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Week in Review: Bengals must play the rest of the season like it's the playoffs

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Carson Palmer is calling Sunday a must-win. Hasn't it seemed like we've called every Bengals game a must-win this year? Beating Denver was a must-win to prevent another eight-game losing streak out of the gate like last season. We've called Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore must-wins for their division implications. Now, we're calling the Bears a must-win. And this could be the best example of that.

If the Bengals beat the Bears Sunday, Cincinnati heads into the bye week with a 5-2 record, regaining some momentum, still controlling their own destiny. After that, the Bengals host Baltimore and travel to Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks. If, and that's always a big if, Cincinnati wins the next three games, they control their own destiny. After that three-game stretch, the Bengals play the Raiders, Browns and Lions. Now, we're 10-2 with the Vikings, Chargers, Chiefs and Jets to close out the season. So maybe the Bears isn't just a must-win. Maybe the Bears is the first of three-straight must-win games if the Bengals are going to make a championship run.

On the other hand, if the Bengals lose Sunday, they head into the bye week with a 4-3 record, a two-game losing streak, no momentum with games against the Ravens and Steelers on tap. Now, suggesting that the Bengals will win the next three, I believe, is a bit hopeful. The Steelers and Ravens, looking to take control of the division, will make it very hard on the Bengals. With that thought in mind, the Bengals beating the Bears could be the difference between having a winning record and a losing record by November 16. And realistically, if the Bengals are going to survive the rest of the season, they need to be assured of a winning record in case Baltimore and Pittsburgh have their revenge.

Furthermore, the Bengals can't go into the bye week on a two-game losing streak and no momentum. So is Sunday a must-win? I think so. If we were in any other division, I think the urgency is reduced a tad. But we know what the Steelers and Ravens can do and the Bengals will have to do everything they can to keep themselves from falling too quickly by two teams that could easily win out their games in which they're not facing each other -- which we've seen both teams do before.

We've heard the expression before by teams that make incredible runs to the playoffs and I believe it applies right now. The Cincinnati Bengals playoffs starts this Sunday and a loss could mean elimination.

Defensive line injuries could take a toll. Will they step up? Even though Domata Peko didn't practice on Wednesday and Thursday, it appears that the team's best defensive tackle will go on Sunday after fully participating during Friday's practice. Surprisingly he's listed as probable.

 “Right now it’s feeling great,” Peko said. “I’m excited. I want to get out there and be with my dudes against Chicago but if it ain’t right I’m not going to go.”

This is great news at a time when the Bengals defensive line suddenly felt short-handed earlier this week. We lost Antwan Odom. Tank Johnson had missed two straight against Cleveland and Baltimore before returning against the Texans recording a season-high four tackles and a quarterback sack. Pat Sims was listed on the injury report this week with a bicept injury; he's also probable. What's worse is that due to illness, Jonathan Fanene missed practice on Thursday and Friday. Fanene, who's listed as questionable, could be giving way for rookie Michael Johnson. The Bengals also needed depth. After Odom went onto injured reserve, Cincinnati signed Orien Harris back.

With all the injuries and illnesses on the defensive line, guys like Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson, Tank Johnson and Pat Sims will have to step up.

They're calling it Benson Bowl. The local media is calling it "Benson Bowl." Benson isn't thinking of revenge, but he's motivated. Since joining the Cincinnati Bengals, Benson has found happiness. He feels accepted and says that his "Dreams are coming true." Benson also claims that the Bears were "blackballing" him when the Bears organization, from Benson's point of view, screwed him over.

"Even the Bengals told me all the things, that they would call and inquire about me and get nothing but negative things. Just that I didn't work hard, that I was I guess a prima donna or I didn't work hard on the field, just wasn't focused, just anything negative that they could say, it was said. I'm sure that contributed largely to me not getting picked up right away."

I like Benson a lot. He's a hard worker and gives the Bengals the best running back they've had since Rudi Johnson's prime. The Cedric Benson in Cincinnati isn't the same Cedric Benson in Chicago. However, you have to wonder why Benson is going off about what the Bears may or may have not done to Benson. Even though he probably felt insulted, I believe Benson should take some responsibility for what happened in Chicago. The off-the-field issues were a result of his own actions, not the Bears. From my understanding, Benson didn't like sitting behind Thomas Jones and older reports suggested that Benson made things just as tense in the lockerroom as others made it tense for him. So I'm not so sure if Benson is totally blameless about what happened in Chicago. But in truth, whatever actually happened while he was with the Bears, is meaningless now.

What does matter is that the Bengals need Benson to rebound after his season-low 44 yards rushing last week. And just for fun, here's our post on the day Benson was signed in 2008. Re-read some of your comments and tell me how he's changed minds.

Just how far away is Coffman from playing? Indirectly, Chase Coffman became a leading discussion. After back-to-back weeks of watching tight ends drop passes and fumble the football, the Bengals rookie tight end is still inactive. It will be telling if this week Coffman makes his debut, or if the Bengals are still refusing to reduce Daniel Coats' playing time. J.P. Foschi hasn't been bad, but he's not the tight end that the Bengals need. It's clear that the offensive philosophy was to use the tight ends more this year in the passing game, but it's not working out. Two fumbles by tight ends against Houston was one of several explanations to the Bengals loss. The dropped passes are ridiculous.

Why isn't he playing? What we hear is that Coffman isn't ready. He doesn't play special teams well and he's still struggling to become an NFL Tight End after a college career where he played more like a wide receiver.

Maybe Coffman will become something special in the Bengals offense. Time will only tell. The problem is that the Bengals are one game away from either fighting for the division after the bye week, or sinking. If the Bengals beat the Bears Sunday, they'll once again fight Baltimore and Pittsburgh for division supremacy. If the Bengals lose to the Bears, they run the risk of going 4-5 (quickly) if they don't beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh, which would end their chances of controlling their own destiny.

Of course, Coffman isn't the reason for all of that. But the Bengals desperately need better tight end play than what we saw the last two weeks if they're going to keep making a run.

And apparently the Bengals view it that way. It was reported earlier in the week that the Bengals attempted to trade for Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett, which Dallas declined. Bennett isn't the type of tight end to fill the gap until Coffman is ready. He's the type of tight end that could become the future, which left the question, what about Coffman?

The Return of the Giant. Andre Smith's return, or actually making a debut, is happening. This week, Smith practiced on Wednesday, though it was only non-contact drills. On Thursday, Smith practiced limitedly, but had contact. On Friday, Smith practiced fully. Furthermore, Smith claims he dropped his weight to 330 pounds and most observers are saying he's "noticeably lighter."

All indications are, while still out this week against the Bears, that Smith will make his debut against the Baltimore Ravens on November 8 after the bye week. Unless Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins utterly fail against the Chicago Bears, it's unlikely that Smith starts against the Ravens. Knowing how the coaching staff has worked in the past, it seems more likely they'll ease Smith in during running downs in big packages, lining up at tight end, or weak-side tackle on big formations.

Something else needs to be observed here. When the Bengals rush the football to the right, they are actually one of the worst rushing offenses in the league. The following is a chart of the team's directional report on rushing plays by NFL Game Statistics and Information System.

  LE LT LG Center RG RT RE
Avg. Gain 6.0 5.17 7.0 3.86 2.39 3.3 3.14
NFL Rank 11 10 3 18 27 24 28

Is there where we prove something? I've always agreed that Bengals offensive coordinator makes questionable calls. However, I always say that the players need to perform first and foremost. Last week was an example of an offense that lacked focus. Now, I'm going to make some people happy; or at least give them direction in their complaints.

As you saw in the chart above, the Bengals are clearly a better rushing offense to the left between Andrew Whitworth and the combination of Nate Livings and Evan Mathis at left guard. The issue here is that the Bengals are rushing the football outside the right guard more than rushing between the strength of their offensive line on the left. The next chart is broken down to three directions. Up the middle, which is between the two guards. And outside both guards on the left and right.

Dir. Left (outside LG) Between LG and RG Right (outside RG)
Plays 41 61 53
Yards 226 250 171
Avg. 5.5 4.1 3.2
Note: Six rushing plays are unaccounted for.