3TFO: Raiders @ Bengals, Week 12
Welcome home, Carson Palmer. Taken by the Bengals with the top overall pick in the 2003 draft, Palmer finally got sick of Cincinnati after the 2010 season and threatened to retire if he wasn’t traded. However, the stubbornness of Palmer was matched by that of Bengals President Mike Brown, and it looked like Palmer would be forced to retire. The phone rang midway through the 2011 season, however, when Oakland’s starting quarterback went down with an injury and they needed a replacement QB. Although the Al Davis era had recently come to a close in Oakland, it didn’t stop the Raiders from trading away a first- and a second-round pick for Palmer, who has been rather underwhelming since his major knee injury in the 2005 playoffs.
The Raiders have struggled with Palmer at the helm. Oakland has won just seven of the 20 games he’s played in and, after a sub-par 3-7 start to this season, it appears as if the Raiders can begin to look toward 2013 a little earlier than anticipated. They certainly have some young talent on the team, though, and if they can ditch the trend of trading away draft picks to anyone who asks for them, this team could become competitive again rather quickly.
No matter how you look at it, the Bengals have flourished in the two years since Palmer left. They earned a playoff berth last year, and though they’re currently not a frontrunner for a wild card spot, it wouldn’t take a lot for them to get there, especially considering their upcoming schedule — only two of their remaining six opponents currently have a winning record. Let’s take look at some key things to watch when the camera isn’t panning to the inevitable Palmer-bashing signs in the crowd.
Raiders Defensive Line vs. Bengals Running Backs
If there’s been one area of strength for the Raiders over the past few years, it’s been their defensive line. And, though they’ve been a bit lackluster this year rushing the passer (just 10 sacks for the entire defensive line), they are still as stout as ever against the run. With the exception of Tommy Kelly, who’s been experiencing a down year of sorts, the rest of the line has been solid in run D. Matt Shaughnessy has bounced back strong this year after landing on injured reserve after just three games a season ago. His Run Stop Percentage of 7.4 ranks ninth out of 36 qualifying 4-3 DE’s, and just behind teammate Lamarr Houston in sixth with a RSP of 8.1. And even at 33-years-old Richard Seymour is still a dominant defender.
There’s no running back by committee approach in Cincinnati, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis has taken twice as many snaps as all other Bengal halfbacks combined. What he’s done with those snaps has been somewhat disappointing, though, forcing just 17 missed tackles on the 195 occasions he’s touched the ball, while fumbling three times. Considering he’s run the ball more than all but six backs, it’s a bit underwhelming that he has only 638 yards through 10 games, barely on pace for a 1,000-yard season despite being the feature back. If Oakland can shut down Green-Ellis early, they may force Cincinnati to become one-dimensional and actually have some success rushing the passer.
If Palmer is to experience success in what will likely be the most hostile environment he’ll ever have to play in, he’s going to need some time to throw the ball. Without pressure his QB rating is a more than adequate 92.6, but that drops some 30 points to 69.7 when he has defenders in his face. Unfortunately for Palmer, he’ll be seeing a lot of Geno Atkins on Sunday. The third-year defensive tackle has played over 75% of Cincinnati’s defensive snaps, and he’s been an absolute terror for opposing offensive lines. The 40 total QB disruptions he’s recorded are tops at the defensive tackle position, as are his nine sacks and his associated Pass Rushing Productivity of 10.8.
The Bengals’ interior line will be given the unenviable task of keeping Atkins’ damage in check. Lucky for Palmer, his starting trio of interior linemen have surrendered just a single sack all season. Center Stefen Wisniewski is the best of the bunch, handing over just two hits and three hurries all year. The 16 pressures that Cooper Carlisle has allowed is on the high side (22nd among guards), but that figure is more than offset by the 440 snaps he’s spent in pass protection (fourth most). The weak link (if you can call him that) along Oakland’s interior line is RG Mike Brisiel. However, even though Brisiel hasn’t given up anything more than some hurries since Week 2, he’s committed seven penalties in that span. Atkins may be this group’s toughest assignment of the year.
Coming off his ninth straight game with a touchdown reception, sophomore A. J. Green may just be the best young receiver in football. Only once this year was Green held below five receptions and 50 yards. He’s an excellent deep threat for the Bengals — targeted 26 times on balls thrown over 20 yards in the air, behind only Torrey Smith in that regard. He’s also near the top of the list in receptions (10, fifth), yards (405, third), and touchdowns (four, second) on those deep passes, and has yet to drop one of the deep shots from Andy Dalton. Seeing more than twice as many targets as the next most targeted Bengal receiver, expect Dalton to look Green’s way early and often.
Forced out of his safety spot in Week 3 due to injuries, Michael Huff has been busy manning the left corner position for the Raiders ever since. And, while most safeties would fall apart when forced to play corner, Huff has had a respectable run of it. Sure, giving up five touchdowns isn’t ideal (tied for most among corners), but he also has a pair of picks to his name and the 96.6 QB rating he’s allowed is better than quite a few corners who weren’t forced to transition from safety. On the other side, Ronald Bartell should see significant action again this week after missing the majority of the season with a shoulder injury. Bartell has given up a touchdown in each of the past two games since his return, and Oakland better hope he’s shaken all the rust off before he sees too much of Green.