Thursday, November 12, 2009

Looking Forward to Sunday's Game: Reasons for Concern

The Bengals are for real this year, finally.

Reasons for Concern? Eh, where to start? We might begin with the dude in the second photo, above, Cedric Benson, currently the NFL's second-leading ball carrier. The guy is a battering ram. He also has a pedigree, having been the No. 4 overall choice in the NFL draft out of the University of Texas; and he has something to prove, having been ridden out of Chicago, derisively, after abject failure with the Bears, along with several unfortunate incidents apparently involving alcohol and law enforcement authorities.

Whatever. Benson's gotten his act together, and good for him. As far as Steel Triangle is concerned, the Bengals offense this year begins with Benson -- but it doesn't end there.

Quarterback Carson Palmer is healthy once again and playing with a newfound confidence. His stable of receivers is four-deep, even without Chris Henry, who is out for the season with a broken arm. We all know Chad Ochocinco, their No. 1 receiver. The No. 2 slot is being filled more than capably by veteran wideout Laveraneus Coles, who's a speedster with good hands.

Equally worrisome, and perhaps more so, is their No. 3 receiver, second-year man Andre Caldwell, who caught the winning touchdown pass when the Bengals beat the Steelers in September. A few days before the April 2008 draft, Steel Triangle identified Caldwell is a guy who we'd like to see the Steelers draft. We figured third round might be good. Caldwell went in the third round, all right, 98th overall to Cincinnati. The Steelers' third-round pick? UCLA linebacker Bruce Davis -- 88th overall, 10 picks ahead of Caldwell. The Steelers cut Davis at the end of training camp this year. Well, you can't get every player you want and, for what it's worth (then posting as Joey Porter's Pit Bulls), we also identified current Steelers guard Doug Legursky as a guy we'd like to see in Black 'n Gold. In any case, Caldwell's a good one.

Finally, with respect to the Cincinnati offense (and this is not to be discounted), the offensive line has jelled quickly and is playing with a physicality not seen in Cincinnati in a long, long time.

As for their defense, it's good too, and it all starts with stellar play at the corners. Former first-rounders Leon Hall and Jonathon Joseph are emerging as legitimate shutdown corners. Joseph especially has shown a proclivity for the spectacular interception. Their respective ability to play effective man-to-man at each corner gives Cincinnati Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer much latitude to free up his safeties and linebackers to clog and cover other areas of the field. It helps, too, that Cincinnati's front seven is playing with a newfound ferocity, with one of its most aggressive players being the lion-maned Samoan defensive end, Domata Peko, No. 94, who hails from Pago Pago (and, subsequently, Michigan State. Interestingly (or not), former Steeler washout Orien Harris backs up Peko, who was voted by his teammates as a team captain.

For one thing, the linebacking corps is finally settled, with 2008 first-rounder Keith Rivers back to health (no thanks to Hines Ward); world traveler Dhani Jones playing well; and 2009 second-rounder Rey Maualuga stepping right into a starting role out of USC -- and reminding fans of a young Junior Seau.

Okay, enough, about the Bengals. They're for real, and they're chomping at the proverbial bit for a chance to take down the Steelers.

But that ain't gonna happen, is it. No, didn't think so. Not even a question.

Tomorrow: Reasons for Optimism.

One other thing: Happy Birthday, Pro Football -- on this date in history, pro football was born.

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