Carson Palmer the Key Bengal
T.O. AND OCHOCINCO WON'T MATTER
IF PALMER CAN'T GET THEM THE BALL!
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
We talked about this some during our Divisional Preview of the AFC North. With the Cincinnati Bengals set for another big TV game tonight against the Philadelphia Eagles, this seemed like a good time to go more in depth.
Carson Palmer was A STAR in the first half of the 2009 season, leading the Bengals to a 6-2 record through eight games. Palmer was much shakier during a 4-4 finish to the regular season, and in an ugly home playoff loss to the New York Jets.
We theorized at the time that he may have been playing with an undisclosed or under-emphasized injury. Offseason surgery on his thumb didn't dissuade us from that theory. Of course, Palmer missed most of 2008 with an elbow injury. So, it's possible a variety of factors were in play during the slide from 'exciting start' to 'disappointing finish.'
Many in the media tend to blame everything on the quarterback when things go wrong. Sometimes that isn't justified. In this case, it probably is. Palmer's production fell off badly, particularly when you adjust for context.
First 8 games: 14/7
Last 8 games: 7/6
In the first half of the season, Palmer was on pace for a 28-14 season. That wouldn't have been the best in football, but would have been in line with many traditional Pro-Bowlers.
2009 REGULAR SEASON RATIOS
Peyton Manning: 33-16
Tom Brady: 28-13
Ben Roethlisberger 26-12
Eli Manning 27-14
Kurt Warner 26-14
Palmer wasn't matching Drew Brees, Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers...but he was in line with many other league stars. It's certainly a compliment to be on pace to match Tom Brady.
In the second half of the season, Palmer was barely over 50/50. That's obviously not good enough. There are more TD passes than interceptions as a general rule, so you're losing ground badly if you're only 50/50. Palmer went from being Tom Brady to being Brady Quinn (8/7 ratio last year).
You can also see this is our popular DRIVE POINT numbers (exclusive available from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK). These are points scored on drives of 60 yards or more.
FIRST HALF DRIVE POINTS
138 in 8 games
74 in 8 games
Production was almost cut in half! And, that doesn't even tell have the story.
Among the defenses faced in the first half of the season: Baltimore twice, and Green Bay, two of the elite defenses in the 2009 season.
Among the defenses faced in the second half of the season: Detroit, Kansas City, Oakland, Cleveland, and San Diego...who were among the worst DRIVE POINT defenses in the league.
Or, simply put...Cincinnati averaged 17.25 long distance points per game in the first half of the season against the tough part of their schedule...but only 9.25 long distance points per game in the second half of the season that included multiple vulnerable defenses.
The decline is BIGGER than it seems just in the TD/INT ratios because we hadn't adjusted for the caliber of the opposing defenses yet. Palmer was Tom Brady vs. tough defenses:
21 Drive Points at Green Bay
14 Drive Points at Baltimore
17 Drive Points vs. Baltimore
But he was below average vs. many of the lesser lights:
14 Drive Points at Oakland (allowed 14.1 for the year)
13 Drive Points vs. Cleveland (allowed 13.9 for the year)
10 Drive Points vs. Detroit (allowed 15.4 for the year)
13 Drive Points vs. San Diego (allowed 13.2 for the year)
14 Drive Points vs. Kansas City (allowed 16.3 for the year)
Cincinnati was SHUT OUT in DRIVE POINTS in the second half of the season by both Pittsburgh and the NY Jets.
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So, it's great in terms of sideline entertainment value that the Bengals added Terrell Owens. If Palmer isn't back at 100% strength, or can't stay there very long if he achieves it...this isn't a playoff team. If he IS able to find his very best form and sustain it...then all the talk about Baltimore taking over the division is premature. Cincinnati beat Baltimore twice last year during Palmer's best stretch. They were basically a 12-4 caliber team during Palmer's best stretch. Now they'd be a 12-4 stretch with some extra weaponry.
Keep all this in mind as you watch the Philadelphia/Cincinnati game tonight on TV. There's a lot to study considering the Eagles are trying to launch the Kevin Kolb era. Note that Philly made a run at 500 yards of total offense in their first Preseason game last week. Viewers could be in for quite a show!
And, as you evaluate Cincinnati's chances to thrive in 2010 against a tough schedule, remember that Palmer's ability to move the ball consistently well arguably looms over all other factors. Here's the challenge that awaits:
CINCINNATI'S 2010 SCHEDULE
At New England (tough start)
Versus Baltimore (ouch!)
At Carolina (great defense last year, brutal beginning!)
At Cleveland (hated rival)
Versus Tampa Bay (potential breather)
At Atlanta (quality foe)
Versus Miami (does it ever end?)
Versus Pittsburgh (big, physical rival)
At Indianapolis (are you kidding?!)
Versus Buffalo (rare soft spot)
At New York Jets (pain!)
Versus New Orleans (only the SB champs!)
At Pittsburgh (this is brutal!)
Versus Cleveland (any healthy bodies left?)
Versus San Diego (Cold weather may help)
At Baltimore (naturally, killer finale)
It can be tough to evaluate a schedule properly before the season starts. Maybe Pittsburgh is going to collapse because of the Roethlisberger saga. Maybe the Jets were a one-year wonder and the Patriots dynasty has ended. Maybe we were too optimistic about the chances of Carolina and Atlanta to make a run at New Orleans in our preseason preview of the NFC South.
Or...maybe...THIS IS ONE OF THE TOUGHEST SCHEDULES WE'VE EVER SEEN!
You have four soft spots based on last year's results: Tampa Bay (3-13), Cleveland (5-11) twice, and Buffalo (6-10). Everyone else made the playoffs last year or the year before.
The Bengals we saw in the second half of last season would be looking at 4-12 in 2010, believe it or not. The Bengals we saw in the first half would honestly be challenged to reach .500 unless fortune were to smile in terms of opposition injuries. If you're the type to play Regular Season Win propositions legally in Las Vegas, this is some food for thought needless to say.
The good news for Cincinnati is that Baltimore and Pittsburgh will ALSO be playing the AFC East (Jets, Pats, Dolphins) and the NFC North (Saints, Falcons, Panthers). This may be a division where 9-7 or 10-6 takes the crown given those challenges.
We've mentioned already that this is one of the most fascinating NFL Preseasons that we can remember. There are big name rookies trying to make an impact...big name franchises trying to make it back to the Super Bowl...and big play winners coming daily from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!
You made a fortune with us last weekend. The fun continues tonight with our TV play in Eagles/Bengals. We have a major release set for the busy Saturday card. Perhaps one of the biggest plays of the entire month of August. TV winners continue Sunday (Minnesota/San Francisco on NBC) and Monday (Arizona/Tennessee on ESPN). As you saw last weekend, nothing's more fun than watching yourself win a fortune on TV!
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Enjoy the game on TV tonight. Back tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK to talk about an intriguing Saturday Night contest. Football season is here...and you need to be with us EVERY DAY!
This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.
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