Maybe you thought the Cincinnati Bengals would be worse than the Cleveland Browns this year, but I don't think many people envisioned them being 2-11 entering Week 15. When wide receiver Terrell Owens signed with the Bengals in the offseason, I'm sure the last thing he expected is that his team would be in the cellar for the second season in a row.
Owens has not had a bad season. He has 72 catches for 983 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has surpassed Chad Ochocinco as the team's No. 1 receiver. And, while he has expressed his frustration as the losses have continued to pile on, he seems more restrained than he used to be. Maybe he's hoping that will attract a contending team to sign him in the future.
Still, how can an offense with Carson Palmer at QB, two talented receivers, an up-and-coming rookie tight end, and Cedric Benson at running back be this bad?
Last year, the Bengals were a very tough defensive team. Teams had difficulty running the ball against them and putting points on the board. On offense, the Bengals had become a power run team, and in every close game, Palmer seemed to lead a fourth quarter game-winning drive. This year, it seems like all of those positives turned into negatives.
What happens when the Bengals need a key fourth quarter drive in a close game? Palmer throws a pick six.
What happens when the Bengals try to grind it out on the ground? Benson is averaging just 2.4 yards a carry in his past three games, and 3.5 yards a carry this season.
Let's not even talk about the Bengals being a tough defensive team anymore either. In 2009, the Bengals were seventh in the league at stopping the run, yielding 98.3 yards rushing per game. They were sixth in the league in points allowed, giving up 18.2 points per game. This year, they have fallen to 24th in the league against the run (124.8 yards per game) and 28th in the league in points allowed (26.5 points per game).
Another thing with the Bengals that has declined is how often they pressure the quarterback. They were in the middle of the pack in 2009 in sacks (34 on the season), but this year they are tied for worst in the league with just 18. If Colt McCoy makes his return at quarterback this week, there is no reason why he shouldn't have time to throw the football.
The Bengals began the season at 2-1, but their current 10-game losing streak started in Week 4 against the Browns. It was also Cleveland's first victory of the season, and one of the first times the Browns got to see Peyton Hillis shine in a starting role.
Palmer had arguably his best day of the season against Cleveland, throwing for 374 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Cleveland's secondary has done much better since Eric Wright left the starting lineup though. In Week 11, David Garrard was intercepted three times and only padded his stats thanks to Maurice Jones-Drew's ridiculous screen reception at the end of the game. The next three quarterbacks were each held to less than 200 yards passing, throwing for a combined 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. If Palmer thinks he can drop back and throw at will against Cleveland's secondary again, he might be in for a surprise.
The key for Cleveland here is to avoid falling victim to a two-loss team for the second week in a row. Eric Mangini's team seems motivated each week, but failing to score an offensive touchdown last week is the type of thing that will put an offense into a funk for a few games. If McCoy returns, that is the X-factor that can quickly turn the offense around. That doesn't mean McCoy will light it up through the air, but he has the intangibles to make play with his feet and be smart with the football.
Another small story in this game will be T.J. Ward vs. Jordan Shipley. It almost seemed like Ward's hit earlier this season sparked the greater attention that was given to defenseless receivers, even though Ward's hit still seemed the cleanest. Ochocinco downplayed the importance of the incident for this game, but he is a player who will still go the extra mile to get back in the limelight. It wouldn't surprise me if someone on the Bengals, even an offensive lineman perhaps, targets Ward a few times during the game:
"Now that you mention it, I do remember that hit," Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco said Wednesday in a conference call. "It was so long ago. We've been through so much. I forgot all about that."
The Browns meet the Bengals this Sunday at 1:00 PM. Temperatures are expected to be cold, but precipitation is not in the forecast yet.