2004 Bengals: Finally Tigers Or Still Fraidy Cats?
By Justin Paley
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer and
BengalsZone.com Staff Writer
September 10th, 2004
The one word the Jets staff hopes all will use when describing the 2004 team on both sides of the ball is EXPLOSIVE. This was the goal in camp and now we will see if it all comes together when they begin their season on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Despite entering his fifth year in the NFL, QB Chad Pennington has never made a start on opening day. That will change when Pennington takes the field Sunday. Pennington is the veteran signal-caller on now that Vinny Testaverde is in Dallas. Pennington certainly has earned the respect of his teammates.
Jets General Manager Terry Bradway has made a number of moves that will hopefully improve the team. One of the smartest moves was acquiring WR Justin McCareins from Tennessee for a 2nd round draft pick. McCareins along with WR Santana Moss give Pennington two speedy targets to throw to. WR Wayne Chrebet has battled injuries through most of preseason and is listed as probable for Sunday’s opener with a quadriceps injury. Rookie Jerricho Cotchery stood out in preseason and is another weapon for Pennington. A big key for the Jets to have a good year will be RB Curtis Martin getting off to a good start. Martin had a formidable preseason where he got a lot more work than usual and hopes it will carry over and end his history of September slumps.
Protecting Pennington and opening up the holes for Martin will be the offensive line. The anchor of the o-line is C Kevin Mawae. Other contributors will be G Brandon Moore, RT Kareem McKenzie, LT Jason Fabini and LG Pete Kendall. The Jets signed Kendall five days after he was surprisingly cut by Arizona. Kendall brings stability that was in question all off-season.
Last year under Ted Cottrell the Jets were old, slow, and conservative on defense. Now with Cottrell a goner and Donnie Henderson running the show, the Jets D has received a makeover that brought youth and speed. Add Henderson’s aggressive gameplan and hopefully it will create a lethal combo.
The starting front four features three former first round draft picks and Head Coach Herman Edwards has said now is the time for them to step up. DE John Abraham, NT Jason Ferguson, DT Dewayne Robertson, and DE Shaun Ellis will be the first line of defense.
Ferguson is excited about the season.
“Donnie (Henderson) is bringing it,” Ferguson said. He’s got everybody’s juices flowing. He’s letting everybody know that we are not going to give up the run this year.”
The Jets defensive front will surely get a good test this week against talented Bengals HB Rudi Johnson.
At linebacker, Sam Cowart is the man in the middle while FA LB Eric Barton has brought a fiery attitude over from Oakland. Rookie Jonathan Vilma will back up Cowart.
The secondary took a hit with the loss of CB Ray Mickens to a knee injury, placing Mickens on the IR. Veteran CB Donnie Abraham survived the defensive purge in the off-season and is expected to play an important role. At the other CB spot is David Barrett, who came to the team from Arizona as a free agent. Safeties Reggie Tongue, Jon McGraw, and Erik Coleman will also need to step up in the secondary with talented Bengals WR’s Chad Johnson and WR Peter Warrick running routes.
For the Jets to send the fans home happy on opening day, here are the keys:
1. Blitz, Blitz, Blitz: No doubt that Carson Palmer is a talented QB and he certainly could develop into one of the premier signal callers in the league. But this will be his first NFL start and the new aggressive Jets defense needs to rattle Palmer as much as possible. If they can force him into making bad decisions, it will force turnovers.
Prediction: Jets win 27-10 as Pennington passes for over 300 yards and the Jets defense rattles Palmer all day, sending the fans home happy.
Stall The Jets
Well, it’s that time of year again. In the words of Henry V (sort of), “Once more into the breach, dear friends,” or fill the field up with Bengal dead. The difference this year for Bengals fans is that we finally have an army with a fighting chance. The last time Cincinnati fans were filled with this much optimism was…well, let’s just say it’s been a while. This Sunday marks the 2004 debut of year two under the Lewis regime. It’s a team that is unmistakably of his making and one that seems to have the support of an entire city. Once again, you can eavesdrop on fans and hear talk of the playoffs and chants of “Who Dey!” all through Cincinnati.
Yes, the excitement is great, but let’s try not to get carried away. While this team has all the potential in the world, what looks to be a promising season will be anything but easy for the Bengals. They are fielding an exceptionally young team with 10 of this years 11 draft picks making the initial roster cuts, and with number eleven biding his time on the practice squad. Along with the influx of youth comes athleticism, speed, and explosiveness. The flip side of the coin, however, seems to show that along with those prized qualities there will be young mistakes, and more than a few ups and downs along the way. The season opener against the Jets will be a good barometer for just how well the young players have progressed, and how well the entire team has progressed in their quest to regain widespread respect from around the league.
The most widely-covered story around this game from a media standpoint will be the regular season premier of the Bengals’ new arm in starter Carson Palmer. The former Heisman winner has looked especially sharp throughout the preseason on his way to compiling a solid 88.5 passer rating, which would be much better were it not for a few wide receiver errors that turned probable touchdowns into interceptions. Expect for the Jets to try and exploit Palmer’s inexperience by feeding him a steady diet of blitzes, and giving him every different look they have hoping they can confuse him into making a few mistakes. A large part of this game will be decided in the battle between the Jets’ front four versus the Bengals’ offensive line. If Palmer gets the protection he needs, then he should have a relatively easy time against the Jets secondary, which will likely be starting Reggie Tongue and Erik Coleman at safety due to injury issues and will also be without starting cornerback Ray Mickens, out with a knee injury. While Palmer may be young, he has shown great poise throughout the preseason, and should be able to take advantage of an overmatched Jets secondary given the time to make his reads. Also up to the offensive line will be giving Rudi Johnson plenty of running room. This is sure to be a Bengals staple this year with their strong line, especially after the offseason pickup of run-blocking specialist Bobbie Williams. They will likely be without second year standout Eric Steinbach, but shouldn’t miss a beat with the versatile Larry Moore filling in. The Bengals are sure to pound the run after doing so with great success throughout the preseason, averaging 114.5 yards per game. They also have a back (in Johnson) that enjoys getting a large number of carries. If the Jets can’t stop Johnson, then that will even further expose possible problems in their secondary allowing for the Bengals offense to get rolling, which is the last thing Jets fans want to see. A low-scoring defensive battle would be much more to their favor.
Speaking of defense, the Bengals will be fielding a team that features some new faces, but also quite a few question marks. Brian Simmons and Deltha O’Neal are still listed as questionable, and even if O’Neal does play, his lack of preseason work leaves his progress as relatively unknown. At linebacker, and the secondary, a new class of rookies may get more playing time than originally anticipated. Madieu Williams has turned into one of the drafts most pleasant surprises (thanks Corey Dillon). Keiwan Ratliff also flashed some skill that could earn him a glimpse of regular season action this Sunday. At linebacker, both Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson have shown themselves worthy of some playing time. There is no doubt that the Bengals will field a more athletic defense than last year, but whether they will be as immediately effective is yet to be seen. A large part of the Bengals’ success this Sunday will depend on how they are able to stop Jets quarterback Chad Pennington. With a new contract recently completed, and a fairly successful offseason, there is a lot of hype surrounding Pennington this year. He also has a new weapon to throw to in second year receiver, Justin McCairens. Also thrown into the equation is the always reliable Curtis Martin. While not making headlines over the past two seasons, and amidst talk of him slowing down due to age, Martin has quietly put up big yardage numbers, and has had a solid preseason, which has left Jets fans feeling good about their running attack. To stop the Jets offense, the Bengals will need to hit hard at the line of scrimmage and get some pressure on Pennington, which will be more than a small task against a solid Jets line. The Bengals have looked strong against the run throughout the preseason, finishing first in run yards allowed in the AFC by only allowing 72 yards per game. However, they finished 12th in passing yards allowed at just over 220 yards per game, and also allowed a 63.3 completion percentage to opposing offenses. They have consistently struggled with secondary play and their ability to pressure the opposing quarterback, which has been a problem for quite a few years now.
Expect for this to be a hard fought (and ugly) game. Both teams started off slowly last year, and are eager to get off to much faster start this year. This matchup is especially compelling given that some experts believe both of these teams will be fighting for wild-card spots toward the end of the season. This game could go either way, but here are some keys for Bengals fans to keep an eye on.
Skyline’s 3-Ways to Success:
1. The o-line has to keep the heat off Palmer: For the young quarterback to have a good game, he will need time to make his reads and get the ball away without too many green jerseys in his face. He has shown great poise for a young quarterback, and should be able to handle the regular season atmosphere, but strong protection can only help.
FINAL PREDICTION: Bengals lose a tough one 27-20.