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Bengals First Quarter Review: Saying satisfied like only Billy Dee Williams can

Ah, another week in which Bengals fans (us) are granted an extension of a beautiful luxury having a win under our belts. Not just win, mind you. A division win. Do you know the impact of that? The Bengals are the only team in the division with a 2-0 record against the division.

AFC North Standings Through Four Games in 2009
Teams Record PF PA Div. Conf.
Baltimore Ravens 3-1 124 80 1-0 3-1
Cincinnati Bengals 3-1 84 76 2-0 2-1
Pittsburgh Steelers 2-2 85 78 0-1 2-1
Cleveland Browns 0-4 49 118 0-2 0-3

The Bengals have allowed the least amount of points than any team in the division; Cincinnati's 76 points allowed is better than 11 AFC teams. You have to admit, that's like Rice Krispie treat covered in chocolate and peanut butter, or jamming out to an old school Guns N' Roses song where you actually think that you're as smooth and cool as Slash. As we noted earlier, the Bengals have started 3-1 only four times dating back to 1990; three times during the Marvin Lewis era, which includes this year's heart-stopping indigestion-filled (and in some cases, chain-smoking) season. So far we're a quarter of the way through the season and it's appropriate that we dive into quarterly reviews.

I've never subscribed to the school that you can grade a team using a variety of letters when summarizing the first four games of a 16-game schedule. When you got graded in school, the letters had meaning behind them. They are letters that fall within a range of numbers that represents the percentage of properly answered questions. When we use letters grading football teams, it becomes a little too arbitrary; they don't have any substance behind them. I don't mind others that do it. I really don't. Live and let live, I always say. It's their thing and we're but a small gear in the blogging world. But I don't like using them. Instead, we're taking a new approach with a grading system that goes outstanding, satisfactory, nervous, and terrible. I'm sure our system goes without saying, which is the most innovative and detailed system to date.

CARSON PALMER. There's two arguments with Carson Palmer. There's the ineffective through most of the game, Carson Palmer. Then there's the Carson Palmer that routinely puts the Bengals into position to win the football game. His numbers have been very ordinary and he's yet to eclipse the 300-yard passing mark. However, after beating Cleveland, Palmer is on the good side of a touchdown-interception ratio again. I've never been a believer in grades but I do subscribe that Carson Palmer is the Harvey Dent of NFL quarterbacks. This is why I have to grade Palmer on two levels. He's made me nervous during the game, but outstanding when it comes to winning the game.

Most important note: 3-1 when starting as team quarterback.
Stat of concern: on pace for a career low 57.7% completion percentage.

RUNNING BACKS: Grade: Satisfied. It's hard to argue with results. Through four games this season, the Bengals have racked up an impressive 491 rushing yards -- averaging 122 yards-per-game. Averaging 4.4 yards per-carry on 84 attempts, Cedric Benson alone has rushed for 367 yards -- 91.8 yards a game (which may be a result of a lack of carries lately, his average since the Denver game is nearly 4.8 yards per carry). Benson has done a good job consistently gaining yards, but he hasn't quite been explosive. His longest rush this year is for 23 yards (the touchdown against Pittsburgh). Interestingly, Benson has had exponentially more success rushing to the left side, averaging over 6 yards per carry. Up the middle and to the right, Benson is averaging between 1 and 3.5 yards per carry - that's just not very good, but this is a criticism of the right side of the O-line, that could surely benefit from the return of an in-shape Andre Smith. The rest of the running backs have been pretty decent. Jeremi Johnson hasn't been glaringly bad in the run blocking game, and hybrid back Brian Leonard has epitomized clutch - mostly as a receiver out of the backfield. Rookie Bernard Scott has flashed his talent early this season, but his big runs are also going to the left side of the line. He's been good when he's been used, but that's been rare. Scott has also been promising in the return game. I give this group a passing grade of satisfactory bordering on "good", but not outstanding. They don't get an outstanding mark from me because they aren't producing enough. That may or may not be their fault, though.

Most important note: 122 rushing yards a game is good news. If we can get Andre Smith working into the rushing game on the right side of the line later this season, that number could improve. We might finally be a solid rushing offense.
Concern: The concern is really with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and the offensive line. Brat has been too reliant on the pass (especially in the Browns game), and the right side of the offensive line is not opening holes for running backs.
- Jake (jsl413)


Ochocinco through first four games
  Rec. Yrd TD
2009 17 258 3
2008 11 116 1
2007 28 495 3
2006 18 201 1
2005 26 374 3
2004 20 297 1
2003 21 370 3
2002 18 221 1

Chad Ochocinco
Ranking: Outstanding
Chad is officially back. After a horrific 2008, Ocho has returned to the form that makes him one of the better receivers in the NFL. Not only is he talking the talk, he's walking it as well, something his three touchdown catches indicate quite well. Whether Chad is Lambeau leaping or being held back from Cleveland's Dawg Pound, Ocho is once again a terror for opposing defenses and fans alike. Sure, he's had a drop or two so far, and the fact he and Carson haven't fully integrated the long ball is cause for concern, but the flea-flicker play against Green Bay proves it's still a viable option. Maybe now they can use it a little more. Currently, Chad is on pace for a 68-catch, 1000-yard, 12 touchdown season. While I would expect the touchdown numbers to perhaps shrink, the opposite is true for his catches and receiving yards. Welcome back Ocho. Now go tweet your day away.
- Chris (IFChris)

Andre Caldwell.
Ranking: Outstanding/Satisfactory
Introducing the Bengals second leading receiver, yard/receptions-wise. Granted, I think many of us expected to see Laveranues Coles or Chris Henry here, but obviously, Caldwell has something to say about that. Caldwell, even though he's more of a slot-receiver, is proving to be a reliable number two to Chad's one. Caldwell has six more catches than Coles and eleven more than Henry. He's on pace for a 64-catch season, which would be a personal record, and would eclipse his before-this-season-started career total by 37 catches. The only reason Caldwell doesn't get an "Outstanding" is for that ugly fumble he had against Cleveland on Sunday.
- Chris (IFChris)

Laveranues Coles.
Ranking: Nervous.
Currently, Coles ranks third in the NFL with three dropped passes, something that does not inspire a great deal of confidence. When he was signed by Cincinnati, he was expected to fill the shoes left behind by T.J. Houshmandzadeh, however, it seems that job as gone to Caldwell. Coles can still get open and judging by last season's stats, he's still a very capable receiver; which is why I haven't completely given up on him. As long as Coles can keep his hands on the ball when Palmer throws it his way, we'll all be fine. Last season, Coles collected almost 900 yards and seven touchdowns. If he gets near that kind of production for the Bengals, his ranking would quickly move to the "Outstanding" neighborhood. Until he stops dropping the ball, however, his signing is going to be a disappointment.
- Chris (IFChris)

Chris Henry.
Ranking: Nervous.
After a brilliant preseason, I think all of us expected Henry to show the league just how good he can be. Alas, that has not been the case. Currently, the following Bengals (besides the ones listed above) have more catches than the one they call "Slim" -- Daniel Coats (8), Brian Leonard (11, Leonard is actually the third-leading receiver, catch-wise, on the Bengals), and Cedric Benson (6). Further, Henry is tied with J.P. Foschi, who has five. So what does this say about Slim? Is he not working hard enough or is something just not clicking? Or is it that Caldwell is simply outplaying him? Before the season started, Henry was looked at as the best deep threat on the Bengals offense, so what gives? Should the Bengals be using 4-wide sets more than they use 3-wides? Or is Henry -- who has thankfully stayed out of trouble -- simply the odd man out in a Ocho/Coles/Caldwell trio? As you can see, there are a lot more questions than answers here, and until we have a larger portion of the season to work with, I'm tempted to change Slim's grade to an "Incomplete."
- Chris (IFChris)

OFFENSIVE LINE. Grade: Satisfied. We could recap all that's happened in the past calendar year. We could say that the Bengals offensive line in 2008, with Levi Jones, Eric Ghiaciuc and Stacy Andrews were the "weakest links". Football Outsiders ranked the Bengals offensive line as one of the worst offensive lines in football. But we won't. Why dig up history when there's a better future, just over there, behind the mole hill. No, that's not the mole hill. That's the Bengals 2009 offensive line (was that a bit corny)?

Andrew Whitworth slides to left tackle. Nate Livings and Evan Mathis work time at left guard. Kyle Cook wins the job at center, with rookie Jonathan Luigs always in the background looking for playing time. Bobbie Williams and Anthony Collins holding down the right side of the fort with a WWE entrance soon coming for first-round pick Andre Smith. I won't call the offensive line Outstanding. But I'm more than comfortable to say that they've clearly been satisfactory -- and improving each week.

Sacks Yrd/Rush Avg. Adj. Line Yards * Adj. Sack Rate *
2008 12 3.46 3.22 - 32nd 8.6% - 27th
2009 9 4.5 4.33 - 10th 6.5% - 23rd

* Stats by Football Outsiders

Quarterback Sacks from D-Line
Antwan Odom 8
Jonathan Fanene 1
Pat Sims 0.5
Robert Geathers 0.5

DEFENSIVE LINE. Grade: Satisfied. Through four games, the Cincinnati Bengals defensive line are leading a pack of wolves that's recorded 12 sacks as a unit this year. Ten of those sacks have come from the defensive front four. Antwan Odom, the guy that will sack you at Krogers for taking the last box of Wheat Thins, not only leads the team with an NFL-high eight sacks, he's also the leading tackler on the defensive front. Against the Browns, Robert Geathers returned a fumble 75 yards for a touchdown (boy, that kind of sounded like an after-thought, didn't it?).

However, all of that said, I'm hesitant calling this defensive front outstanding. Maybe it's because we set the benchmark so high with Carson Palmer's late game heroics. Still, the defensive front, while it's played well, still lacks a constant pass rush and there were noticeable rushing lanes against the Cleveland Browns, who came into the game with a 71.3 yard-per-game rushing average (29th in the NFL).

Linebackers Tackles
Keith Rivers 29
Dhani Jones 25
Rey Maualuga 19
Brandon Johnson 16
Abdul Hodge 3
Rashad Jeanty 3

LINEBACKERS. Grade: Satisfied. Our linebackers in 2007 consisted of Lemar Parrish Marshall, Landon Johnson, Caleb Miller, Andre Frazier, Anthony Schlegel and Rashad Jeanty. If it wasn't for the Ravens linebackers, the Bengals linebacker unit would still be bad. Several were lost early in the season, which opened a spot for crazy journey man (quite literally) Dhani Jones. Two years later, Jones is one of the leaders on defense and the most consistent tackler. They put guys like Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga around him giving the team a promising trio of linebackers to start the season. Beyond that, the Bengals have two backup linebackers in Brandon Johnson, who plays in nickel packages and Jeanty who each recorded over 100 tackles last season. In terms of Maualuga, the rookie strong-side linebacker has forced two fumbles and a sack along with his 19 total tackles.

SECONDARY. Grade: Nervous. The Bengals secondary has been challenged much of the season, allowing 242.3 yards passing per game. They are 26th in the league. The secondary has had its issues preventing big plays, allowing 17 passing plays of 20 yards or more -- most in the NFL. Much of the blame could be brought on because of the team's safeties defense against slot receivers; hasn't been very good. It could also be softer coverage, worried about the 40-yard strikes instead of the 20-yard variety. Furthermore, Johnathan Joseph's two interceptions this season are the team's only interceptions through four games.

I think Leon Hall and Joseph have played well above satisfactory levels when defending the pass. And Joseph more so against the rush. However, I think outside those two cornerbacks, the secondary has work to do; especially against the pass.

Kevin Huber in 2009
Punts: 30
Long: 61 yards
Avg. 42.9
Net Avg. 35.8
Inside-20 10

SPECIAL TEAMS. Grade: Nervously terrible yet sometimes outstandingly satisfied. It took you a couple of times to re-read the grade, didn't it? It's complicated. Kevin Huber has been outstanding. Shayne Graham has been ordinary. The kickoff return teams is 25th in the league and the punt return team ranks in the top-five. Brad St. Louis is still on the team. It's almost like you have a good, a bad, a middle, a good and then another bad. Really. Is there a more roller coaster unit in the NFL than the Bengals special teams? So how do I grade the entire unit? Can one do such a thing? I'm nervous every time the Bengals attempt to kick. I yawn when the kickoff return team, you know, returns. Huber is the only punter in the known galaxy that actually makes me pump my fist and Quan Cosby is the first guy that returns punts on this team that makes it a realistic dream he could return it for touchdown.

What do you guys think? Where are we at the quarter point of the season?