Cincy chemistry just one of NFL's mysteries
Cincinnati Bengals Terrell Owens Chad Ochocinco
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Updated Aug 30, 2010 10:23 PM ET
Three weeks through the NFL preseason, we’ve answered several of the lingering questions from the summer. Will Brett Favre be the Vikings quarterback? Yes. Will the Panthers start Matt Moore over Jimmy Clausen? Yes. Will Tom Brady really sport a Justin Bieber haircut? Absolutely.
But there are still several questions that remain unanswered. Here are 10 Unsolved Mysteries Heading into the 2010 NFL Regular Season:
1. When will “Batman and Robin” have their first Boom! Pow! Bam! moment in Cincinnati?
It’s bound to happen at some point, right? Whether it’s in September, October or during the second half of the season, you have to assume there will be a play, a drive or a game in which T.O. and/or Chad Ochocinco is unhappy with the lack of attention, balls and/or media he is receiving in comparison with the other. This is a train wreck waiting to happen, right? Right?
Well, maybe not. Solomon Wilcots, the former Bengals defensive back turned broadcaster, who has spent time with the team this summer, had a different take on the situation.
“The Bengals fizzled down the stretch last year,” Wilcots said. “No one will deny that. But people forget the amount of adversity that this squad went through. Mike Zimmer’s wife, Chris Henry — these were major, major tragedies. And yet, through both of those events, that club stuck together and won the AFC North. This is a mature group of young players who’ve already been through a lot of real-life issues together. They’re not going to be easily sidetracked.”
Remember, Ochocinco was all for bringing in Terrell Owens. So was Carson Palmer. As the story goes, immediately after the now-released Antonio Bryant signed with Cincinnati five months ago, Palmer told Marvin Lewis to go out and get Owens, too. In Ochocinco, T.O. and rookies Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham, there appear to be four reliable options on any given play for Palmer.
Maybe this all works out, after all. Stranger things have happened.
2. How much will the Vikings offense miss Sidney Rice?
In ‘09, Rice looked far more like the dominant receiver he was in college at South Carolina than the underwhelming, lost kid backing up Bobby Wade during his first two years in Minnesota. Capped off by a monstrous three- touchdown performance against the Cowboys in the playoffs, Rice had established himself as a legitimate figure in any discussion of top 10 NFL wide-outs held this past summer. Now, he’s out until at least midseason.
But he’s not the only significant loss for the offense in Minnesota this season. Chester Taylor, Favre’s reliable third-down back and security blanket, is in Chicago with the Bears. He has been replaced by two unproven youngsters in second-year man Albert Young and rookie Toby Gerhart.
Gerhart, a Heisman Trophy finalist and much ballyhooed second-round selection in April, has been, at best, less than impressive this preseason. Meanwhie, 2009 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin has been battling a lingering case of migraines that has kept him on the sidelines and in and out of the lineup since late last season. Did a trade for Greg Camarillo or an over-the-hill Javon Walker address all or any of these major setbacks?
Darrell Bevell, your work is certainly cut out for you.
3. Does Jake Delhomme have any good football left in that 35-year-old tank of his?
There are certain moments in time that you’ll always remember exactly where you were when they happened.
The birth of your first child.
Your best friend’s wedding.
Jake Delhomme’s implosion in the 2008 playoffs.
That dud of a game was so bad that it carries a heinous stench over Delhomme’s otherwise rather splendid NFL career. Delhomme threw for a career-worst five interceptions, lost a fumble and got his butt kicked all over Carolina’s home field during that 33-13 loss to the Cardinals. A Saturday night in January with most of the East Coast snowed in, a revved-up national audience and two of the league’s highest-scoring offenses and Delhomme was…well, awful.
The following offseason, the Panthers surprisingly signed Delhomme to a five-year extension worth $42.5 million, with a $20 million guarantee, putting him under contract through 2014. Yet, after his worst season as a pro and a season-ending injury in December, the club finally cut bait with Delhomme, releasing the best quarterback the franchise has ever known in March.
Most pundits and talking heads figured he was done. Fortunately for Delhomme, Mike Holmgren is not a pundit or a talking head. The Browns signed Delhomme to a two-year deal, and the early returns have been fantastic.
Through three preseason games, the 12-year veteran has completed 38 of 48 passes with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. More importantly, he has been a positive force in the locker room, the huddle and on the sideline.
"I think Jake's done a good job," coach Eric Mangini told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week. "He runs the offense well, and he's engaged the whole game. He's working on the sideline whether he's in or out, to try to either help the guys that are in or try to figure out answers. A lot of the answers he knows, and the ones he doesn't know, he's going to get."
A lot of folks have already written off Delhomme. For a guy who found his way from Louisiana-Lafayette to NFL Europe to the Super Bowl, something tells me he’s not done just yet. Don’t be shocked if he’s the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
4. Are Ed Reed and Bob Sanders going to be Ed Reed and Bob Sanders this season?
Reed and Sanders, recognized around the league as two of the best all-around safeties in the game, have had their fair share of injury issues over the past two seasons.
Reed, who said he was “50-50” while considering retirement this offseason, is set to miss significant time at the start of the season recovering from recent hip surgery. Reed played hurt during Baltimore’s two playoff games last season, further complicating his injury. He’s on the physically unable to perform list and has been spending a large portion of his time away from the team, seeing a rehab doctor in Atlanta. His status for the start of the regular season is still unknown. Baltimore’s secondary is the team’s one major question mark heading into the season even with Reed in the lineup. Without him? The results could be disastrous.
Sanders, on the other hand, saw his first action in 10 months during Indianapolis’ second preseason game two weeks ago in Toronto. A bit rusty, he was still a force in the secondary. On Thursday night in Green Bay, however, he looked fantastic. The 2007 Defensive Player of the Year appears to be back, having played 45 snaps in that contest and was in on just about every play. Paired with rising star Antoine Bethea, Sanders is part of the top safety duo in the NFL.
5. Will the Saints suffer a Super Bowl “hangover”?
Though I don’t exactly envision Drew Brees walking into next week’s season opener with a baby strapped to his stomach and a scruffy beard, there’s obviously a concern about any defending Super Bowl champion.
Was this Saints squad satisfied with just one title? Or is it ready to defend the Lombardi Trophy and start that rare quest for another one? History says a repeat is unlikely. But it’s tough to question the toughness and preparation of Brees, Payton and Gregg Williams. The Saints have looked refreshed and determined in the preseason. Then again, the preseason is an entirely different story than a late December contest with a playoff berth on the line.
6. What can the Redskins expect out of Albert Haynesworth?
When Haynesworth is in the lineup and on the field, he’s still the most dominant defensive tackle in the game. Whether it’s forcing opponents into false starts or attacking the quarterback, the oft-criticized Haynesworth is undeniably one of the league’s top talents. Despite a media maelstrom and an absolute circus spanning from the start of the offseason through a locker room rant following Washington’s second preseason game, Haynesworth had a solid week of practice and an impressive outing in Friday night’s all-important third preseason contest against the Jets. Playing both defensive end and defensive tackle in Jim Haslett’s 3-4, Haynesworth was a force.
In second-year man Brian Orakpo, linebacker London Fletcher and a 100 percent Albert Haynesworth, the ’Skins feature arguably three of the top 10 overall defensive talents in the NFC.
If they get “Good Albert,” Washington could end up surprising some folks in the crowded NFC East this season. If the Redskins get “Bad Albert,” well, who knows?
7. How will the movement of the umpire from the middle of the field to behind the line of scrimmage affect the game?
During the offseason, the competition committee voted to move the umpire from near the linebackers to behind the deepest running back behind the line of scrimmage. The change is intended to improve safety for the league’s officials.
But you may have noticed an increasingly frustrated Peyton Manning in Thursday night’s preseason bout with the Packers. Manning was twice called for illegal snaps because the umpire had not gotten into position before the ball was snapped. Colts president Bill Polian acknowledged the Colts were “pushing” it to see how things might work under regular-season conditions, but it was clear the pace of any up-tempo, no-huddle attack will change in 2010. Teams are now at the mercy of the umpire’s foot speed.
Aside from a herky-jerky pace to any no-huddle attack, how else will this slight change impact the game? I reached out to former NFL head of officials and new FOX Sports personality Mike Pereira for his thoughts. Pereira said: “Don’t be surprised to see the umpires call more holding penalties once they get accustomed to their new position. They will now have a better view.”
Warren Sapp, a man who knows a thing or two about the line of scrimmage, said: “Receivers won’t be able to use the umpire in the middle of the field to their advantage. There’ll be less picks being set. I’ve seen Derrick Brooks scream at umpires for them being in his path and getting in the way.” Sapp then laughed and said: “And quarterbacks won’t mistakenly throw balls to them, either.”
8. Can this Martz/Cutler marriage experiment end up being an utter disaster?
New and Improved
Rick Telander’s Chicago Sun-Times column headline Sunday was “Cutler-Martz Combination Looking Like a Bust So Far.” That tells you all you need to know about the Bears offense this preseason.
Saturday night’s performance against the Cardinals was arguably Jay Cutler’s worst outing in a Bears uniform. Hell, it was possibly the worst performance of his entire career. He looked lost, indecisive and frustrated. As my FOXSports.com colleague Adam Caplan tweeted Sunday: “If you're a believer in body language, Cutler's isn't very good.”
Through three preseason games, the golden-armed fifth-year quarterback’s passer rating is a paltry 62.3. He has thrown two interceptions and been sacked 10 times. “Greatest Show on Turf?” Eh, not quite.
You’ve heard the statistic a million times. When Cutler has a passer rating higher than 100 as a starter, he is 15-0. But when you’re throwing behind receivers (as Cutler has been doing throughout the preseason) and throwing ill-advised interceptions (as Cutler has done his whole career), getting to that 100-plus rating is nearly impossible.
There are high expectations in Chicago for the Bears offense this season. If the preseason is any indication of how the regular season will turn out, there will be a lot of disappointed Bears fans in 2010.
9. What will football on Sundays be like without Dick Enberg behind the mike?
When 75-year-old broadcasting legend Dick Enberg announced last spring he’d be joining the San Diego Padres broadcast team for the 2010 season, he was forced to give up his gig as CBS Sports’ No. 3 NFL play-by-play man. I, for one, will certainly miss hearing his voice on Sundays.
Ian Eagle, a guy who deserves about two dozen sports Emmys for his energetic work during past season’s anemic 12-70 New Jersey Nets campaign, will replace Enberg and join Dan Fouts in the booth this season.
The Padres are likely headed to the playoffs, and Enberg has been an absolute joy to listen to throughout the 2010 baseball season.
Eagle, great in his own right, may just need to give the fans a Week 1 “Oh My!”
10. Will there be any football to watch next year at this time?
At this point, it’s hard to definitely say yes.
How’s that for a slap in the face?
In short, savor the 2010 football season. With talk of stadium money, labor deals and men in suits arguing over millions and millions of dollars, actual football may be put on the back burner next fall. So, enjoy it while you have it.
Because as Joni Mitchell once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”