Monday Morning Hangover: Bengals/Titans Postmortem
A frustrating day against the Tennessee Titans yesterday. On the defensive side, the Bengals played well for most of the game, with the notable exception of Titans RB Chris Johnson’s 51-yard scamper. The goat on that play was S Chinedum Ndukwe, getting his first action after a knee injury early in training camp knocked him out of the preseason and the opener against Baltimore. Chalk it up to rust?
Maybe. The offense certainly looks like it’s still heavily oxidized. During the game, radio color guy and ex-Bengals lineman Dave Lapham observed that the offense “was in the second week of preseason” and I think that’s exactly right. The offense’s passing woes stretch back into last year, but nothing got done between then and now to fix things. Chad Ocho Bozo spent the offseason acting the fool in an attempt to force a trade, and only when that failed did he get his ankle fixed, resulting in yet more delays in returning to the practice field. His antics obscured the passive resistance strategy of T.J. Houshmanzadeh, who skipped all voluntary activities and then spent all of preseason on the sideline with a hamstring injury — which some have accused him of milking to get out of working in camp.
True or not, neither Houshmandzadeh nor Ocho Ding-Dongo have done anything to fix the rapport issue with Carson Palmer that showed up last season, so here we are in same-old-same-old land again. And we get the same bullshit quotes, like this from T.J.:
"“I couldn’t explain to you why we’re not scoring points and not moving the ball. I’m as confused as everybody else is.”"
Well, let me spell it out for you, T.J.: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a functional definition of insanity. And what did either you or Chad do that was different — in a positive sense, that is — this offseason? Nada, right? And you’re surprised at SSDD? Why?
All Bengals fans can do is hope that Lap is right, and that what the O needs most is time working together to iron out their many kinks. Unfortunately, we are already two L’s into the season, and by the time they get their act together (if they ever do) it may well be too late to salvage anything but another mediocre season. Complicating matters is yesterday’s injury to TE Ben Utecht, who reportedly has a damaged sternum that could take him out for a while. The Bengals were counting on Ben, their premiere offensive free agent pickup in the offseason, to play a big role in the passing game. Without him, they are back down to Reggie Kelly and Dan Coats, both of whom have only average hands.
On the positive side for the offense, the o-line did a much better job in both pass protection and run-blocking this week as compared to the Baltimore game, lending credence to the theory that some of week one’s horrible showing was related to the presence of former Bengals RT Willie Anderson on the Baltimore sideline. Unfortunately, run-blocking was still inconsistent and RB Chris Perry continued to show the rust of a couple years on the sidelines, fumbling twice in his first five carries (neither lost, fortunately). Perry did get his first NFL rushing TD on a nice 13-yard run on fourth and one.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals put on a largely solid showing until late in the game, when back-to-back picks thrown by Palmer kept an exhausted and demoralized D on the field. The line in particular showed up, with Antwan Odom getting a sack and forcing a fumble, Frostee Rucker making a nuisance of himself and even the much-maligned John Thornton getting some penetration. Through two games, the defense has given up an average of just 17 points, and accounted for 7 of the team’s 20 points scored as well. If the Bengals could muster any kind of offense, they would be a dangerous team.
Special teams were mixed Sunday. Glenn Holt had a solid day returning kicks, averaging 30 yards on three returns, and S Kyries Hebert made his presence felt, deflecting one punt and recovering a fumble on a second one. Even Antonio Chatman showed up with a 34-yard punt return. On the other hand, Shayne Graham couldn’t make a FG in the swirling wind, and the punt team gave up a TD when it couldn’t get the ball out of the end zone — though that could be justifiably blamed on an offense that couldn’t get a few yards of breathing space.
I’m sure Marvin Lewis will come in for criticism again, but I agreed with most of his decisions this time around. I like the aggressiveness on fourth down, and I liked his attempt to get the ball back before the end of the first half, even though that backfired when Ndukwe missed Johnson. Versus the team’s historic play-it-safe coaching, that’s refreshing change.