Suddenly it has become your task to draw up a defensive game-plan and prepare to stop the Cincinnati Bengals offense; how do you do it?
First, you must stop the run. It doesn't matter who their receivers are, if you can't stop the run, you lose. Despite showcasing every capable attribute one could ask for in a power runner last season, Cedric Benson continues to be overshadowed and somewhat forgotten among the team's flashy receivers. Benson wants the ball 30 times a game and has done nothing to dissuade onlookers from agreeing with him, including the coaching staff who believe in that pair of legs.
That means loading up the box on first and second downs, sneaking safeties up and drawing the linebackers' attention to the running game, making it priority number one. If you continue putting eight or more in the box though, it allows their receivers to run deep against one-on-one coverage and that can be awfully risky. Regardless, defenses must be committed to stopping the run, or else defending the pass becomes a moot point.
Assuming you have Benson contained enough to bring up the occasional passing down, there is that whole double-teaming business to consider. Doubling Chad Ochocinco still makes the most sense since Terrell Owens and Carson Palmer need time to develop chemistry. That being said, you'd better have a pretty decent corner with size if you intend on keeping him on an island with TO. A jump ball against that horse can be like trying to box out a Big East power forward, and smallish corners are outmatched in that scenario.
What's that you say? Double them both? Well, that may not be a bad idea, unless Jermaine Gresham becomes the player everyone expects of him. You could even double him with a nickel-back and linebacker, but then you become vulnerable to the slot receiver match-up in three wide receiver sets.
Who that slot is, almost seems irrelevant. Obviously, team management would like that player to be Antonio Bryant (4 years/$28 million, $8 million guaranteed), but for each day he misses practice in training camp due to his knee injury, doubt grows in the minds of spectators, and likely coaches, about his immediate role in the offense. With a healthy Bryant, the team gets a gritty, physical receiver who could excel in the slot. With a gimpy Bryant, however, memories of last season's receivers struggling to get open spring to mind.
Other slot candidates, should Bryant be demoted on the depth chart, include both Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell. Having not seen any real camp footage, and not being there in person, it's impossible for me to say who is ahead right now—and comments from the coaches have been generally supportive about everyone so far—but knowing the way Marvin Lewis traditionally goes about things, I would say Caldwell has the advantage because he's been in the system longer. There's plenty of time for Shipley to get a handle on things by Week One, but Marvin knows what he's getting from Caldwell when the games matter, and coaches prefer not to dabble with the unknown.
Yet, as stated, it doesn't matter who lines up in the slot. If Benson, Gresham, TO & Chad all garner the attention they should, the slot receiver should be open most of the time.
So with all these weapons, all these threats to consider, how do you beat a team like this? Simple, you blitz the hell out of them.
The worrisome undercurrent grumbling beneath the euphoric fanfare of training camp is about the reliability of the offensive line. Late last season, the line looked porous and Carson Palmer became increasingly less comfortable in the pocket as a result. This year, reports on the pass-protection have not been sterling, and the highest paid offensive lineman on the team, is unfit to play—again. It helps that Reggie Kelly is back for extra blocking support, and word is that Chase Coffman and Fui Vakapuna have demonstrated more aggression this training camp. But Vakapuna is already hurt and the unpopular Daniel Coats could be the best option at fullback.
Defenses will test the mettle of the pass protection. Every Bengals fan knows the drop-off of play that Carson suffers when his confidence is shaken. He is not a quarterback that works well on the fly or makes things up as he goes. He needs consistency and reliability from his teammates or else everything goes to shit in a hurry. So I would expect teams to bring the heat in order to crawl into Palmer's head.
Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this, but it's up to our man, Bob Bratkowski. Brat has the competency rating of Congress around Bengal Country and the more cautious fans won't allow all the hype about the team to distract them from their opinion that Bratkowski sucks and will find a way to screw it all up. I waver on this topic, but usually allow my optimism to win out in the end.
But all the man has to do is develop a variation of the west-coast offense, complete with three-step drops and quick pass-patterns, and rely on his bigger receivers to make the catch and rack up some YAC (yards-after-catch). I know Carson's best passing vertically down the field and stretching defenses, and I like watching him throw the deep ball too, but if he's getting pressured every time he drops back seven steps, when is it no longer worth it? Slant patterns to T.O., shallow crosses to Gresham, six-yard curls to Shipley, a high lob to Chad, this is how a team gets in a passing rhythm without getting sacked.
If teams blitz like they should against the Bengals, a solution to keep No. 9 off his back is paramount to the season's success. A quick passing game can easily become such a solution, but Brat has resisted going in that direction in the past and I don't think he will change now. That means our guys had better block somebody and keep that Golden Boy upright. You have five weeks to get it together, men; God speed.
Mojokong—there is poison, and then there is us.