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A 2006 season filled with ups and downs ended with a resounding thud as the Cincinnati Bengals, who were picked by several â€œexpertsâ€ to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLI finished at 8-8 and missed the playoffs after having won the AFC North title in 2005. A botched snap on an extra point attempt cost the Bengals in a loss to Denver in their next to last game and a missed 39 yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation in the last game against Pittsburgh contributed to the Bengals missing the 2006 playoffs. In addition to the on-the-field mistakes, the team was haunted by disappointments off the field including 8 player arrests recorded in calendar 2006. Injuries and suspensions to key players on both sides of the football contributed greatly to the Bengals unfulfilled vision.
When examining the offensive statistics, it would appear that this team should have won more than 8 games. Cincinnati ranked 8th in total offense (341.4 yards per game), 6th in passing but only 26th in rushing. They were 8th in scoring offense at 23.3 points per game and ranked 7th overall in takeaway / giveaway ratio at +7. RB Rudi Johnson finished with very good statistics; 341 carries, 1,309 yards for 3.8 yards per carry, and 12 TD. Maybe they should have run the ball a little bit more and incorporated it more effectively during the teamâ€™s mid-season slump.
QB Carson Palmer has elevated his game to the point that he is considered one of a handful of top QBs in the NFL. In 2005 and 2006 combined Palmer has thrown for 60 TD with only 25 INT. He has been rather vocal about the teamâ€™s reputation for selfishness and the lack of team unity. Speaking on the off-field problems of several players, Palmer had this to say, â€œIt has to stop. If it doesnâ€™t stop, weâ€™re not going to have any fans left and I donâ€™t blame them. Itâ€™s ridiculous. We canâ€™t get through a month without getting a guy arrested. It happens on another team and theyâ€™re shocked and surprised to hear about it. With us, you hear about it and it doesnâ€™t surprise you and you just shake your head and say, â€˜Another one.â€™â€
The WR trio of Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Chris Henry combined for 213 receptions, 3,055 yards and 25 TD. Injuries to OT Levi Jones and C Rich Braham caused some problems for the Bengals in pass protection, but the back-ups appeared to gel as the season wore on. This factor could bode well for the 2007 team in terms of depth assuming that the starters return to the line-up. ITH believes that the Bengals need to find a level of consistency in order to avoid the roller coaster winning and losing streaks that have plagued this team since the arrival of Marvin Lewis as Head Coach. The Bengals filled a need at WR Coach by hiring long-time veteran coach Mike Sheppard to replace the departed Hue Jackson.
Since arriving in Cincinnati a few seasons ago, Marvin Lewisâ€™ defenses have not performed anywhere near what was expected, based upon his tenure in Washington, Baltimore and Pittsburgh as a defensive coach. The numbers for 2006 reflect a continuation of the mediocrity and poor execution that the Bengals have become known for, i.e. they ranked 30th in total defense allowing a whopping 355.1 yards per game. Their pass defense ranked 31st and next to last in the NFL. Their rushing defense improved to 15th in the league and the scoring defense ranked a mediocre 17th. There seemed to be a considerable drop off in the play of the secondary, which was a ball-hawking unit in 2005.
Marvin Lewis has stated that his biggest disappointment with his defense is its failure to establish an identity. Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bresnahan had this to say about the 2006 Bengals, â€œI donâ€™t know if itâ€™s so much an identity. We had so many mixes and matches of starting lineups throughout the year. Whether it be the DBs, whether it be the linebackers changing. At middle linebacker you’ve got Ahmad Brooks playing one week, then Caleb Miller playing the next week, you’ve got Brian Simmons playing the next week. So those are things we have to try and get to a point where we limit that rotation and let guys settle into a position.â€
The team recently re-signed DE Robert Geathers who led the team with 10.5 sacks. With the exception of the late season errors previously mentioned, the special teams performed capably in the hands of K Shayne Graham and P Kyle Larson. The Bengals also led the NFL as the #1 punt coverage unit.
The Bengals figure to be in position to challenge the Ravens for the 2007 AFC North crown. Improvement on defense will be paramount in the off season. Finding a replacement for suspended LB Odell Thurman (assuming that he does not return) will be a major priority and the team is hoping that LB David Pollack recovers from the serious neck injury that he incurred in 2005 which as of this writing appears highly unlikely. They must also modify their schemes to overcome the 20 big plays (20 yards or more) that they gave up in 2006. With the possible exception of a break away RB, the Bengals have the offense necessary to make a Super Bowl run. Their draft and free agent focus needs to be on the defensive side of the ball.