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Football Outsiders Sits Down With Cincy Jungle

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One of the most anticipated books every year is Football Outsiders Almanac. You could read it for hours, only to come away realizing that you really don't know everything about football statistics. This year's version, titled Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, provides an in-depth look at the Bengals (as it does with the other 31 teams), that greatly details the team's struggles and expectations for 2010. Rob Weintraub wrote the Bengals section and he was good enough to sit down with us.

You wrote that one of Carson Palmer’s strengths, the deep pass, was a struggle with only 15% of his passes going deep. There were many reasons for it outlined in Football Outsiders Almanac 2010. How much of an improvement will the Bengals passing game see with the addition of Terrell Owens?
Owens had a poor 2009, but it was mainly due to the quarterbacking--quite analogous to Chad OC's 2008 season, when he stunk while Ryan Fitzpatrick was running the offense. Chad rebounded in 2009, while it was TO who had to deal with Fitz, ironically. All reports were that TO's work ethic was solid in Buffalo, and if Palmer vouches for him, that's good enough for me. As for being a deep threat, his longest catch in 2009 accounted for nearly 12% of his total yardage, a disproportionately high number. But compared to Cincy's other potential deep threats, he looks good. At the very least, defenses will have to account for him.

If Antonio Bryant’s knee ends up not being a problem this year, how much of an improvement do you view him over Laveranues Coles?
As for Bryant, it's a tough question to answer. Assuming the knee is totally fine, we liked him for roughly 50 catches and 550-600 yards, with 4-5 TDs. That's a little better than Coles, though not much. The difference was always Bryant's potential (given his huge 2008) and athleticism--Coles had none left. But of course, if his knee saps that, Bryant is little to no improvement over a guy we jettisoned. 

If Cedric Benson is suspended for his May assault, or, god-forbid, goes down due to injury, who would you view as the better replacement as the team’s feature back? Bernard Scott or Brian Leonard?
Scott, no question. Leonard isn't an everydown runner, never has been. His strength is receiving, and third-down playmaking. Scott is a burner who is nifty in traffic, a rare gift. Let's hope he stays healthy--he can be an excellent counterpoint to CB.

You pointed out that the Bengals offensive line was improved in the passing game, but also pointed out that offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski called few seven-step drops to help them. How much of an improvement can the Bengals expect in the passing game with Andre Smith?
I think what you meant to say about the O-line was that they improved in the running game, but were not as good in the passing game, hence the lack of 7-step drops and deep routes. Smith obviously can only help, but again questions lurk--health-wise, is he ready, and given how little he has played, how much of the scheme does he understand? I would think he's more effective in the run game at this point.

The infusion of talent should help, but I'm not sure by how much and will rookies (such as Shipley and Gresham) be immediate contributors?
Jermaine seems like the rare rook ready to step in right away and be a good TE, but we'll see. Anything Shipley provides is gravy.

During Andre Caldwell’s final nine regular season games, he never recorded more than 35 yards receiving in any single game. Is the lack of performance indicative that he’s not much more than a number three receiver or are there other factors?
I like Bubba, but he's not more than a #3 receiver. His lack of numbers were in part due to the overall conservatism of the offense, but it's not like he provided a threat to allow them to open up the offense. If he did, TO wouldn't be a Bengal today.

Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph are a great cornerback combination; some say the best in the league. However, the third cornerback spot is up for grabs between Adam Jones, Morgan Trent and Brandon Ghee – if he’s not converted to a safety this year. Knowing that Jones missed a year, would you still give him the advantage over Trent and Ghee as the team’s number three cornerback?
Again, the PacMan thing is tough to evaluate until we see him play. Strictly based on his 2008 play, he's certainly better than Trent, and likely Ghee too. What did he lose in his time away? Will he not be a knucklehead in 2010? We'll see. Trent did have a decent rookie season, especially as a blitzer, and hopefully he gets some time.

Of the safeties that this team has, as you noted, most of them are hard hitters that are better suited defending against the running game. However, which safety have you noted is better suited in coverage?
Of the three main safeties, Crocker was clearly the best pass defender--he had a 70% success rate (6th among NFL safeties) and 7 passes defensed. His main deal was injury--at full strength, he's certainly OK against the pass. Ndukwe and Williams, not so much.

Of the three starting linebackers, Keith Rivers is considered among Bengals fans to be solid, but doesn’t make big plays. How do you view Rivers in comparison to the other linebackers with the Bengals?
As you say, Rivers is decent, but his production isn't first-round worthy.  Rivers was in on more plays than any LB save Dhani, but made far fewer Defeats than Maualuga or Brandon Johnson.  In Rivers' defense, he also missed far fewer tackles.  Steady but unspectacular is the best description for Rivers at this point--but let's remember, he's also going into only his third season.