Bengals Make Me Look Stupid


Not, of course, that I need all that much help. But in the interest of maintaining accountability around this blog (I know, when there’s no accountability in the Bengals organization, why should I bother? I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.) here’s a look back at my howler of a season prediction. You know, the one in which I said the Bengals would go 10-6. And make the playoffs. As the AFC North champs.

Insert one of those old Warner Bros. cartoon scenes, where the main character (me) momentarily morphs into a jackass while the “hee-haw! hee-haw!” sfx play, here.

In my defense, this was written to meet an early August deadline. When I filed it, the Bengals had yet to play a preseason game. Had I written this after our alarming preseason, I would have scaled my projection back to seven or eight wins. But even then, I wouldn’t have been close.

So, what happened? Let’s run through my August foolishness:

"The Bengals offense limped through 2007, with injuries hitting starting RB Rudi Johnson, both bookend tackles, Willie Anderson and Levi Jones, and center Eric Ghiacuic, all of whom missed time or played hurt…This year, the injuries have largely dissipated…Against the threat of further o-line injuries, the Bengals used the franchise tag on G/T Stacy Andrews, so they’ll either have him or former Pro Bowl RT Anderson in reserve. In short, there’s no reason not to expect the Bengals to return to the offensive powerhouse they were in 2005. Well, almost no reason. The big wild card is Ghiacuic, the center. After taking over for Rich Braham in 2006, Ghiacuic has not matched up well against elite defensive linemen. He has been working the past two years to add strength, and this is widely viewed as a make-or-break year for the fourth-round 2005 draft pick."

Except that Levi Jones wasn’t heathy, Willie Anderson and Rudi Johnson would be cut at the end of training camp, and the stories of Ghiacuic’s improvement were greatly exaggerated. Jones, who missed 10 games in 2006 and ’07, missed another six this season — and that was only after playing hurt and at reduced effectiveness in the first 10. Anderson was cut because he wouldn’t take a $2 million pay reduction. He went on to start 11 games for the playoff-bound Ravens, while his replacement, Andrews, would allow a line-high 9.5 sacks before blowing out his knee against Cleveland. Johnson was lopped in favor of RB Chris Perry, who gained a whopping 269 yards on 104 carries before being benched in favor of Cedric Benson, who began the season out of football. Ghiacuic would continue to be bullrushed back into the QB by top-tier DTs.

"Team MVP: QB Carson Palmer. Two seasons after a devastating knee injury, Palmer is poised to round back into championship form. His offensive line is healthy, and with the return of RB Chris Perry and addition of TE Ben Utecht (Colts), he has a couple new toys to play with."

Except the o-line was, as already noted, a wreck and Perry stunk. Utecht would suffer a chest injury early on and become a non-factor, while Carson would be lost for the season when poor protection led to an elbow injury against the Giants.

"Break-Out Player: CB Johnathan Joseph. Joseph, the team’s first-round pick in 2006, raised eyebrows with 20 passes defensed, but no picks, in his rookie season. Last year, he grabbed four balls while defending 15. Not the kind of improvement Bengals fans were hoping for, but Joseph was hampered for the first half of the year by a stress fracture in his foot suffered during spring camps. Now healthy, the third-year corner should push his INT total into double-digits in 2008."

Just knocking these predictions out of the park, eh? Joseph would play only 8 games before another injury sent him to IR. But even up to that point, his passes defensed (13 in 2008) still weren’t translating to picks (one this year). The former first-round pick now has 48 passes defensed, but only 5 picks, in three injury-marred seasons.

"Biggest Disappointment: DT Pat Sims. Don’t get me wrong: I think Sims will be good — eventually. But Bengals fans (as well as the Bengals themselves, it seems) are counting on a lot from this year’s third-round pick, and if history is any guide, he’ll take a couple years to develop."

Here, I’m happy to have been a bit off. Sims was hardly a world-beater, starting in six games and appearing in 11, with 36 tackles and a sack. But his insertion into the lineup, thanks to an injury to John Thornton coincided with a noticeable improvement in the run defense. There is indeed still development to be had here, but Sims exceeded my expectations.

"Fantasy Stud: Palmer. This is a tough one this year. Normally, the pick would be WR T.J. Houshmanzadeh, who has racked up more than 200 receptions and 2,200 yards, and 21 touchdowns, in the last two seasons. Chad Johnson has more yards, but fewer receptions (180) and TDs (15). However, if the Bengals do as promised and involve Utecht significantly in the passing game, that plus the return of receiving back Chris Perry could put a dent in T.J.’s catches."

I was wrong — and I was right. The correct answer was T.J., who was the closest thing to an offensive weapon the team had all year. My worries about Utecht cutting into his numbers were unfounded thanks to his injury. Palmer, of course, was hurt and appeared in only four games.

"The bottom line is that no one ought to expect a huge defensive improvement from the Bengals this year. Just by staying healthy, they ought to be better, but will still finish the season ranked in the wrong half of the league."

Nope again. The D actually finished in 12th place, though I think that was artificially boosted by the three final games, all against offensively challenged squads. Still, what the heck, that’s a good kind of stupid to be, right?

"Cleveland Browns: OK, let me get this straight: the Lions, one of the few NFL franchises with a legitimate claim to be as bad as Cincinnati’s, are going to trade a player [DT Shaun Rogers] to Cincinnati, a team whose personnel evaluation skills are derided annually by its fanbase, especially when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. Does this sound like a good time to swoop in to [steal] anyone — or to run real fast in the other direction?"

Well. While the Cincinnati Bengals are good at making me look dumb, I must admit, the Cleveland Browns can always be counted on to make me look like a genius!