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Getting to Know the Enemy: Cincy Jungle Talks Carson Palmer's Struggles, and the Defense

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I was pleased to be joined by Josh Kirkendall from Cincy Jungle, our Cincinnati Bengals affiliate, to preview Sunday's game. Josh talks about the struggles of quarterback Carson Palmer, how the defense compares to last year's, and more.

Chris: "Let's start with the big one: Carson Palmer. Despite having a running game and at least four promising receivers, his production hasn't reflected the talent around him. A few days ago, you highlighted media members stating that Palmer has "lost his fundamentals." Are Palmer's days as the Bengals' starter numbered?"

Josh: "I wouldn’t say that they’re numbered, but he’s definitely not the same quarterback that labeled him as an elite player. His struggles vary from an elbow injury that’s limited his velocity, bad mechanics that’s hurt his accuracy, confidence in the pocket to lacking chemistry with the new talent in the passing game.

However, Palmer hasn’t been the sole struggle with this offense by a long shot. The offensive line is built to run the football, so Palmer’s protection is very thin. Most passing plays are quick three-step drops in which the receivers run quick slants, curls and in-routes, not allowing deeper routes to develop because he just doesn’t have that kind of time.

And unlike last year, where Palmer’s struggles were relegated to poor pass protection and underwhelming talent at receiver, the rushing offense isn’t bailing them out right now."

Chris: "Through three weeks, Cedric Benson has only averaged 3.1 yards per carry, compared to 4.2 yards per carry in 2009. What has been the reason for the dropoff?"

Josh: "Against the New England Patriots, the Bengals were instantly playing from behind, forced into throwing the football after dealing with a four touchdown deficit entering the second half. After Benson rushed for over 120 yards twice against the Ravens last year, Baltimore shifted their gameplan against Benson with eight-man fronts, without a serviceable passing offense to keep Baltimore honest. Much of the same happened against Carolina.

I would say the biggest reason, along with the opposing defenses gameplans, is that the Bengals are struggling to gain any rhythm on offense. Benson aired his frustrations last week saying that the offense has no identity, and several players are beginning to feel frustrated; not because they want the ball, rather they just want to score."

Chris: "So far this year, the Browns and the Bengals have both been pretty good defensively (maybe excluding the Bengals getting torched by Tom Brady in Week 1). Have there been any changes with Cincinnati's defense, or is this pretty much the same exact unit we saw last year?"

Josh: "Week one was an aberration. After Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer took the blame for Cincinnati’s defensive implosion against the Patriots, he reverted back to a simpler approach, as opposed to the complex dynamics he added during the offseason last year.

After that, Cincinnati’s passing defense has completely wrecked opposing quarterbacks, intercepting Joe Flacco four times and only allowing him to record 23 yards passing in the first half. They followed that up by only allowing one completion by Jimmy Clasuen last week.

Cincinnati wanted to incorporate more blitzing schemes and different coverages this year. After doing that against New England, they decided to go back to a mostly simple defense reminiscent of last year’s defense."

Chris: "Tell us about a young player on Cincinnati who could make an impact this week but Cleveland fans might not know about."

Josh: "Wide receiver Jordan Shipley, the Bengals third round pick out of Texas, has been a tremendous addition. If there was such a thing as a T.J. Houshmandzadeh replacement, Shipley would be the closest. Along with his football awareness, finding gaps in the zone and catching the football in traffic, nearly 80% of his receptions are converted to first downs.

Anytime the Bengals line up in three-wide formations, Shipley is in the slot, mostly running short routes to pick up matchup problems with safeties and linebackers. "

Chris: "Last week, CB Eric Wright had his worst day as a pro, giving up three easy touchdowns to WR Anquan Boldin. That might make him a target this week, but then again, Carson Palmer has faced him many times and should know that Wright has been a good cornerback. Do you expect Cincinnati to try to exploit the Browns' secondary nonetheless on the road, or do you think they will try to hammer out a solid running attack?"

Josh: "Carson Palmer has been the focus of a lot of criticism this week. Cincinnati’s offense could go into a "prove it" mindset by gameplanning a massive aerial attack. Well, at least that’s a fan’s hope that we’re all blowing the team’s offensive passing struggles out of proportion.

In all honesty, Cincinnati really wants to get their core rushing offense in rythem, and they should. Last year’s team was a quality physical team that wore other teams down. However, the lack of a passing game really hurt Cincinnati down the stretch when injuries to running backs and to our defense occurred towards the end of the season. "

Once again, I'd like to thank Josh for taking the time to answer my questions.