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3 Cincinnati BENGALS

Sept. 06, 2010
Sept. 06, 2010

Table of Contents
Sept. 6, 2010

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL PREVIEW
Departments

3 Cincinnati BENGALS

Forget the arrival of T.O.—is Carson Palmer the quarterback he used to be?

THE BENGALS went 6--0 in the AFC North to win the division last year but still had one glaring need to fill in the off-season: competent targets for quarterback Carson Palmer. Through free agency Cincinnati signed a couple of accomplished but moody receivers—Antonio Bryant (last with the Bucs, since cut) and Terrell Owens (the Bills). Through the draft Cincy plucked Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham, the best tight end that coach Marvin Lewis has scouted in his eight-year Bengals tenure, and Jordan Shipley of Texas, the most accomplished slot receiver in NCAA history. Mission accomplished. The offense, then, should be in good shape—assuming Carson Palmer is still Carson Palmer.

This is an article from the Sept. 6, 2010 issue

He certainly didn't look like a franchise quarterback in the last two games of 2009. A career 63.2% passer, he completed just 40.4% of his throws in a pair of losses to the Jets, one to end the regular season and another in a wild-card playoff game. The arctic conditions in the Meadowlands might have contributed to the first defeat, but Palmer created his own cold streak at Paul Brown Stadium six days later, when he appeared to be on a different planet from his receivers. So while curious Bengals fans flocked to training camp this summer to look at new faces like Owens and troubled cornerback Pacman Jones, most eyes should have been riveted on the 30-year-old quarterback. Because if he's not right, all the weapons in the world won't propel the Bengals past this season's wild-card round.

"I've watched that playoff game over and over," Palmer said during camp. "There's a bunch of plays I wish I could have back—four throws I wish I could have back. I was hurrying my feet. We could have had a big gain on one play and I hurried, and I threw it over [Chad Ochocinco's] head. That's on me. But I can either say, 'Woe is me,' or I can figure out what I need to do to play better."

Palmer spent considerable time this off-season fixing his footwork. In the past Palmer has drifted back with the snap, surveyed his receivers and then moved his feet in the direction he planned to throw. This season, when he plans to throw to the left, he's not going to take as long to point his feet toward his intended receiver, thus saving time against defenses such as those of Baltimore and Pittsburgh that specialize in forcing QBs to rush their throws.

Of course, come midseason Palmer may not be as worried about mechanics as he is about ball distribution. Needy receivers Ochocinco and Owens are likely to be chirping if they don't get enough touches, and the Bengals didn't draft Gresham and Shipley to sit on the bench. The 6'5", 261-pound Gresham is, quite simply, a wide receiver playing tight end. And Lewis was worried in camp about making sure the Bengals gave Shipley enough snaps so that he'd become the slot receiver Palmer has not had in his six seasons as Cincy's starter.

Keeping the receivers happy is further complicated by the Bengals' transition to a more run-oriented offense. Behind workhorse back Cedric Benson, Cincinnati rushed the ball on 50% of its offensive snaps last year—an increase from 42% over the previous two seasons—and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski says that balance won't change much in 2010, despite the additions to the passing game.

"There's definitely potential for problems," Palmer said concerning ball distribution. "But we saw what wins in the AFC North last year. What wins is running for 120 yards or more every week in the division. We are a running football team."

Palmer had a good summer throwing the ball—"Carson looks absolutely fantastic," Ochocinco said early in camp—and because of all the attention to the newcomers, he was able to work on his adjustments in peace. What Lewis admires in Palmer is his ability to shrug off adversity. The coach is confident that his QB can put out the wildfires sure to come in the passing game this year. Palmer agrees.

"I believe that if any quarterback can deal with the kind of issues we might have, it's me," Palmer says. "There will be some arguments, but they'll be out of passion. And I've been around for a while. I'll handle them."

He'd better. The most anticipated Bengals season in years will depend on Palmer's steady hand on the field and in the locker room.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH MARVIN LEWIS

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 24

QB CARSON PALMER

G 16

ATT 466

COMP 282

PCT 60.5

YARDS 3,094

TD 21

INT 13

RATING 83.6

RB CEDRIC BENSON

G 13

ATT 301

YARDS 1,251

AVG 4.2

REC 17

YARDS 111

AVG 6.5

TTD 6

FB FUI VAKAPUNA

G 0

ATT 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

REC 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

TTD 0

WR CHAD OCHOCINCO

G 16

REC 72

YARDS 1,047

TTD 9

WR TERRELL OWENS

G 16

REC 55

YARDS 829

TTD 6

TE REGGIE KELLY*

G 16

REC 31

YARDS 207

TTD 0

LT ANDREW WHITWORTH

G 16

HT 6'7"

WT 335

LG NATE LIVINGS

G 14

HT 6'5"

WT 332

C KYLE COOK

G 16

HT 6'3"

WT 316

RG BOBBIE WILLIAMS

G 16

HT 6'4"

WT 345

RT DENNIS ROLAND

G 16

HT 6'9"

WT 320

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 4

DE ROBERT GEATHERS

G 15

TACKLES 36

SACKS 3½

INT 0

DT DOMATA PEKO

G 11

TACKLES 23

SACKS 0

INT 0

DT TANK JOHNSON

G 14

TACKLES 29

SACKS 2

INT 0

DE ANTWAN ODOM

G 6

TACKLES 19

SACKS 8

INT 0

LB KEITH RIVERS

G 13

TACKLES 71

SACKS 1

INT 1

LB DHANI JONES

G 16

TACKLES 113

SACKS 3½

INT 0

LB REY MAUALUGA

G 15

TACKLES 59

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB JOHNATHAN JOSEPH

G 16

TACKLES 68

SACKS 0

INT 6

FS CHRIS CROCKER

G 13

TACKLES 51

SACKS 0

INT 2

SS ROY WILLIAMS

G 4

TACKLES 26

SACKS 0

INT 0

CB LEON HALL

G 16

TACKLES 65

SACKS 0

INT 6

SPECIAL TEAMS

P KEVIN HUBER

PUNTS 86

AVG 43.2

NET 36.3

K MIKE NUGENT

FG 4--8

XP 14--14

POINTS 26

PR QUAN COSBY

RET 53

AVG 13.5

TD 0

KR BERNARD SCOTT

RET 16

AVG 31.5

TD 1

New acquisition

* 2008 Stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 10--6

September

12 at New England

19 Baltimore

26 at Carolina

October

3 at Cleveland

10 Tampa Bay

17 BYE

24 at Atlanta

31 Miami

November

8 Pittsburgh (M)

14 at Indianapolis

21 Buffalo

25 at N.Y. Jets (T)

December

5 New Orleans

12 at Pittsburgh

19 Cleveland

26 San Diego

January

2 at Baltimore

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: 4

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .539

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 7

ANALYSIS

The Bengals pay the price for winning their division for just the second time in 18 years, drawing first-place opponents in the Pats, Colts and Chargers. Thanksgiving Day offers a chance for revenge against the Jets, who beat them twice in a row at the end of 2009. One edge Cincinnati does have: late-season home games against warm-weather powers New Orleans and San Diego.

SPOTLIGHT

Adam Jones, Cornerback

AS MARVIN LEWIS visited U.S. military installations overseas this summer, he got daily reminders of his job back home: text messages from Adam (Pacman) Jones assuring Lewis that he was getting his work in, even on Fourth of July weekend.

The Bengals have one of the best cornerback tandems in football in former first-round picks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. Jones, who has had more arrests (six) than NFL seasons (this will be his fourth; he's missed most of two because of suspensions), was brought in to play the nickel and will likely be responsible for the slot receiver against three- and four-receiver sets. Jones is an accomplished cover man, and if his mind is right and he stays out of trouble, he could be the best third corner in the game. But that's a big if. "This chance is so important," he says. "I don't run with the crowd I used to. I know I'm under the microscope, but it's a different me. I'm excited."

So far Jones, 26, has avoided pitfalls. He says that several times during the off-season his car was trailed by police, and once, he says, cops checked his license plate to see if the car he was driving was stolen. In the past those kinds of things would have caused him to go ballistic. "Now," Jones says, "I know I can't do that. I realize I can't afford to make a mistake, and I'm not going to. I'm going to prove I can finally be the player I was drafted to be."

Look for Jones and nickel safety Gibril Wilson to give Cincy the secondary depth it lacked last year. The Bengals face Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco four times; backup DBs can play 30 snaps a game. Jones might not start, but he'll be invaluable against spread passing games. If he can stay on the field.

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHADJUSTING Palmer has tweaked his footwork to buy himself more time against the pass rush.PHOTOJASON POHUSKI/CAL SPORT MEDIA