2006 NFL Preview: Cincinnati Bengals

Last Year

There was a time when the Cincinnati Bengals were broken-hearted, and love wasn't much of a friend of theirs. But with the arrivals of Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis, the tables have turned and the Bengals and them losing ways have parted. They won the AFC North and were on pace for a prolonged playoff run until a freak injury to Palmer left them cryin' — like that Aerosmith song. With a very difficult schedule in place and incessant off-field issues, the Bengals will find out that love is sweet misery in 2006 if they don't stay focused.

What We Learned From Last Year

How important is stability for a franchise, you ask?

Well after suffering through head coaches like David Shula, Bruce Coslet, and Dick LeBeau and laboring with subpar quarterbacks David Klingler, Jeff Blake, Neil O'Donnell, Akili Smith, and Jon Kitna, it was imperative for the Bengals to finally find some consistency with Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer.

The way Palmer finished the 2004 season with 11 touchdowns in his final four starts, the general feeling was that he was ready to blossom into that long-awaited hero who could take the Bengals from the basement back to the main floor.

Palmer was not only outstanding in the early going, he was instrumental in the Bengals' success in 2005. He led a young team in search of confidence to a 5-1 record in the first six weeks, throwing 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions in that span.

In 2000, the Bengals drafted Peter Warrick right after their terrific tandem of Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott left town, but Warrick provided only four mediocre seasons. Combined with a long-term injury in 2004 and the unwillingness to take a pay cut prior to the 2005 season, the Bengals parted ways with the underachiever.

But the Bengals entailed one of the league's deepest crops of wide receivers and took the hit in stride.

Pro Bowl showboat Chad Johnson's statistics continued to increment as he reached a career-high with 1,432 receiving yards while T.J. Houshmandzadeh got a second season of full-time reps and upped his touchdown total to seven. There were whispers that this was finally the season Kelley Washington would break out, but third-round pick Chris Henry stole his limelight right from training camp, earning five starts and tallying seven touchdowns.

The Bengals were protected up front by one of the league's best offensive line units. Tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones are the best duo in the business and running back Rudi Johnson had no trouble finding open lanes.

He's not the fastest, flashiest, or most explosive running back in the AFC, but Johnson is solid, reliable, and consistent. Aside from a couple of subpar January games, Johnson's game-low was 65 yards. All things considered, that's pretty good.

But he was still spelled quite a bit on third downs and passing situations, as Chris Perry caught 51 passes out of the backfield, fourth-best among running backs in the NFL.

While the Bengals pounded teams with their multi-faceted offense, they didn't always win the war on defense.

Marvin Lewis continued to preach opportunistic defensive tactics as the Bengals have climbed the turnover ratio rankings each and every season since he arrived. When Lewis took over, the Bengals were a -15. They incremented to +2, then +4, then a league-best +24 last season.

Cornerback Deltha O'Neal led the way with 10 interceptions, while Tory James and rookie linebacker Odell Thurman added another five each. While the cornerbacking was good, the rest of the defense had glaring holes.

A torn labrum in the shoulder of sophomore safety Madieu Williams was a painful loss in late September. In his rookie season, Williams' versatile skills were used at several positions and his stout run protection was crucial. Without him, the production from remaining safeties Ifeanyi Ohalete and Kevin Kaesviharn was simply inadequate.

The Bengals had a tough time generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, accumulating a measly 28 sacks (30th in NFL). Justin Smith led the way with six and although Robert Geathers emerged as a threat at times, the Bengals had no real menace on among their front four.

43% of the team's sacks came from the linebackers or the secondary and it grew evident that when the Bengals needed a critical third-down stop, more often than not, they couldn't get it. Only the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills had a worse defensive third-down conversion percentage.

Part of the problem was that the defensive lacked the strength and bulk at the tackle position and opponents could open up paths for their running backs with ease, leading to shorter third-down situations.

Among the linebackers, Thurman struggled with gap assignments early on in the season but was clearly a playmaker. He outplayed first-round pick David Pollack, who had a nose for pressuring the quarterback, but had an average year otherwise.

The Bengals could smell a Super Bowl last season, but an unlucky injury suffocated their chances. The pieces are seemingly in place for another run, but chemistry concerns and a difficult schedule stand in the way.

This Year

With the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New England Patriots all losing key players to free agency, it looked like there would be an opening for the Bengals to step into the role as the AFC's frontrunner.

The opportunity is still obtainable, but a laundry list of off-field personnel issues has raised a few red flags about whether this team is mentally capable of that role.

Odell Thurman, Chris Henry, A.J. Nicholson, Frostee Rucker, and Matthias Askew have all been in trouble with either drugs or the law (or both). Thurman has already been suspended for the first four games of the season, while Henry might have to sit out some time, as well.

Marvin Lewis has a penchant for plucking players with boundless potentials and off-field issues. The plan worked well last year, when the team selected Odell Thurman with the 48th pick, after alcohol and discipline problems dropped him into the second round, and selected Chris Henry with the 83rd pick, after maturity and character concerns saw him slip to the third round.

But Lewis may get burned for sticking his hand in the cookie jar once again this year. Nicholson and Rucker are rookies and have risked being released because of their behavior. The better teams in the NFL don't just blow third- and fifth-round picks.

Even so, none of this deterred the Bengals from spending another third-round pick on yet another player with drug troubles as they drafted linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the supplemental draft. The move is quite possibly to send a message to both Thurman and Nicholson.

To this point, as Portland Trail Blazer-like of a group of miscreants they may have, there have been no death blows dealt to this team but all of these distractions must cease from here on in.

Thurman's loss will shift around the linebackers for the first four games but the team is lucky to have a versatile backup like Landon Johnson around. Stalwart veteran Brian Simmons will likely move into the middle, a position he anchored in the past, and Johnson will fill in for him on the weak side.

Upfront, the Bengals have made some changes, most notably by signing defensive tackle Sam Adams. If he is motivated, he should scratch the itch, but he was very uninspired in Buffalo last season, which led to a lot of bench time for him. He should take some pressure off of John Thornton and if Matthias Askew has had as good of an offseason as everyone says he has (minus the resisting arrest incident), the tackle rotation should be beefed up.

Continuing the theme of solidifying the run defense, strong safety Dexter Jackson was targeted in free agency. He is a steep upgrade in run defense, but does not have great range. With the return of Madieu Williams, in combination with those two key signings, the run defense will get a shot in the arm.

But the Bengals failed to address their mild pass rush in the offseason, which will be a concern throughout the season, especially against the contenders. If they can't manufacture pressure defensively, they will be forced to keep their scoring weapons on the sideline.

On offense, they return all of their starters from last year. The lethal unit rarely turned over the ball, with a franchise-low six fumbles and allowed a franchise-low 21 sacks.

Expect much of the same production, if not better, as concerns about keeping the cohesive offensive line together past this season have all but been put to bed.

Although it doesn't really need to be said, the Bengals don't go anywhere without Palmer this season. With backup Jon Kitna leaving to Detroit via free agency, the Bengals are not equipped with a backup who can lead them for a long period of time.

A strong case can be made that this team is the best in the AFC, but they will have to prove it each and every week. They have the toughest schedule in the NFL and considering the opponents they have to go through, they better not take anything for granted.

Over/Under: 9

The Bengals play four of the other five AFC teams that made the playoffs last season, they square off with the NFC South and the AFC West. They are the best team in this division talent-wise, but the Browns and Ravens are much improved and the Steelers will continue to be a threat. They play: @KC, CLE, @PIT, NE, @TB, CAR, ATL, @BAL, SD, @NO, @CLE, BAL, OAK, @IND, @DEN, and PIT.

Fantasy Sleeper

As troubled off the field as he is, Chris Henry has been a stud on it. He is worth a late round selection because the Bengals love to attack through the air, and should Chad Johnson or T.J. Houshmandzadeh miss any stretch of time, he will be filling in. Also, since the Bengals don't have a threat at tight-end, they look to pick out wide receivers in the red zone.

This is the fourth consecutive season of comprehensive NFL previews by Dave Golokhov. Stay tuned as he brings you previews for all 32 NFL teams! He can be reached at [email protected].

Comments and Conversation

August 9, 2006


Cincy is very talented, they have a very solid Oline and very good skilled players on Offense. Their Defense was NOT good last year. They rank low in many key statistics. If you look at the schedule they played last year vs the teams they will face this year they will be tested.

They definately have the talent but they don’t play the dogs they played last year.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site