Bengals Onus Falls on Carson Palmer
The Cincinnati Bengals were 25th in the league out of 32 teams last year in passing yards per game. Although their 10-6 record and AFC North title would suggest they had an excellent season, the Bengals lacked greatly in the air game. Quarterback Carson Palmer only had one 300-yard passing game — week 15 when the Bengals dinked-and-dunked up and down the field in San Diego. Their passing problems were magnified late in the year when the team threw for fewer than 150 yards in five of the final seven weeks (including the playoffs).
Coming off a year where Carson Palmer hurt his elbow and Ryan Fitzpatrick captained the league’s most impotent offense, the Bengals were expected to turn things around drastically. Only things didn’t work out that way. Laveranues Coles was signed to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh but he never got on the same page with Palmer. Chris Henry provided somewhat of a deep threat but he broke his forearm and then later sadly died. While Chad Ochocinco served as the lone consistent receiving threat, something seemed to be off with the team, and it was more than the just the weakened receiving corps; the Heisman Trophy armed quarterback from USC was the problem.
Carson Palmer used to be the strength of the Cincinnati Bengals. Palmer was an expert decision-maker, golden armed, and extremely accurate. He threw for 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions during a Pro Bowl season in 2005 and he followed it up with a 28/13 Pro Bowl campaign in 2006. He had long bounced back from the knee injury against Pittsburgh but an elbow injury slowed him in 2008. Palmer was coming off Tommy John surgery in 2009 and it really showed. Cincinnati didn’t have Houshmandzadeh, but they still had Chad and Chris Henry. The true difference was that Carson Palmer struggled to get them the ball. He could hardly throw deep and Cincinnati’s inability to pass was evident. The multitude of inexperienced receivers on the roster certainly contributed to Cincinnati’s offensive troubles, but the main problem was Carson. Less than a year after his surgery, his arm strength seemed to be lacking.
Over the off-season, the Bengals’ front office recognized the need to improve the air game. They kept Carson intact as the team’s offensive leader and decided to fortify his selection of weapons. They drafted tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first-round, wide receiver Jordan Shipley in the third, and receiver Dezmon Briscoe in the sixth. They also signed free agent receivers Antonio Bryant and Matt Jones earlier in the off-season, and they put the finishing touches on the offense by adding the controversial Terrell Owens on Tuesday.
While most people are worried about T.O.’s age (he’s 36), the spectacle of attention whores Owens and Ochocinco in the same locker room, and how Carson Palmer will be able to manage the situation, I’m worried about something completely different. With so many strong receiving options, the Bengals won’t be able to blame the lack of a passing game on their receivers anymore. The question is now whether Palmer’s elbow will be back at full strength allowing him to regain his Pro Bowl form. If not, it will be a long season, and it won’t be because of the two diva receivers.