No, injuries are not an excuse. We've heard that before. But injuries do hurt a team; sometimes critically. For example, Carson Palmer's injury in 2008. There. Point made. I've never bought into the general theory that a team fails because of injury. The counter argument is that a good organization will have great depth that could replace starters when they go down. Fine. But when your starting quarterback goes down for the season, you're not going to be as good. In the Bengals case, Palmer's injury led (perhaps not directly) to a 4-11-1 season. Even though Tom Brady's injury opened the door for Matt Cassell to lead the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record, the Patriots still missed the playoffs. Then again, would have the Patriots lost by 25 points to the Dolphins, 20 points to the Chargers or 23 points to the Steelers if Brady were playing?
The Bengals have had critical injuries already this year. Reggie Kelly is one; not for his pass catching skills, rather his blocking, leadership and tremendous mentorship for Chase Coffman (then again, he still could be mentoring Chase... we just haven't heard lately). I never thought that Ben Utecht was that big of a loss -- what exactly has he proven?
The one injury that could turn out to be big is Antwan Odom. Feels like forever since he went down, doesn't it? It's only been a game and a half.
Through the first two games of the season, Odom sacked the quarterback seven times -- including five against the Green Bay Packers. He recorded only one sack in the following four games. But his presence was known. The Bengals had a defensive player that the opposing offense had to account for -- how many times have we had someone like that? Just as Bengals lore goes, against the Houston Texans, easily the worst combined effort by the Bengals in 2009, Odom gets carted off the field after rupturing his right Achilles' tendon.
The Bengals have recorded at least one sack in eight straight games dating back to December 21, 2008. In six of those eight games, the Bengals recorded two sacks or more.
After moments of cursing, which included a Hudson-like over-reaction in Aliens ("WTF are we going to do now, we're in some really pretty............"), the Bengals had to figure a way to replace their best pass rusher of the season. Do they change philosphy? Do they blitz more? Do they rely on someone stepping up to the plate and crushing a fastball? Jonathan Fanene is a likely candidate, who has already recorded a career high three quarterback sacks -- two of which that came in two of the last three games. Behind Fanene is Frostee Rucker. The thing about Rucker isn't so much his talent -- we know he has it -- it's depending on him to stay healthy for the rest of the season. And he looked good against the Bears, didn't he?
Then you ask, where's Robert Geathers? Since recording 10.5 quarterback sacks in 2006, Geathers has recorded 6.5 sacks in the 34 games since. If there's someone that needs to produce, one would be justified to point at him now.
I like what I saw out of Rucker and I've always liked the way Fanene plays. However, effort and health, while critical, will need to be followed up with results. And against a team like Baltimore, whose offense can put points together in a heart beat, the Bengals need to rattle Joe Flacco, who recorded a season-low 70.1 passer rating thanks to a season-high two interceptions the last time the Ravens played Cincinnati.