Thoughts on the Bengals

Jeff Fisher confirmed today that RB Chris Henry has dropped his appeal of his 4-game suspension. That makes him the second Chris Henry to miss time pursuant to a suspension this year. The other? One of the Titans’ opponents this Sunday, WR Chris Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals’ Chris Henry missed the first 8 games of the season, which means he’s back and played his second game of the year this past Sunday, in the Bengals’ 35-27 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. I saw most of that game, and thought I’d share with you some what the Titans might expect this Sunday.
Offensively, the Bengals seemed to have at least 3 WRs on the field in virtually every non-short yardage situation. When a team has a set of 3 WRs as good as T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson, and Henry, that’s not surprising, but it will present a stiff test for a Titans’ secondary that had three starters miss some or all of Monday’s game against the Broncos. The Bengals toughen the test by adding a no-huddle part of their offense, not giving the defense time to adjust personnel. This is a look the Titans have shown at times, but the Bengals seemed to have more success at it. Part of this may have been that this tended to be a little more of a hurry-up than you normally see when the Titans go no-huddle (or the Colts). One thing that surprised me about the Bengals was how many short passes they threw-Palmer had 37 completions but only 329 yards, an average of under 9 yards per completion. The three WRs each had 8 catches for 80-something yards. RB Kenny Watson out of the backfield also had 8 catches, but for only 50 yards.
Palmer reminded me actually of Brett Favre circa 5 years ago. He was very accurate in the short passing game-he finished 37 of 52, a completion percentage over 71 percentage. Crucially, however, he threw four interceptions, three of which were of the mind-numbingly stupid variety. That surprised me more than anything else-you don’t expect a player of Palmer’s pedigree and past performance to make those terrible passes, but he did, and repeatedly. Charitably, the Cardinals gave him a look he didn’t expect, but I didn’t see them doing anything particularly complicated. And it’s not like this was the only game where Palmer was like this-only the Rams and Saints (just barely) end a drive with an interception more often than the Bengals.
What made those Packer teams so good offensively was they combined that passing game with an effective running game led by Ahman Green. Rudi Johnson is still officially atop the Bengals’ depth chart at RB, but that’s a mistake and one Marvin Lewis seems to realize. As noted above, Kenny Watson tied for the team lead in receptions. He also had more carries than Johnson, and for more yards and a better per carry average. Like Morris and Alexander in Seattle, the “third down back” is better than the more heralded player, and a better fit for the team’s preferred offense.
Of course, the Bengals would have a better rushing offense if they had a better offensive line. The Cardinals don’t have a great defense, but they did a good job of preventing rushing yards when not in the nickel to counter the Bengals’ 3-WR sets and got intermittent pressure on Palmer. The Bengals’ short passing game was probably developed in part to camouflage the weaknesses of the offensive line. The guard problems in particularly appeared to be a problem-the loss of Eric Steinbach looked like a big one. If Haynesworth is back in the lineup, he could have a field day against LG Andrew Whitworth.
Defensively, the Bengals are nothing special at best. Kurt Warner was able to use his mobility (note: significantly less than VY’s) and make throws to WRs who generally were open. Granted, the Cardinals have better WRs than the Titans, but don’t let that make you think the Bengals have a decent secondary. There will definitely be plays available in the passing game on Sunday. And the DBs aren’t the Bengals’ biggest defensive weakness. That would be the linebacking corps, which has been decimated by injury. It’s a collection of the rejects and the unwated, cut players and street free agents. If you can get by the defensive line, there will be running room. There should also be room in the short passing game. Chris Brown showed some good moves against Denver and I’d look for the Titans to try to get him involved catching the ball.
The key in my mind will be the Titans’ defensive health. If the secondary is all ready to play and Haynesworth is in, I expect the Titans to be able to limit the Bengals’ offensive production. Another appearance by Reynaldo Hill in the starting lineup would be a very bad sign for the Titans. Meanwhile, offensively, if VY can keep up the level of play he’s shown for most of the past 6 quarters and the WRs manage to catch the danged ball once in a while, the Titans should be able to put up enough points to win the game.

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