Over the course of a day this week, I was fortunate enough to have a nice conversation with Josh Kirkendall from SBN's Bengals site Cincy Jungle. In lieu of the usual question exchange ahead of a game, which can get a little stale when you're both discussing such powerhouse teams in the league this year, we had the chance to commensurate, just two passionate fans pondering the poor state of their teams.
Don't let the extra win fool you, the Bengals are slogging their way through their own disappointing season. Fans tiring of coaches, star quarterbacks struggling to make passes, and injuries, oh my!
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there are a lot more teams struggling through a bad year than I can recall from seasons past. ...I think I've got a post for next week now too.
Anyway, my thanks to Josh from Cincy Jungle. This was his idea and it's a fine one, which I hope at least gives us something more in depth than an Xs and Os run down of the game ahead. You may also notice, we had this conversation prior to the news that Bulger's out for the week.
Josh: One of the more intriguing debates in Cincinnati, with the Rams, is the 2004 draft. If you remember, the Bengals gave their 24th pick to the Rams for a 26th pick and a 4th round pick (#127). The Bengals picked up Stacy Andrews -- currently the starting right tackle for the injured Willie Anderson -- for their 4th round pick and Chris Perry for their first pick. It's intriguing because of what we know now -- the Bengals were going to pick up a running back. Instead of picking up Steven Jackson, the Bengals wanted the second pick from the trade and decided on Chris Perry. His injuries are well noted as are Jackson's accomplishments in such a short period of time.
Ryan: That's kind of interesting that you bring that up. All year and the year before that and the year before that...critics have hammered the Rams for the lack of success through the draft; Jackson's one of very few players left from the Rams drafts since 1999. That trade's a good reminder that the team didn't totally throw away opportunities in the draft. The writing was on the wall that we would need an understudy for the great Marshall Faulk and Jackson was picked for that role. If only we had an offensive line to open more holes for him, we might have seen so much more out of him this season. I'm sure that would have made the memories that much better for Bengals fans, huh?
Still, I understand why the Bengals didn't feel the need to draft him then as Rudi Johnson emerged. How's Rudi doing nowadays? Does second fiddle status to Watson loom in his future?
Josh: There's so many unknowns with Bengals running backs. Kenny Watson is a true third down back. Blocks and receives exceptionally well. While he's playing well for the injured Rudi Johnson, he's not the feature back. On IR this season is Chris Perry and Kenny Irons. Perry, we know, is too fragile to become the feature back. Kenny Irons, the Auburn running back expected to become the feature back, shredded his knee early in preseason.
Rudi isn't well. In the offseason before 2006, Rudi decided to change his body and reduce his weight. It also significantly lowered his running power. His legs, once the size of trees, have slimmed. His body mass that benefited him between the tackles no longer exists. He's just about done. Speaking of which, has Jackson returned to 100%?
The weather Sunday is expected to have rain with temperatures around the mid-50s. I noted that the Rams, since 2004, are 8-15 outside.
Ryan: Jackson is as healthy as he's going to get this season, and it's safe to say that he is near 100% anyway. That silk wall of an o-line isn't making it any easier for him though.
Well, the home dome used to be a real advantage too, but the Rams needed five tries before they could get a win there. This is one season where the splits can't hide the general crappiness of the team.
Holt has 29 receptions for 285 and 1 TD in five games outdoors this season versus 43 receptions, 659 yards, and 5 TDs in 7 games under a roof this season. That, obviously, is a concern for the Rams, but Bennett and McMichael could factor heavier into the game plan. That is of course assuming there is some kind of cohesive game plan among the offensive geniuses running our team.
Which reminds me that the split I should really direct your attention to is the Rams' second half play. The Rams have led at the half in six games this season - no small feat in and of itself - and hung on to win three. Through all 12 games, we've been outscored 192-66 in the second half. A big part of that problem is the offense unable to maintain possession through a variety of reasons, turnovers, penalties, poor execution, etc. Inside or outside that's one area that needs to be addressed. Speaking of inconsistency, I saw that Football Outsiders was pretty critical of Palmer's week in, week out performance and cited his inability to make throws against Pittsburgh last week.
Josh: Palmer is having some issues right now stemming mostly from an ineffective rushing offense, a musical chairs offensive line and the lack of wide receiver depth. While Chris Henry was suspended, the Bengals didn't have that #3 guy to free up Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Palmer's game against Pittsburgh was a bad one. Add that game with the game three weeks ago against the Cardinals where he recorded a career-high four interceptions.
And it's not just those games. His supporting cast, lack thereof, has raised the pressure on Palmer's shoulders forcing him to make impossible throws -- many of which are on third-and-long putting him on pace for a career-high 20 interceptions this season. We learn about people during controversy and adversity. And while Palmer is one of the league's best quarterbacks, a gifted technician with a sound mind, a class act, he's been challenged from fans and the media to step up and win us these games -- supporting cast or not.
I know many people don't like the injury excuse for a team's futility. The Bengals have seen two running backs, five linebackers and a large contingent of their special teams players fall to injury. I'm sure Rams fans know injuries as well.
Ryan: The injuries have only added to the confusion Rams fans experience. Obviously, the decimated offensive line has hurt us quite a bit. I don't know that it's even worth looking up how many different line combos the Rams have used this season, close to a new one every week. The effects are showing up everywhere, most notably in the health of our quarterbacks. The really perplexing thing about the injuries has been the responses from the defense and the offense to key injuries. When Leonard Little went down for the season, I think we all pretty much assumed things were going to get ugly, but lo and behold, the defense had their best games of the season when Haslett used it as an opportunity to use a 3-4 set up with Carriker and the beast known as Will Witherspoon as attacking DEs. Conversely, there's been almost nothing but disappointment that the offense has failed to adapt in a similar fashion to the injuries. It's like two different teams.
It's amazing how much you find out about coaches in their response to injuries, isn't it?
Josh: The Bengals are a weird bunch. While a majority of their injuries has come from the defense, the Bengals offense is the one that's been the most inconsistent. Right now, the defense is playing a four-game stretch that we haven't seen in nearly six years. On offense, Carson Palmer, without much help around him, has turned in two of his career's worst performances in the past three games.
I have to admit, and I'm playing the role of Bengals-homer here, that if it weren't for the plane wreck that is the New Orleans Saints, I could make the case that the Cincinnati Bengals are the NFL's most disappointing team. While injuries played the biggest role, the Bengals just haven't been able to avoid adversity that comes with a losing team. And in a lot of ways, I think the Rams and their fans can relate.
As for Sunday, this game could be a fun one. There's no pressure on either team. No playoff implications. Both teams can unleash and have fun. If there's a silver lining for Sunday, it's games like this.
Ryan: Inconsistency? Disappointing? Unable to avoid adversity? I had to double check your email address to make sure you weren't a Rams writer too. I think we can definitely relate.
I do have a theory on injuries to offense and defensive players. First, let me state for the record, I'm no expert, so this is just my own musing and nothing more. However, I think defenses can cope with key injuries better than offenses. Defenses have the luxury of reshuffling their players and adjusting their lineups, something they do from possession to possession anyway. On the other side of the ball, the more players you lose, the more limited you are in what plays you can make. The obvious example is the quarter back, but the tattered rags the Rams have sewn together for an o-line this year make the point too. Of course, it's necessary to mention that the better the coach and the coordinator the better units adjust to injuries.
The Rams, many would argue, have actually gotten more conservative on offense in the wake of a throwaway season. The theory being that Linehan's concern about his job security has made wins even more precious, thus sending him into "don't lose" mode when they get the lead. Oh such dramatics! I am looking forward to this game, because it could be a real shoot out, the kind we Rams fans used to covet back in the Turf Show days. Then again, it might not.
Josh: Agree on the injury front. One or two players on offense go down to injury could have a larger impact than more defensive players going down. Good point.
Cincinnati fans and media have completely changed their perception about Marvin Lewis. Whereas he was considered a savior of sorts, he's now being questioned if he can ever get this team back to the playoffs. And while Mike Brown said that Marvin Lewis is safe, many fans are determined to see Lewis fired.
Is Linehan's future with the Rams pretty much done?
Ryan: In reading your site, I notice the offensive coordinator is taking some heat too.
Good question about Linehan's future. For most of the season, that's been a given, but now there's enough talk under the radar that he's saved himself with a few wins and a bevy of injury excuses. Personally, I think they need to move on, and the injury epidemic allows Linehan to save some face in his post-Rams job search. (There have already been rumors that he's a candidate for the Washington State vacancy.) Still, I'd put the odds on Linehan being fired (or some other more amicable arrangement) at 85%.
Josh: Since 2001, Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has been the source of many frustrations. In recent seasons, that frustration includes, but not limited to, the lack of a balanced offense. Carson Palmer is a tremendous talent. In terms of technician and talent. He's truly in the top class of pocket quarterbacks with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. While their supporting class is much better, the idea of a pass-only offense can not exist with any team other than the Patriots -- and that's because they have the league completely confused with their spread offense. Bratkowski's play calling has always been suspect because he employs a high-paced offense whereas he maybe should tone it down some. When the team falls behind early, he panics barely running the ball.
I have to ask. Watching Kurt Warner in Arizona, do you find yourself reminiscing? I only ask because the Rams were an amazing team several years ago -- if only for a few seasons. Back then, it seemed that they, like the Patriots today, were the class of the league. It's interesting to me. The 2001 Super Bowl, where the Patriots beat the Rams, was like a passing of the torch for NFL supremacy.
Ryan: Warner gave fans here plenty of headaches too. It seemed like he always dropped the ball or made bad passes at the worst possible time. The Rams are fine with Bulger at QB, it's the supporting cast of characters that have been the problem. His injury issues this year have all resulted from really, really poor blocking from the retreads on the offensive line in front of him. And the Rams front office has had a huge problem, since that fateful passing of the torch, with keeping their productive players and finding suitable replacements. Just look at the impact guys like London Fletcher or Grant Wistrom have had after leaving the Rams. I could rattle off a long list of names here, but those two sum it up nicely.
Predictions for Sunday's game?
Josh: If I were a betting man, I'd be poor as a dog. I think the Bengals offense will rebound but I'm still slightly concerned about the passing defense. I'm thinking shootout. You?
Ryan: Well, with Rams CB Tye Hill out, I'm less optimistic about our prospects. I think if Palmer and his receivers have any rhythm at all, the Bengals will win. I've predicted lots of shootouts this season only to see the Rams put up less than 20 points. I'm terrible at predictions.
Josh: And the Bengals defense has been playing better. Fortunately for Rams fans, the Bengals are playing at a high level of inconsistency.