In the commentary accompanying his Any Given Sunday column for espn.com, Football Outsiders’ Ned Macey begins:
"This week’s linked article is Eagles-focused, since the Bengals are mostly irrelevant thanks to the generally poor play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick."
"At age 31, this is probably near the peak of his production, and it is a shame that so much of the season is wasted with Fitzpatrick rather than a quarterback like Palmer who would allow Houshmandzadeh to put up clearly Pro Bowl numbers."
That the Bengals are irrelevant and their season a waste is indisputable, but blaming Ryan Fitzpatrick is off the mark. Doing so ignores the fact that Carson Palmer was performing just as miserably, if not more so, during his four games running the offense this season.
In the season opener against Baltimore, Palmer was a woeful 9 for 24 for 94 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a QB rating of 32.3. The next outing against Tennessee saw his QB rating skyrocket all the way to 41.3 as he threw for 134 yards, two interceptions, and a score.
It’s worth noting that in Fitz’s worst performance, against Cleveland when he was rushed into the lineup at the last minute, he managed a 44.5 rating.
To date, Palmer’s and Fitz’s numbers have been remarkably similar. In four games, Carson averaged about 19 completions on 32 attempts for 183 yards, one pick and slightly less than one TD (0.75) per game.
Through six games, Fitzpatrick has averaged about 22 completions on 35 attempts for 175 yards, one pick and slightly less than one TD (0.83) per game.
After four games, Palmer’s rating was 69. After six, Fitzpatrick’s is 71.3.
This isn’t to say Fitzpatrick has been very good. Obviously, he hasn’t. But Palmer wasn’t either, suggesting other factors are at work, which of course they are. The Bengals’ offensive line has fallen apart. After giving up just 17 sacks in all of 2007, the line allowed Carson to be hammered 11 times in only four games. Fitz is on pace for more than 50 sacks in just a dozen games. That breakdown has contributed to the failure of the running game as well. Through 10 contests, the Bengals boast the third-worst rushing attack in the league, averaging just 83.7 yards a game. And that figure includes 182 rushing yards from much-maligned Fitzpatrick, without whom the Bengals would be down to 65.5 yards a game.
With no line — and that includes the backs and tight ends who have treated blitzers like they had cooties — and no running game, it isn’t surprising that both Palmer and Fitzpatrick have had little success in 2008. I’d wager even Tom Brady or Peyton Manning wouldn’t fare any better under the circumstances.
As for the contention that T.J. would be putting up “Pro Bowl numbers” if Carson hadn’t been hurt, again, that’s far from clear. With Palmer, T.J. had 25 receptions for 301 yards (about 75 yards a game) and one TD. From Fitz, T.J. has caught 48 balls for 425 yards (about 71 yards a game) and three TDs.