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The Escape from the Lake

There is a lesson to be learned from all of this: never underestimate the will of a trapped animal, or in this case, a trapped color.

The Bengals barely escaped alive from the House of Brown, needing to go a few extra rounds to fully vanquish that desperate group of wild banshees in Cleveland, thanks in large part to the mistakes of long-snapper Brad St. Louis. But like a classic action movie, the golden-boy hero, Carson Palmer, faced with the improbable odds of fourth & 13, scrambles for a first down, saves the day and bails out his buddy, Brad, all in one motion. You could feel a breeze through Cincinnati as fans everywhere let out a sigh of relief.

It was an aesthetically displeasing affair of orange and pink with an abundance of overtime punts. Marvin Lewis initially wanted to punt again and walk away satisfied with a tie until our hero talked the coach into risking it and pulled out a win. It wasn’t quite a Hollywood finish; more of an independent-film-festival finish, but it was good enough for me.

Still, our hero was not without his pitfalls. As good as Palmer has looked down the stretch in games, the offense has yet to operate at full speed, and again had a series of consecutive possessions that resulted in negligible yardage on Sunday.

Much has been made of the conservative play-calling of Bob Bratkowski—his continuous propensity to throw with the lead and run when behind continue to baffle the most casual of observers—but the offensive struggles may run deeper than that, and if not corrected, could become a long-term problem.

Throughout the first four games, Palmer has struggled throwing near the sidelines, and as a result, the explosive effect of the wide receivers has decreased. Time and again, Palmer has either missed his mark, or is simply on a different page than his receivers when throwing laterally to the sides of the field. This problem isn’t a sign of being outsmarted by opposing coaches, but rather rests in the hands (and in the arm) of the players.

Nearly every completion was caught in the middle of the field on Sunday. Tight ends and slot receivers continue to get plenty of looks as defenses are taking away the deep ball by dropping safeties, and the underneath routes become the best option for positive yards. Defenses will continue to force the Bengals to win with their short-game by patrolling the sidelines and daring Palmer to throw it to his wide receivers.

Unfortunately for Cincinnati, that strategy weakens one of Ochocinco’s best strengths: his tip-toes around the sideline. For whatever reason, Chad is one of the best at going limp and getting his feet down in bounds. If Palmer continues to struggle getting completions to the sideline, Chad will only produce at two-thirds of his potential.

But I think that Palmer and his receivers are pros, and, with extra attention to detail and more repetition , will work out this odd passing kink and soon will be chugging along at full steam.

This offense has already proven that it’s capable of game-winning efforts when it matters the most. The offensive line—a huge question mark going into the season—has exceeded expectations in both run blocking and in pass protection. The running game is racking up 4.5 yards a carry, and if you ask me, has been under utilized.

The three-headed monster of Cedric Benson, Brian Leonard, and now suddenly more active, Bernard Scott, has expanded possibilities in both the run and short-passing game. I thought the Bengals should have used those guys more in overtime and chip their way downfield. The Browns defensive line was getting pushed backward (except that monstrosity Shaun Rodgers, no one pushes him anywhere) and Benson and B. Scott were getting decent chunks of yards on each carry. And the long pass play to Coles in the second quarter on first down with a two touchdown lead on their own 10-yard line was unnecessary and foolish. That’s another time to run it, keep the clock moving, win field position, wear down the opposing defense and cut a four-and-a-half-hour game down to three hours.

Defensively, the Bengals allowed two touchdowns on quarterback roll-out plays; something that needs more practice. They also didn’t get enough pressure on Derek Anderson and, for the second week in a row, allowed a rookie receiver to gain over 100 yards. They had their worst game of the season at stopping the run and were ineffective on a handful of their blitz attempts.

But it remains hard to complain about these guys.

Even in a game when Mike Zimmer’s bunch looked fairly average, they still intercepted a pass in the end zone, scored a defensive touchdown and forced punt after punt down the stretch of regulation and throughout overtime. Tank Johnson and Roy Williams return next week from injury to add even more pop to a rugged and unrecognized defense that secretly remains the strength of this Bengals team.

Ugly wins are a necessary ingredient to a quality season; there will be more along the way. The important part is escaping with wins nonetheless and slugging your way to the playoffs. The next step in Baltimore is a doozie, but the Bengals have fought their way into a position to gain some serious footing within the AFC North, and for now, life is good.

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One Response to “The Escape from the Lake”

  1. […] The Escape from the LakeThere is a lesson to be learned from all of this: never underestimate the will of a trapped animal, or in this case, a trapped color. The Bengals barely escaped alive from the House of Brown, nee […]

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