In the movie Shawshank Redemption, falsely accused killer Andy Dufresne is said to have angrily told his wife “I’ll see you in hell before I see you in Reno.” In today’s modern-day drama Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has effectively told the organization he’ll see them in hell before he sees them in Cincinnati. The QB’s vow never to return to the team, even at the price of forfeiting nearly $60 million on his contract is still holding form. But there’s a chance the team could be better in the long run.
Cincinnati’s offensive line is a stable unit and has a better reputation for run-blocking rather than protecting the passer. They have Cedric Benson running behind them, whose emerging as one of the better backs in the game. They had two rookies step up in the passing game—tight end Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Jordan Shipley were the top two AFC rookies in catches. Doesn’t it make sense to build a team around the run and the short pass rather than deal with a quarterback who obviously doesn’t want you?
The Bengals have signed Bruce Gradowski to step in and play while rookie Andy Dalton gets his feet wet. I won’t pretend that Gradowksi is a long-term answer, but the former Oakland quarterback can find Shipley, Gresham and the enormously talented rookie A.J. Green on the outside. There are a lot of quality young players at the skill positions here and a good opportunity for Cincy to move forward, not only without last year’s malcontents of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, but sans Palmer as well.
Marvin Lewis made his name in coaching as the coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl champion defense and it will take his coaching savvy to get the Cincy defense up to speed. There’s some talent at individual spots—defensive end Carlos Dunlap is another of this team’s rising stars, Leon Hall is very good at corner and they get steady linebacking play from Rey Manauluga and Keith Rivers. I would see the key problem being a lack of any help for Dunlap up front. In a 4-3 alignment, there’s either got to be some pressure from the other side or up the middle and I don’t see where that comes from. The linebackers aren’t athletic blitzer types, so Dunlap can expect a lot of attention from opposing pass protection schemes. And Jonathan Joseph, who joined Hart to form a top 1-2 corner punch, has left via free agency, so there’s less chance the secondary can bail them out.
Cincy gave Lewis a two-year contract and I’m interested to see how this pans out. I like the individual young players here and they are at a phase where the coach needs to be able to piece it together. Because of the youth and the short-term dislocation caused by the rift with Palmer, I don’t expect the Bengals to get off to a fast start. If they play well in the second half of the season it’ll be a sign that a corner is being turned in the Queen City.
The Bengals are a 20-1 shot to take the AFC North title. Visit Legends Sportsbooks for more information.
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