The Bengals needed Benson to perform this season because their offense is constructed in such a way that the passing game defeats itself.
There is an old saying about potential that reads “Potential is what you haven't done yet” Reputation can be viewed in a similar vein, reputation is just based on what you have done previously not what you are capable of doing at this moment. Terrell Owens' and Chad Ochocinco's reputations certainly preceded them coming into this season and caused people to overlook the fact that as a pair on the field they cannot co-exist.
Now don't get me wrong, I think both of these guys were great receivers in their day. I have nothing against either of them. I loved watching Owens' monster season for the Eagles and that amazing recovery to play in the Superbowl against the Patriots while Ochocinco has been one of the best route runners in the league over the past decade in my opinion. However the Terrell Owens of today is a shade of what he was six years ago, he lacks the pace to seriously scare cornerbacks and take the top off defenses which would be fine if he had another receiver on the team that could do that.
As possession receivers, Owens and Ochocinco, would have huge value to any team in the league. Both players possess impressive upper body strength that allows them to consume heavy hits over the middle and maintain possession of the ball. Owens, at 37 years of age, may lead the league in dropped passes but this is partly due to the routes that he runs. He routinely extends his body over the middle and exposes himself to defensive backs attempting to make the difficult catch. These exact words can also be said of Ochocinco.
The two receivers do not compliment each other well as neither can take the top off of the opposition defense, couple this with Jordan Shipley, the third receiver on the depth chart, who was drafted as a slot receiver to specifically run short and intermediate routes, and starting tight end Jermaine Gresham, a rookie tight end who relies on his size rather than his pace to make receptions and the whole offense cannot coincide together successfully. This means that Carson Palmer does not have 1 starting skill position player with legitimate NFL speed.
What does all this mean for the opposing defense? Interceptions!
The Bengals' lack of pace on offense allows the opposing secondary to keep the ball in front of them without sacrificing a safety to cover deep. When defensive backs do not have to turn their hips they can keep the ball in view and break on it ahead of the receivers. The middle of the field suddenly becomes smaller as the defense can crowd out the receivers by bringing their safeties forward while the cornerbacks on the outside don't have to worry about being beaten deep because the Bengals' receivers cannot outpace anyone. Without a serious rushing threat Carson Palmer is more vulnerable to the pass rush than Austin Collie going over the middle trying to catch a pass.
By no means is Palmer free of any blame for his performances this season, he has been awful, but I have a certain amount of pity for him because of the situation he was in. Added to the offense's lack of cohesion, the Bengals came into the year with such high expectations that were drastically overblown and unrealistic(all this without even mentioning that he had to deal with two of the most outspoken players in NFL history catching, or dropping as the case may be, his passes: Laurel and Hardy).
Palmer has made some terrible throws and has looked nothing like the player he was before being injured in the 2005 playoffs against the Steelers. The no.1 overall pick from USC was a premier passer when he had the trio of Chad Johnson(Ochocinco as he is known today), TJ Houshmandzadeh(trust me spell checker, I'm right on that one) and Chris Henry. At the time any three of those receivers could threaten the back end of the defense. Not one of them were Mike Wallace or DeSean Jackson, but Henry and Houshmandzadeh would provide a big enough threat to draw a safety's attention while a younger version of Ochocinco was able to get deep albeit to a lesser degree.
A team with such a defunct offense could never have met the lofty expectations that they set themselves and were given by the media. Star power counts for nothing on the football field, the only place it has any value at all is in shirt sales and as a method to put fans in seats. Nobody was ever given the Vince Lombardi Trophy for selling the most jerseys or having the most fans, even if they were the Bengals wouldn't have won this season either; the teams past two home games have been blacked out(removed from local television) due to the games not selling out.