Perception vs Reality: The Mirage in Cincinnati

Pre-Season predictions are often difficult but enjoyable tasks. The exhilaration that comes with successful predictions or the despair that comes with failed predictions is like a drug for the fans who don't know what the off season stands for. Fans such as me who can't help but lay awake at night dreaming up what lies ahead in the 17 weeks of football that precedes the playoffs.

 

Pre-Season predictions are funny things. Everyone does them, whether they write them down or bounce them around the walls of their brains, everyone has some sort of opinion as to what is going to happen in the coming season. I prefer to write mine down because what often makes perfect sense to me in my head doesn't translate well onto the page.

 

Coming into this season I had some very dodgy predictions. The San Francisco 49ers for one, I predicted them going 12-4( Ahem. Well lets move on, shall we?) the Houston Texans 10-6(This isn't getting much better is it?) and the Dallas Cowboys 13-3(Honestly, I'm baffled if you're still reading this, however if you are lets get at it!)

 

The one thing about this year's predictions that really perplexed me coming into the season was the amount of media hype surrounding the Bengals. ESPN and Walterfootball.com both had the Bengals ranked as the 11th best team in the league in their preseason rankings, NFL.com incredibly had the Bengals ranked 6th in the league before week 1, CBS had them at a relatively modest 17 while USA Today had the Bengals 12th. Personally, I had the Bengals going 5-11 and ranked them between 20th-24th among NFL teams.

 

Preseason predictions are all about the perception of teams on paper. It is startling to break down the Bengals season and understand how the hype awarded to the team coming into the season was undeserved.

 

And no, we can't just blame it all on Carson Palmer.

 

The staple of the Bengals season in 2009 was obviously their running game. Cedric Benson ran the ball for 1'251 yards and 6 touchdowns last season with a 4.2 average. The most important statistic of those three is probably the one that most people overlook. The 4.2 average per carry in relation to the 1'251 yards means that Benson carried the ball 301 times in 2009. Therefore the Bengals' back's body was hit at the very least 301 times(taking into account plays were Benson got to the endzone or ran out of bounds but replacing them with plays he blocked on or took hits from receptions).

 

 

Benson had the sixth highest amount of carries of any running back in the league but, of the five above him with more, four of them are supremely physical runners who had proven themselves as feature backs in the past(Thomas Jones, Stephen Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson) the other was Chris Johnson who's record breaking season has taken a toll on his body during this season. Benson has suffered a similar fate as his prominent role in last season's success diminished in offensive co-ordinator Bob Bratkowski's offense this year. This is due to a combination of Benson's body deteriorating and the hype surrounding Batman and Robin's(or Laurel and Hardy as I prefer to call them) reputations that labelled them as a dynamic duo coming into the season, which was totally unjust(hang on we'll get there).

 

Benson showed to be a an abrasive runner for the Bengals last season with undervalued but also not outstanding speed(The lack of pace of the Bengals offense as a whole is very noteworthy and will come up repeatedly throughout this article). Last season Benson showed the ability to run both between the tackles and to the outside. This season he did not hit the interior of the defense as explosively which meant that opposing defenses were not being worn down by the constant battering that the Benson of 2009 handed out each week. Softening the center of the defense was the only reason that Benson was able to get to the outside last season as defenders were forced to crowd the line of scrimmage and crash it early. He does not possess breakaway speed by NFL terms, once in the clear he most likely won't be caught but he has never possessed the ability to run past defenders in this league.

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