The bye week for any football fan is never a fun week but it is a good time to take a look back at how your team has progressed and to take a peek into the future. The Bengals aren’t quite halfway into the season but things are definitely going well thus far with a 5-2 record. They had just come off a 45-10 beat down of the Chicago Bears where they played close to perfect in every aspect of the game but things weren’t going that smoothly all season. Their first five games were decided in the last minute and could have easily gone either way. Fortunately the Bengals were on the winning end of four of those and that has given the title of “Cardiac Cats”. Following those games they took a beating at the hands of the Houston Texans in a game
The offense has struggled most of the year. Before the Bears game they were averaging less than 20 points per game. The offensive line was a big question mark coming in with a whole new cast (other than guard Bobbie Williams) and their number one pick, tackle Andre Smith, broke his foot two days after signing. But the o-line has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. They have been a huge factor in making Cedric Benson the leading rusher in the NFL after seven weeks. Carson Palmer seemed to have a hard time getting in rhythm with his receivers after missing most of preseason with an ankle sprain. He did, however, have a great handle on the two minute drill and was able to pull out big last minute wins in three straight division games. Chad Ochocinco has been leading the way for the receivers with 39 catches for 573 yards and 5 touchdowns. Andre Caldwell has been a big target this year making some key third down receptions and a couple of game winning touchdowns. If any weakness still stands out it is the lack of catching ability by the tight ends. Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht were lost in training camp to injuries and no one has been able to step up into that roll.
The reason the Bengals were able to stay the games where the offense struggled is because the defense has been playing great. They have only given up an average of 18.3 point per game after seven games which is good for 6th in the NFL. They are only giving up 88 rushing yards per game which is good for 5th in the NFL. They are struggling against the pass, however, where they rank 30th. Veteran linebacker Dhani Jones leads the team in tackles with 46. The Bengals suffered a big blow in the Texans game when they lost the league leader in sacks, Antwan Odom to a ruptured Achilles tendon. The defense looked to be worn out in that Week 6 game as the Texans marched all over them but it was a great team effort that got them back on top in Week 7.
Special teams have been getting a lot of attention getter this year. Shayne Graham was named the Franchise Player by the Bengals in the offseason but has only gone 6 for 9 in field goal attempts with one missed extra point. Most of the fault there has to go to veteran long snapper Brad St. Louis who was having a terrible time getting off good snaps. The holder for field goals is rookie punter Kevin Huber and he was doing a good job of getting the bad snaps down but Graham was unable to follow through.
The coaching staff deserves some big accolades for the good start. Marvin Lewis took over the team in 2003 after a 2-14 season. He quickly rebuilt the squad and won the AFC North in 2005. But things turned back around shortly after that. Players started getting in trouble and injuries mounted last season and before you knew it they were losing games in a hurry. It appeared that Marvin had lost the team. Over the past year Marvin revamped the roster by getting rid of negative attitudes and started this year with 22 new faces on the roster. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer came in and has his squad is playing some of the best defensive football the Bengals have ever seen. It is hard for me to give much credit to offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. He had a great game plan against the Bears and everything worked perfectly but I still feel his play calling has been too predictable. Hopefully that last game is a sign of things changing.
So what is ahead for the Bengals in 2009? They come out of the bye week looking at two of their toughest games of the year right away - this week against
If the Bengals play like they did against