebackers have been horrible at best, how can the secondary be the most disappointing? Simple. The secondary had high expectations and a nearly full compliment of health -- except Johnathan Joseph. The talent in the secondary, on paper, is tremendous with two first-round cornerbacks, a cornerback one year removed from the Pro Bowl, a second-round safety and a former Super Bowl MVP safety. To say that the secondary had high expectations is an understatement.

Hall has been burnt. Joseph has been burnt. More than a few times. And let's be fair to Hall. He's played well. But he's also reminded at times that he's still a rookie. O'Neal has been our best pass defender, I think, without close competition. Both he and Hall have four pass deflections respectively. Hall leads the team with two interceptions -- including one off Tom Brady.

The opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 11 touchdown passes in the past three games -- Derek Anderson (121.0 passer rating, 328 yards 5 TDs), Matt Hasselbeck (88.6, 248 yards, 3TDs), Tom Brady (115.0, 231 yards, 3 TDs).

As a team, the Bengals defensive line have two sacks -- Robert Geathers, Michael Myers -- four total for the team (Lemar Marshall and Ahmad Brooks have the other two). In their pass three games (all losses), the Bengals rush defense have allowed a 100-yard performance -- Jamal Lewis (216 yards, TD), Shaun Alexander (100 yards), Sammy Morris (117 yards, TD).

Madieu Williams and Landon Johnson have been our best overall defenders. Both lead the team (one and two) with total tackles. Landon has two fumbles with Williams picking up a fumble and an interception.

Michael Myers, in my honest opinion -- which is all this is -- has been the best defensive linemen. He's stopping runs at the line of scrimmage and pressuring the quarterback as much as our expensive, non-producing defensive ends. Oh, and an interception that sealed the game against Baltimore. Yea, don't forget that.

Justin Smith being paid top-five defensive end money has been the season's greatest theft. His production warrants a fraction of that money. Robert Geathers, even though recording an interception, has been blah at best. Peko has moments of playing well. But that's it, just moments. Nothing consistent.

Concluding the defense. We keep saying that the talent is there. But the results prove otherwise. Obviously injuries have taken prominent blame for the defense's lack of production. Even so. The talented players that are playing are not playing with any reason to believe they're competent enough to stop anyone as a unit.

If grades is more your forte, then here.

Offense - C
Passing offense - B+
Rushing offense - D-/F

Defense - D
Pass defense - D-/F
rush defense - C-