The pre-bye week block of teams on the Bengals schedule were supposed to be like a warm to prepare them for the post-bye week block of teams in which every coach and player is Bill Brasky. Do you know Bill Brasky? No? Then I won't buy you a round.
I wish I could say that things worked out the way that they were supposed to. I wish I could say that the Bengals made it out of their "easy part of the schedule" with a 4-1 record. I wish I could say Andy fought the good fight..... wait. Unfortunately for the Bengals and us, the fans, the Bengals made the easy part look not so easy and now they are heading into the tough part of the schedule with a 2-3 record, a struggling offense and a surprisingly inconsistent defense. The only thing thing the Bengals seemed to have going for them at some points during the first five games was Mike Nugent's nuclear powered leg.
Joe Reedy took it upon himself to act as the Bengals bye week professor and he's handing out report cards. Here's what he says:
Quarterback (C-): Every week there seem to be new questions about Carson Palmer ranging from accuracy to decision making. He has two 300-yard games but they’ve failed to produce wins.
As much as I still support no. 9, I can't blame Reedy for giving him the "not terrible but not good" award. In some plays, Palmer has looked like the Palmer that we love but in other plays he looks like a rookie. He is off target sometimes, he is throwing passes behind, too low and too high and none of it consistently. If one thing was going to be fixed during the bye week, this needed to be it. This is a passing league and without a good passer, a team is doomed to be a one and done playoff team every year... if they make it to the playoffs at all.
Running backs (C+): Cedric Benson finally got things in gear last week against the Bucs but his yards per carry in the first four games were nearly a yard less than last year. Brian Leonard has returned to his role as the third-down specialist while Bernard Scott hasn’t seen much action the last two games.
Benson and the Bengals running game finally looked like they did last year against the Buccaneers but the obvious problem with that statement is the words "against the Buccaneers". Only the Bengals could figure out way to let a running back rush for 144 yards, no touchdowns and finish the game by adding another number to the right of the dash in their record. It can't necessarily be blamed on Benson or the other running backs. A lot of the blame can be placed on the play calling and the offensive line as well.
Tight ends (C): Jermaine Gresham’s 22 receptions are third on the team, but he has been inconsistent with blocking. Reggie Kelly, whose strength is blocking, has also struggled at times.
Maybe a little harsh here. Gresham is an unbelievably talented tight end with an enormous upside. He's also a rookie tight end who didn't play his entire senior year of college. Can you really expect that guy to block like an all-pro right away. I don't think so. I would give the tight ends a "B" at this point in the season. If you think about what we had last year, you want to change that to an "A".
Wide receivers (C): Terrell Owens has the single-game league standard in receiving yards this season (222 vs. Cleveland) and has back-to-back games over 100 yards. Jordan Shipley has also had an impressive rookie season with 15 receptions but drops by Owens and Chad Ochocinco along with costly penalties have loomed large.
The drop that looms largest in my mind is the Ochocinco drop that caused an interception at the very end of the game against the Buccaneers. Although some passes have been completely off target, I refuse to believe that the wide receivers are all on the same page. Hopefully during the bye week, Palmer and his crew are all at least in the same paragraph.
Offensive line (C): Not playing as well as they did last year. The Bucs game, where they opened huge holes for Benson and gave Palmer a relatively clean pocket, was their best effort of the year. LG Nate Livings and RT Dennis Roland continue to struggle with many wondering when Andre Smith will supplant Roland.
Smith seems to be playing more, which is a good sign. The fact that Palmer can't sit in the pocket until a receiver gets open, not such a good sign. Can the bye week work wonders for the offensive line which contains two of the Bengals biggest locker room leaders - Bobbie Williams and Andrew Whitworth?
Defensive line (C-): Yes, they’re finally getting pressure on the quarterback but none of the starters have yet to get a sack. For all the talk about generating a pass rush, that is the biggest disappointment of all.
Odom's suspension hurts and Fanene's injury hurts even more. That moved Michael Johnson back to defensive end where he's not nearly as versatile as he is when he plays outside linebacker. Fanene's return will help this defensive line get more pressure on Matt Ryan and the other tough quarterbacks that the Bengals face in the near future.
Linebackers (C+): The top two tacklers are linebackers (Dhani Jones and Keith Rivers) but the group has struggled at times. Jones has been a little bit of a liability in coverage and Rey Maualuga has been inconsistent.
The linebackers are the quarterbacks of the defense. Usually, when there's a problem on defense, it can be found and solved quickly here. Is it time to move Rey Maualuga to middle linebacker where he probably belongs and make Michael Johnson an every down outside linebacker? I don't think so but then again, I'm not a coach.
Secondary (C+): Leon Hall is among the NFL leaders in interceptions with three but the unit has been victimized in past weeks with bad penalties and are losing out on contested catches. Safety Chris Crocker leads the team in sacks with two.
The cornerbacks are playing well with a few mistakes peppered in here or there. They're still one of the best corner duos in the NFL. The safeties, while good-ish in run support, are kind of a liability against some deep threat receivers. Adam Jones will help shore up any secondary problems secondary. Where's Brandon Ghee?
Special teams (B-): If you had to name a team MVP right now it would be Mike Nugent, who has 12 field goals. Kevin Huber has four punts inside the 5. The coverage and return units though continue to struggle.
Mike Nugent has been great so far. He has one miss and that miss came on a block that you can't really blame him for. So far, Nugent has been the biggest free agent acquisition of the year. He's a kicker. That's saying something.
Coaching (C-): From being overprepared against New England to the much-discussed third-down call against the Bucs, it hasn’t been the best of starts to the season.
This is the biggest one. Part of me wants to leave the grade as a C- but most of me feels that it should be a D. The offensive play calling has been bad. The offense lacks identity through most of the game. I understand that the no huddle offense handcuffs an offense to use the personnel on the field at that particular time in plays that they may not excel at but it's hard to ignore the fact that the Bengals move the ball when they use the no huddle. So why abandon it in the red zone, why only run it when they're down by two touchdowns, why...?
The Bengals season isn't over and their playoff hopes aren't destroyed. They can still turn around a 2-3 record and make it to the playoffs. Some teams may be writing them off and that might not be such a bad thing. Hopefully the bye week did for the Bengals what the Bengals needed it to do. We'll find out on Sunday.