In preparation for Sunday's huge game against the Bengals, I've brought in Josh Kirkendall from Cincy Jungle for a few questions. Many thanks to him for taking the time to chat with us. Head over to his site throughout the season for updates as the Bengals unravel :) In all seriousness, he does great work.
Behind the Steel Curtain : Let's get right to it. Tell us why the Bengals are even better team in 2006 than they were last year?
Cincy Jungle : The defense. This off-season, the Bengals took a very aggressive approach in the free agent market. Signing Sam Adams and Dexter Jackson to help bolster a poor rush defense was desperately needed to improve both positions. Madieu Williams - a safety with tremendous coverage and run support skills - returns after missing most of last season. What you saw with the Bengals defense last year, throw that away. It's a different animal this season.
Behind the Steel Curtain : How has Carson Palmer looked in his first two games back from major knee surgery. Has he taken any big hits? How do you expect him to respond in his first game back against a legitimate, blitzing defense?
Cincy Jungle : He'll be fine. Through the first two games, without T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Palmer has picked up where he left off. He doesn't look hesitant in the pocket worrying about defenders. He rolls out when the pocket collapses and runs up-field if there's an opening. Against the Browns, Palmer was dropped seven times - four for sack - and sprung right up. However, I can't speak for Palmer in terms of facing the team that tore his knee up and what mental hurdles he may face. But based off the pre-season and the first two games of the regular season, I believe he'll be fine.
Behind the Steel Curtain : Tell us briefly about the injury situation of the Bengals. Which loss will have the most impact on how the Bengals prepare for and play on Sunday?
Cincy Jungle: Man, we're really beat up. The David Pollack injury was huge. While he was slow to transition from end to linebacker his rookie season, he did show justification of being a first round pick late in the season. Rashad Jeanty will replace Pollack until Odell Thurman gets back. Then we can put Simmons back to the outside. It hurts losing Pollack, but we'll recover.
Losing Dexter Jackson really hurts. He played well against the run and did well covering the deep pass. His replacement, Kevin Kaesviharn, is a career back-up that I have little confidence in. The biggest play the Browns had Sunday was a 75-yard pass to Braylon Edwards after Kaesviharn came in. He's not as reactive as Jackson over the top and now we're prone to the deep pass.
But I think the biggest impact will be losing our center, Rich Braham. He's great at calling out blocking responsibilities by reading the opponents front seven. He's one of the main reasons why Palmer was so well protected and why Rudi Johnson, twice, broke the team's single-season rushing record. The guy replacing Braham, Eric Ghiaciuc, played some last season so he has some experience. But, against the Browns, there were times a defensive line stunt resulted in a quarterback sack because Ghiaciuc didn't recognize it soon enough. He's widely viewed as the heir apparent at center; so we'll see how his test goes Sunday.
Behind the Steel Curtain : It sure didn't take too long for Coach Marvin Lewis to leave his mark on your football team. Tell us something about him or the way he coaches that we may not know about?
Cincy Jungle : The one thing that's really impressed me, from previous coaching regimes, is how he handles controversy and his overall leadership. It's easy to captain a ship that treks on calm seas. It's also easy to give in and sink during turbulent times. With all that's happened since the Wild Card game - players in trouble, lock-room fight, questionable contractual issues, and character issues during the draft - Lewis has kept things together. He's a leader in every sense of the word.
Behind the Steel Curtain : All I've been reading about this week is that the Bengals hate the Steelers and how much they're looking forward to beating them on Sunday? Is this just because of the hit on Palmer or is there a deeper inferiority complex that we should know about? You didn't think I'd get through a whole interview without a little trash-talking did you?
Cincy Jungle : Carson Palmer, after the notorious I hate Steelers SI article, was asked to clarify what he meant by hating the Steelers. It wasn't about disrespect or actual hatred in the definition of the word. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Palmer respects the Steelers and knows we have to beat Pittsburgh to win anything. Chad Johnson and Joey Porter are very good friends (can't you tell?). But I do believe the Bengals feel they have unfinished business Sunday. Some will call it revenge or pay-back. I just think it's another instance of Flairism: To be the man, you've got to beat the man.
Behind the Steel Curtain : Thanks for the great answers and taking the time to talk with us. Before we let you go though, any predictions for Sunday?
Cincy Jungle : It's going to be an intense dog-fight that will be a lot of fun.