The Bengals' DVOA rating slid once again, as they now sit at twentieth in the league at a well below-average -6.3%. According to the metric, defense and special teams have been the main issues. While the defense has been overrated by fans, I'm not so sure it's worse than the offense.
Passing the ball and defending the pass -- as well as the kicking game -- are really hurting the ranking at this point. Unfortunately, I don't see this changing defensively. With Antwan Odom on IR, the D will struggle to get a consistent pass rush, which will further expose the poor safety play and thin corner depth.
So far this season, Mike Zimmer has focused on stopping the opposing team's number one target; this is shown in the number three ranking against number one receivers despite Sunday's putrid performance against Andre Johnson . Although Leon Hall has had a mostly solid season, a lot of this has to do with Zimmer rolling zone coverage toward the number one's side. Providing extra linebacker support allows Hall to play back and defend the deep ball, but also leaves other parts of the field vulnerable and makes the defense too dependent on the safeties, who have defended running backs and slot receivers poorly.
As for the offensive passing game improving, I'm not sure. Chad Ochocinco is getting doubled on nearly every passing down, but Carson Palmer still keeps trying to go to him (he's the leader in WR targets). Laveranues Coles will need to pick his game up (only a 52% catch rate right now), or Chris Henry should take his starting spot.
Two things could help. The first would be the receivers actually catching the damn ball. The Bengals, with eighteen, have the second highest amount of drops in the league. Dan Coats has a lot to do with this, but Coles, Henry and even Andre Caldwell are to blame as well.
And this leads me into my second way to improve the passing game: Using three receivers. With two receivers in the game, the Bengals are well below-average; with three, however, they're at a stellar 8.15 Y/A. Cedric Benson has actually had a worse average in three and two tight-end sets, so damaging the running game shouldn't come into play.
Cincinnati's record based off of their points scored/allowed -- surely a concept familiar to MLB statheads -- puts them at 3-3, as they've allowed as many points as they've scored. There are certainly factors other than luck that can change this record, but it's another indicator that the Bengals will need to pick their play up (a team cannot rely on constantly playing better in high leverage situations).
Due to a newly put together offensive line and Palmer's immobility, I assumed the offense would struggle when facing blitzes. However, this has not been the case, as Palmer has a 7.53 Y/A when defenses blitz him. This could be in the Bengals' favor on Sunday against a Bears team that has regularly sent more than four defenders to rush the quarterback.
Does anyone still think the Bengals didn't need to sign Andre Smith? Those people who fell in love with Anthony Collins seemed to feel this way, but I don't see them vocalizing their opinion now.
According to Brian Burke's rankings, the Bengals are twenty-first in penalty rate. So, while some have been blaming the offense's inconsistency on penalties, they clearly aren't as damaging as previously thought. Hopefully this can get rid of the perception that penalties are holding to O back.
The Bengals have compiled the third worst total of injuries through week six (not including week six injuries), according to Football Outsider's Adjusted Games Lost.
There are three reasons, in my mind, that abolish the sympathy Mikey Boy and his front office try to acquire from these injuries.
- As we've already covered this week, Mike often fails in compiling enough depth
Bengals training staff is one of the worst units in the league, because
over the past five years it has allowed the second most amount of
injuries (From Football Outsiders Almanac). Although many
injuries cannot be prevented, the amount of time it takes for players
to recover and their future health can be changed both positively and
negatively. In this case, injuries are often changed in the latter
- The players who have gone down so far aren't exactly the most durable ones in the NFL. Odom never started more than nine games prior to last season. Brian Leonard nearly missed his entire second year. Tank Johnson last started more than one game in a single season in 2006. Andre Smith, who actually counts towards the AGL number, requires no explanation (he's fat, you see).
The bottom line is that all NFL teams will experience injuries. Good organizations will prepare for them, though, and not crumble once they inevitably come; bad ones, like the Bengals, will use them as a convenient excuse for losing.
With my final positive thought, I'll give you this: through six weeks, the Bengals have faced the fifth toughest schedule going by DVOA, or the sixth toughest going by Burke's team efficiency rankings. However, according to FO, their future opponents are currently twenty-ninth in DVOA.
After watching six-plus years of Marvin Lewis football, I've got to ask this: what does the man say into his headset when his team is on offense? Whenever the TV cameras show him, Marvin is either solemnly staring onto the field or clapping his hands and screaming "let's go!" to someone. That only Palmer changes Brat's playcalls is frankly kind of frightening.