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Bengals blogs unite once again to talk all things Bengals

WhoDeyFans decided to continue the tradition that CincyJungle started last year and do a sort of round table including the Cincinnati Bengals fan sites. We have representatives from:

WhoDeyFans: Mickey Mentzer
CincyJungle: Josh Kirkendall
StripeHype: Dave Wellman
Bengal Stripes: Adam Kiefaber
WhoDeyRevolution: Jason Buck

If you compare last season (4-11-1) with this one (10-6) you would think the outlook would be greatly improved for the Bengal fan. However, after a slide at the end of season and a few embarrassing losses I have a feeling that the answers to the following 8 questions will vary greatly by each site. It is no secret that some fan sites are composed of extreme homers and some of extreme pessimists. I have a feeling though that each site will touch on some of the same points in how they think the Bengals fared and how they can improve.  Thanks to everyone that participated.

1. The 2009 season was a step in the right direction.  True or false?

Stripehype - It was a step in *a* direction, which has to qualify as progress. The Bengals spent 2006 and 2007 trying to recapture the glories of the 2005 season, even as key member of the '05 team were lost to age, injury and alcohol. It wasn't until Carson went down with the elbow injury in 2008 that I saw the team throw in the towel on a past it was never going to recapture and look to move forward. Thus we saw Levi Jones and Stacy Andrews leave, and for once the Bengals didn't use the tag to keep a high-maintenance player (TJ) against his will. Whether the teams moving in the *right* direction is open to debate. Defensively, there's no doubt in my mind they're on the right track; offensively, Benson was a golden god this past season and the line over performed, but Palmer IMO still hasn't recovered his pre-Kimo mechanics and he has Chad and a bunch of guys who have never been in my kitchen as targets. As we saw, that isn't going to get it done.

CincyJungle - True. The Bengals not only upgraded personnel in key positions, they’ve changed their core philosophy to play with a strong defense, combined with a powerful rushing offense. They essentially put together a team that can compete in the division against two teams that’s won three Super Bowls in the last decade. Are the Bengals there now? No, of course not. Losing four of your last five games before hitting offseason purgatory knocks the wind out of your stomach, if not forcing one to reassess where the team is. Directionally speaking, the Bengals can build on 2009 and become a better team, one that not only wins in the division, but the conference as well.

BengalStripes - True. In 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals proved it could win football games in a way it had never showed before, which was with good defensive play. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer took a group of players, that honestly aren’t that talented, and made them the fourth-best overall defense in yards allowed. To put that in perspective, that is ahead of Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Denver, New England and Dallas. The best thing about all of that; is the fact Zimmer will back in 2010 as well as all the Bengals’ defensive starters. The biggest potential free-agent-to-be is defensive tackle Tank Johnson, who I expect to stay in Cincinnati. Free agent safety Roy Williams could also be back. The other thing that shows that Bengals are headed in the right direction is that it won by running the football. If Cedric Benson doesn’t sign an extension this offseason, he will be playing in a contract year in 2010. With Benson, Scott and Leonard all under contract in ‘10, the Bengals backfield is in good shape. Now, there are concerns at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and offensive line, however those areas shouldn’t be that hard to address in free agency or in the draft. Expectations should be high next season and I hope to see the Bengals in the playoffs once again.

WhoDeyFans - True. Has to be right? The Bengals left a sour taste in the mouth of a lot of fans and sports writers with the way the season ended. Even during the season fans were hoping to see the Bengals "put a team away". All of that aside, the Bengals won 10 football games, swept their division and hosted a playoff game. All in all that is a successful season for most of the NFL. In order to build a winning program and change the culture to a winning culture a team has to what? You guessed it, win. This season the Bengals did win. I think this is a step in the right direction.

WhoDeyRevolution - True in the sense that the Bengals finally established an identity on offense and actually brought something resembling a defense to most of the games this season.  False in the sense that the Bengals still have not hired a general manager or proper scouting department to compete with the rest of the NFL, let alone the elite teams in the league.  This 10-6 season validates (in his mind) Mike Brown's way of doing things as 'right', and thus nothing will change.  Zero playoff wins since January 6, 1991 is the only stat he should care about right now. 

2. The Bengals had a 10 win season but struggled in the second half. Why?

Stripehype - The loss of Antwan Odom, Roy Williams Chris Henry; Tank Johnson played hurt all year. Cedric Benson got dinged, so did Chris Crocker and Domata Peko. Relief linemen Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker wore down due to an unaccustomed bounty of playing time. On top of that, look back at the schedule: Cincinnati was brutalized in the first half of the year. To their credit, they came out ahead, but it required Herculean efforts. And all that in the face of the twin tragedies, Vikki Zimmer and Chris Henry. In the end, the Bengals just ran out of steam.

CincyJungle - I believe it was a combination of injuries and mental exhaustion. The team lost Cedric Benson, the offense’s most consistent weapon, for a few games which clearly had the team losing momentum. Then guys like Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell were suffering nagging injuries, Chris Crocker and Domata Peko sat out a good portion of the second half, and the team lost Maualuga and Pat Sims late in the season. However, more importantly, the team lost two very close members to their family, which obviously drained them as the season wore on.

BengalStripes - Excuses, excuses, excuses; as Bengals fans we are used to making them. Injuries? Poor quarterback play? Bob Bratkowski’s predicable play calling? – Do any of these excuses sound familiar? Personally, my excuse this year is that Bengals failed to improve while the rest of the league got better. For example, the Pittsburgh and Baltimore teams that Cincinnati swept in the fall were not the same teams in the winter. In many of the Bengals’ early wins early this season occurred on last-minute drives where their opposition failed to put them away. So, as I see it, the whole league gradually improved throughout 2009 while the Bengals remained the same.

WhoDeyFans - The Bengals had a rough season. There were two deaths in the family, a ton of injuries that we know about and some I think we will never know about. As the season wore on, the Bengals did not have the fire that they showed in the first half of the season. For whatever reason, this is something the coaches need to address and look for in the future.

WhoDeyRevolution - Peaked too early?  Other teams figured our defense out?  Too many injuries to key defensive players (Odom, Maualuga, Crocker, Williams)?  Fatigue from a rocky season where players/coaches had to weather three tragedies (Samoa Tsunami, Vicki Zimmer's death, Chris Henry's death)? You can list all the excuses you want, but the real reason this team struggled in the second half and still has yet to win a playoff game under Mike Brown is because the organization does not set the expectation of 'winning a Super Bowl'.  Not by words, and not by actions.  If the organization does not set their goals at that level, it is impossible to win a championship in the NFL.  Period.

3. What coaches / players should the Bengals part ways with (Mr. Bratkowski anyone)?

Stripehype - Mike Brown. Oh, wait, that's not a coach or player. Still... Anyhow, I don't see any place for huge changes. With no cap there's no rush to dump anyone. Ask me again in August. As for Brat, he's not going anywhere, whether we think he should or not. Personally, I don't love his play calling, but there's something to be said for needing weapons to work with, and Brat didn't end up with much this year.

BengalStripes - In honor of Jeff Foxworthy (You might be a redneck…): If you want Bob Bratkowsk to be fired, then you might be a Bengals’ fan. Well, actually, you are definitely a Bengals’ fan and you have had probably been calling for Bratkowski’s head for a long time. Fans didn’t like Cincinnati’s offense when it was pass-first and now they hate it even more now that it is run-first. Most would deem Bratkowski’s play-calling predictable, however those same fans easily forget the plays that were a bit unexpected. Personally, I hate to toss the whole responsibility of this offense on Bratkowski’s shoulders. I would rather blame a bad season by Carson Palmer, zero quality tight ends, an inexperienced offensive line and a lack of a No. 2 wide receiver to go with Chad Ochocinco. I feel that Marvin Lewis is equally to blame for poor play-calling as Bratkowski is, so that being said, as long as Lewis is the head coach I don’t see Bratkowski being fired. As far as the players, I would like the Bengals to let unrestricted free agents kicker Shayne Graham and fullback Jeremi Johnson walk. Unfortunately, Johnson can’t walk too far so he could be coming back to compete for his starting job this summer. I also pray that someone will take Graham off our hands. As far as restricted free agents, I would like the Bengals to let Daniel Coats go. However, like Johnson, Coats is unlikely to find another team that would be interested.

CincyJungle - I’ve always been of the school that you can blame coaches only so much before acknowledging that players simply aren’t executing. I believed that for most of the season. Predictability is an issue that’s faced this offense for a while now, as well as the lack of creativity with the personnel on offense. The best example I have is asking why Palmer forces his throws to Chad Ochocinco when he’s double covered on 15-yard square-in routes or flare routes to the sidelines? Are Caldwell and Coles simply unable to get open? Or are their routes taking them out of the play? Predictable play calling and lack of ingenuity included, I believe Bratkowski’s time has come and gone.

WhoDeyFans - Ginger Graham has to be done. I do think it is time for Bob to move on. He may be able to call a decent game when the personnel fits, but he is terrible about adjusting to meet the needs of the people on the field.  This is why it seems an injury to a Bengal offensive weapon hurts so much more than when it happens to other teams. Bob has no hope of halftime adjustments and personnel adjustments and that costs the Bengals games.

WhoDeyRevolution - Bob Bratkowski has been offensive coordinator since 2001.  Tolerate him or hate him, that is a long time for any coordinator to be in one place.  The offense needs a different set of eyes, a blood transfusion.  A change at this position is long overdue. Shayne Graham did not produce when the team needed him in the playoffs.  No other comment needed. Proclaim the Jerome Simpson experiment a bust and move on.  He likely won't make the team anyway if they draft a receiver or two. Chad Ochocinco.  This team would be better off without him, and he's becoming more of a caricature of himself everyday. Jeremi Johnson.  Too inconsistent to be counted on (fumble in Oakland was a killer).

4. What coaches / players should the Bengals make a priority to keep?

Stripehype - Coaches: Mike Zimmer, Mike Zimmer, Mike Zimmer. Oh, they did? Props. Players: Cedric Benson, Cedric Benson and Cedric Benson.

CincyJungle - At Cincy Jungle, we’ve made several points that after signing Mike Zimmer back as the team’s defensive coordinator, the Bengals should sign linebacker Brandon Johnson to a long term deal. Most likely a new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t be settled by free agency and Johnson will be a restricted free agent again. However, having Johnson assures the team a quality linebacker in coverage schemes as well as a backup for both outside linebacker spots and good special teams depth.

BengalStripes - I would like the Bengals to keep the majority of their unrestricted and restricted free agents. However, at the same time, there isn’t one that will completely cause the team to fall apart. I will pick my top five. First order of business has to be re-signing offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who is one of the team’s leaders in the locker room. Second on the list would be restricted free agent linebacker Brandon Johnson, who was extremely valuable filling in for injuries in 2009. Third would be re-signing restricted free agent offensive guard Evan Mathis, who rotated with Nate Livings this past season. Fourth re-sign defensive tackle Tank Johnson, who was needed in the three-man rotation with Domata Peko and Pat Sims. And last sign Roy Williams, if healthy he instantly upgrades the secondary. Honorable mention: Try to keep restricted free agents tight end J.P. Foschi and Frostee Rucker. Foschi might sound like an unusual pick, but as of right now the Bengals have Darius Hill, Chase Coffman and Matt Sherry on the roster at that position.

WhoDeyFans - Well, Zimmer is here. That was huge. I think the Bengals need to extend contracts for the Bengal corners Joseph and Hall. Give Benson a better deal and keep Kyle Cook around. I also like bringing Roy Williams back for the swagger on defense. One of his big hits can set the tone for the game on D.

WhoDeyRevolution - Mike Zimmer (check). Reggie Kelly for his professionalism on and off the field.

5. Is Carson Palmer the problem in the passing game?

Stripehype - I give him a share of the blame. There are plenty of instances of poor mechanics and bad decisions to point to. But at the same time, how many times did we watch him hit a guy in the hands and have him drop the ball? I think Geoff Hobson had a note on that if those drops had been caught, Palmer's completion percentage would have been 67%+. And Dan Coats would have had a few TDs.

CincyJungle - Yes. No. There were games, especially both games against the Jets where Palmer was throwing it too high, too wide or behind. Once he was only a yard away from ripping the fabric of the space time continuum and throwing an incomplete pass through some parallel universe. Is he the problem? I can’t say “yes”. But then, I don’t think he really helped his own cause much.

On the other hand, he had very little help this season. Laveranues Coles dropped passes earlier in the year, the tight ends were less than mediocre and Andre Caldwell struggled most of the second half breaking away from coverage. I also think his injured left thumb caused enough problems that using his right hand for handoffs became a key for the defense; essentially neutralizing play-action passes because too few were ever fooled.

In the sense of blaming one player or another, no, I don’t believe Palmer is the primary problem, but I do think he had his problems. However, Palmer is ultimately the highest paid player and sometimes you have to take on the bulk of the responsibility and lead the team through the adversity that comes.

BengalStripes - Yes, but it is not only him. Palmer obviously struggled in 2009 and had his worst completion percentage of his career. The once fan favorite, the Golden Boy has some Cincinnati fans demanding for a change at quarterback. However, it is hard to blame Palmer entirely for the lack of a passing game. The departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the emergence of Cedric Benson hurt Palmer’s numbers in ‘09. Also, the lack of production from WR Laveranues Coles gave defenses a chance to double-team Ochocinco. On top of all that, an experienced offensive line that struggled with its pass protection and no quality tight end added to the problem. While I believe Palmer had a bad season, I honestly believe the problem is the personal surrounding him and the run-first type of play calling. I also think Palmer was at his worst last season, he can only get better in ’10.

WhoDeyFans - I think Palmer was a major problem this year. As a fan watching him adjust for the defense on the line of scrimmage in years past I knew he was gaining the advantage for his offense.  This year he looked lost at times.  I think his thumb injury and elbow were problems with his passing.  I also feel like he forced the ball to 85 too much. A short gain is better than a long incompletion. Mid way through the season there was a stat that the Bengals were tops in the NFL on converting 3rd and long.  This was also when they had extra wide outs on the field. If plays like this were being made when the defense knew what was coming, why then were so may throws so far off target at other times? Thinking about it that way makes me wonder if Palmers head was in the game? Elbow and hand injuries can be a rather large distraction.

WhoDeyRevolution - Like most things in life, it's a combination of things.  Sub-par receivers, tight-ends who can't catch, Carson Palmer not playing at a high level.  In addition, the fact that his offensive line isn't great at pass he has no one to count on besides Chad to catch the ball...has turned Carson into a quarterback who is not very confident.  And if you aren't confident in your protection or your receivers, you see results like the playoff game against the Jets.

6. What should the Bengals look for in the 2010 NFL draft?

Stripehype - They could use a pass rusher but I'm not crazy about the DE prospects this year. Safety could use help. Everyone likes WR but I think that can wait, or be addressed in free agency. Rookie wide receivers don't tend to contribute. O-line (Iupati) never hurts. DT isn't a pressing need if they can get Tank back but the prospect of Mount Cody intrigues. Jermaine Gresham? If he's healthy, they could do worse.

BengalStripes - For the first time in a long time, the Cincinnati Bengals don’t absolutely need anything in the draft. Certainly, the Bengals could use a stud wide receiver or a top-of-the-line tight end in the first round (No. 21 overall). At tight end, mock drafts have Cincinnati selecting Oklahoma’s Jermaine Greshman or Florida’s Aaron Hernandez in the first round. Another name at tight end that you might hear is Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski. At wide receiver, Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant, Notre Dame’s Golden Tate and USC’s Damian Willliams could be considered at that first-round spot. The Bengals might also consider taking a defensive tackle with their first-round pick; Tennessee’s Dan Williams or UCLA’s Brian Price could be prospects worth getting to know. Cincinnati could also use some help at safety, cornerback and offensive line. Personally, I think Illinois WR Arrelious Benn and Alabama DT Terrence Cody could be good pickups if available in the second or third rounds. Also the Bengals are set at running back for 2010, but if the team can’t sign Benson to an extension in March then it may try to draft his replacement (I hope Cincinnati finds a way to keep Benson). Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer could develop into a power back, similar to Benson, and could be available when Cincinnati selects in the first round. Also, if either Clemson’s C.J. Spiller or California’s Jahvid Best fall to Cincinnati in round one it could be tempting to select one of those game changers. Hopefully, by the time the senior bowl ends this week, the combine is complete and all the pro days are officially over we can finally get a better idea of what exactly the Bengals options will be in the first round.

CincyJungle - Weapons for Carson Palmer. Even though we spoke on Palmer and if we should blame him for the team’s lack of a passing game, he does need weapons. Laveranues Coles simply didn’t get it done with any consistency and Andre Caldwell, while showing flashes of brilliance, was later found on the back of a milk carton in the second half of the season. Palmer needs weapons if this offense is going to get off the ground. And with the opponents in 2010, this team will need to score points.

WhoDeyFans - on the offensive side of the ball a big wideout would be nice. I also would not argue with anything Zimmer requests, his defense this past season kept the Bengals in games. If a defense can keep the team in the game when the offense struggles then last minute heroics can be good enough to put a w on the board. (and win a division)

WhoDeyRevolution - Tight end that can stretch the field.  Someone with Dallas Clark's blocking ability would be ideal. Tight end who can catch the ball. Wide receiver to stretch the field. Wide receiver who can catch the ball. Safeties (Williams and Ndukwe were brutal this season). Mid-late round QB to start working into the system.  Bob Bratkowski will probably be here until he's 80.  And Carson isn't getting any younger. Work to improve depth along the offensive and defensive lines, specifically improving the pass rush from the front four.

7. With what looks like a tougher schedule, what do you expect from the Bengals next season?

Stripehype - 19-0.

BengalStripes - Most of all I expect more games on primetime television. In 2009, the Bengals were only televised once on national TV and it was because the Jets were playing their last game in Giants Stadium and were also playing to get in the playoffs. In 2010, Cincinnati is playing Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and San Diego at home. Then on the road, Cincinnati plays Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England, Atlanta, Indianapolis and the New York Jets. I would be very surprised if the Bengals don’t receive at least one Sunday Night and Monday Night game in ’10. I also think the Bengals are in good shape and could be in great shape if they make the right moves this offseason. However, with the tough schedule it is impossible to predict Cincinnati’s final record.

CincyJungle - Realistically, it could be a down season. I wouldn’t expect to sweep the Ravens and Steelers again and playing at New England, Indianapolis and New York will be tough. Most importantly, this team has to learn how to put up points next season and rely more on balance. Teams like New Orleans, San Diego and the Colts will challenge the Bengals and if the secondary can’t slow down those offenses, then the Bengals have to find a way to score more points. It’s as simple as that.

WhoDeyFans - I expect to be attending some more night games. I also expect the Bengals to defend the division title and gain confidence by beating better teams. The Bengals seem to play to the level of their competition. I would much rather see them hang with the Colts than an overtime game against Cleveland.

WhoDeyRevolution - The Bengals have had two winning seasons since 1990.  They have done absolutely nothing to change the fundamental core of their organization.  They have not changed the basic way they do business.  No general manager.  Smallest scouting department in the league.  2005 and 2009 were aberrations to the norm.  We see a 7-9 season, at best, for the Bengals in 2010.

8. How will an uncapped year affect the Bengals next year?

Stripehype - It won't. In fact, with all the new limitations on player movement, it will be a lot like old times (pre-free agency) for the front office. Advantage Bengals? We'll see.

BengalStripes - Ironically the Bengals finished just outside the top eight teams in 2009. That means, unlike those teams that advanced beyond the wild-card round, the Bengals can sign a free agent before it losses one of its own. I don’t expect the Bengals to be very active in free agency, but they have more options then they would have if they beat the Jets in the playoffs. Personally, I don’t think much is going change about how the Bengals attack free agency. Cincinnati has never been known to spend a lot of money. I do believe the Bengals will be trying to save some money. For instance, Cincinnati will probably cut Laveranues Coles and will try to re-sign a few of its own free agents. With a salary cap there would be a better chance that the Bengals would go after a big name this free agency, but without a cap I expect Cincinnati to play it safe. Let’s just hope the NFL can figure this out and get a cap back in place for 2011. Otherwise, there could be a strike. Without a cap in 2011 and beyond, Cincinnati will be in trouble and could lose many of its key players.

CincyJungle - The one benefit of not beating the Jets during Wild Card weekend is that the Bengals won’t be apart of the Final Eight. Basically if you’re one of the eight teams that competed during the Divisional round of the playoffs, then your access to free agents will be highly restricted. The teams that were eliminated that weekend will only be allowed to sign one player of a salary of $4,925,000 and any number of players “with a first-year salary of no more than $3,275,000 and an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following years.”

Furthermore, the final four teams will not be permitted to sign an unrestricted free agent unless those players were cut or on another one of the final four teams when their contract expired. There’s also a rule that basically states, you can not spend more money on players than the combined cost of what those players signed for with other clubs.

Will it help the Bengals? It won’t restrict them, that’s for sure. But I don’t envision the Bengals going after any pricey players anyway, so free agency probably won’t matter much and there’s little reason the uncapped season would dramatically affect Cincinnati as much.

WhoDeyfans - The fact that there is not a cap does not scare me as much as the fact that there is no minimum salary. If Mike Brown is as cheap as everyone seems to think he is, then he could let players walk and fill in with less expensive players.  The Bengals could be devastated by a guy who is trying to save a buck.