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Hobson's Choice: Beyond Palmer

Q: In a discussion with and The Cincinnati Enquirer, Mike Brown said Marvin Lewis had done some incredible work as his coach and "This thing would take a quantum leap forward if we just had Carson Palmer back on the field playing the way he can play." Does Mike Brown even believe his own words coming from his mouth? We were 0-4 with Carson starting this year. Carson does make us a better team but if we can't protect him or block for our running backs we are still a 1-10-1 team.
--Kzfan, Newport, OR

KZFAN: The worst thing that can happen in the next month is to write off the offensive woes to "Carson got hurt." The erosion began before Ryan Fitzpatrick learned the offense. If there is anyone who knows the Bengals have scored two touchdowns or less in 23 of the last 28 games it is offensive proponent Mike Brown.

Brown knows all this. The maddest he's ever been may have been the morning back in August after Palmer got his nose broken in a preseason game. He knows the sack numbers and he knows the yards per carry and unless I'm misreading the thing completely, he and Marvin both know there are more problems than the change in quarterback. It's not like they've been on a cruise to Tahiti since 2007. In those stretch of 28 games, the Bengals have averaged 19 points, 298 yards, and 3.6 yards per carry. In the 32 games of 2005 and 2006, it was 24.8, 355 and 4.0.


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We all know the reasons. The running game never recovered from losing center Richie Braham. Their deep receiving corps shriveled to injury and free agency. Chris Henry has done nothing since Roger Goodell suspended him for the first eight games of the 2007 season and has not been worth the angst and turbulence. Chad Ocho Cinco has been hurt, plus his long-ball opportunities ebb and flow with the running game. The pass protection, which always made them dangerous in the sack-happy AFC North, is a shell of itself with production dropping off from everyone involved.

It is obviously both scheme and personnel and it's obvious that losing Palmer is the biggest factor in the current malaise. But you're also right. It's just as obvious if they don't fix it, we'll be talking about another Carson Palmer body part (take your pick) a year from now instead of a playoff run.

Q: This season is clearly over, however I still am a strong believer that this team has talent. Look at how close we played the Giants and Cowboys, two of the better teams in the league. How comparable do you think this team is to the Dolphins of last year? They went 1-15 and now are in the playoff hunt. Do you think the Bengals could do something similar in 2009?
--Peter, Pittsburgh, PA

PETER: With a healthy Carson Palmer and favorable schedule rotation (AFC West, NFC North) like the Dolphins have, anything is possible. But they will also have to do some things like the Dolphins did this past offseason by making some gains in mid-level free agency and getting better play out of some veterans.

And, getting some pop out of the draft right away. No Jerome Simpson or Jason Shirley projects. Left tackle Jake Long is playing franchise-building football down there and that's the kind of guy the Bengals are going to have a chance to get at the top of the draft on either side of the line.

Miami has received big-time play out of veteran linebacker Joey Porter, defensive end Matt Roth, cornerback Will Allen, and wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., after not doing much last season. That's the same kind of production the Bengals are going to need next year from ends Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom and cornerback Johnathan Joseph, a trio of talented starters now on IR that didn't have stat-popping seasons.

You figure the Bengals are going to have to do more than draft to fill holes (running back, fullback, center) and even though they disdain free agency, it looks like that's the place they can meet some needs right away. It appears they're going to need a center (Eric Ghiaciuc is unsigned) and why not go after a veteran instead of breaking in a kid all over again at such a key position?

The Dolphins spent a relatively modest $9 million bonus to sign a key guy in left guard Justin Smiley and the Bengals ought to think about going that way at center.

So, yeah, they could mirror Miami. The Dolphins caught a huge break this year playing the AFC West and NFC West, where they have won five of their seven games. In '09, the Bengals draw the AFC West and NFC North, where currently two winning teams reside and where the teams this season have gone 17-45 outside their division.

The populace wants Bengals-Lions?

They get it at Paul Brown Stadium along with the 2-10 Chiefs, 7-5 Broncos and 6-6 Bears. The Bengals go to 3-9 Oakland, 4-8 San Diego, 5-7 Green Bay and 7-5 Minnesota.

The thing is, the Dolphins already had running back Ronnie Brown, who has got to finish in the top 10 in an MVP vote. That's the position where they need to have an impact right away in the draft a la Chris Johnson. But they also need a veteran and a Cedric Benson re-signing would be a solid foray into mid-level free agency before you even get out of the gate.

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