Posted: 6:15 a.m.
But franchise quarterback Carson Palmer, easing more and more into his dual role as locker room leader, remains calm amid the storm, insisting if his unit can avoid "the brain farts" of execution, "we can be as good as it gets in the offensive categories."
On Thursday, wide receiver Chad Johnson called his offense "flat," and doubted he would be thrown to again in Atlanta on Monday night even though the third preseason game is regarded as the dress rehearsal for the regular season with the starters playing into the second half.
"Have we made a big play in the preseason? Serious?" asked Johnson, who has caught three balls for 55 yards. "I doubt it. I probably wouldn't change anybody's mind. My word goes unanswered anyway. I've said enough."
In another breath, Johnson says the offense will be OK and there's nothing to worry about. Palmer shrugged and disagrees about the offense being flat.
"You don't have the same hype and excitement that there is in a real game because this is basically a glorified practice. We won't be flat coming out in the Monday night game (Sept 10)," Palmer said.
Palmer isn't surprised to hear Johnson already calling for the ball. It's never too early.
"I'm not surprised. He'll be all right. He'll get his balls," Palmer said. "That's the way you want these guys. You don't want them to be scared or afraid, or timid and he's none of those things. He wants the ball."
Palmer will try to get Johnson the ball, but he's looking at the offense as a whole and trying to get it back to where it was two years ago, when he had the only triple digit passer rating in Bengals history, Johnson set the team's season receiving yardage record and running back Rudi Johnson set the club's single-season rushing record.
"I think we dropped in offense in every category," Palmer said of '06. "We struggled as an offense period from the year before. We shocked a lot of people a couple of years ago. People weren't expecting to have to worry about us like they did. We went into last year with everybody thinking we were the Indianapolis Colts. Basically, we were one of the best offenses coming in. You get a better look from people.
"Now we've got that target on us. We know we're expected to be one of the better offenses. That's why we have to prepare that much better, practice that much harder, and be that much more in tune with each other and in rhythm with each other because we're going to get defenses' best shots. If we play consistently and efficiently, we should be as good as it gets in the offensive categories because we've got the players and we've got a great system for our players. It just comes down to out-executing defenses. ... On my half, it's not being greedy."
There isn't much greed around without wide receiver Chris Henry for the first eight games and running back Chris Perry for maybe the first five or six. Those were the two X-factors the offense had together in 2005 and were rarely intact last year.
But Palmer is confident other parts of the team are better.
"We've got (wide receiver) Tab Perry. Rudi has gotten a lot better since then. T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) is a lot better," he said. "The two new tight ends (Daniel Coats and Nate Lawrie) are playing great. I've got more experience."
Palmer raves about the vast improvement of Rudi Johnson's hands and how well he's catching the ball these days, joking that he invested some of his signing bonus for a new pair. He noted how Johnson caught a ball like a wide receiver the other day on a ball thrown away from him down the field and how well he moved his body back to the ball to catch it with his hands.
"When you're not sure of your hands, you catch a lot of balls with your body; trapping the ball," Palmer said. "But he's snagging everything with his fingertips. That just shows he's been working on it and made a conscious effort to improve."
Palmer also offered some soothing words along the offensive line. Levi Jones (knee) had his second practice at left tackle of the preseason Thursday and Palmer is hearing right tackle Willie Anderson could be back soon.
"He can be as dominating as anybody we have on the offensive line. He can play whatever he wants ... he probably could play center," said Palmer of a world class track thrower who came into the NFL with 70 college snaps.
"He's vastly improved from last year. He's improved from year to year, but this has been the most improvement," Palmer said of Andrews. "He's always had the God-given talent and the work ethic. It's just a lack of playing football. It's not an easy sport to decide to play in college. It's something you grow up playing. You get a feel for the game and he's finally getting that feel for the game. He's so versatile and he can move, it's amazing for his size."
Even if Jones can't go, Palmer has faith in the depth of the line with Andrews and Whitworth able to move from guard to tackle and Andrews able to move from side to side as a left guard or right tackle.
"If anything happens to Levi, Whitworth can come in and play that position," he said. "If Levi's fine and something happens to anybody else, Whitworth can go play that position. It's a good thing we've got some depth on the offensive line as a whole."
As one of the team leaders, Palmer has earned the right to rib head coach Marvin Lewis about his ankle surgery and he was all over him after Thursday's practice in poking fun about his notorious secrecy he demands on player injuries.
"It's kind of funny around here right now. He won't give out too much information about the injury to his foot. You'll find out in about a month or so," Palmer said. "I saw Marvin fall the day before his surgery trying to move a field goal post for a drill. That might have been the injury."
Palmer called it "hilarious" as Lewis jetted around the field in a golf cart with his injured leg propped up on the seat.
"He's on the far right side of the field and he drove all the way to the other side of the field to tell Jeremi Johnson to get in, and then drove all the way back. I could do nothing but laugh the entire time," he said. "It's kind of funny to see him on the other side of the IR list."
But joking aside, Palmer figures it will help everybody along the way.
"It's kind of a good thing for him to see and know what it's like to be injured and know how badly we want to be healthy and don't want to be standing on the sidelines," he said.