The Bengals and T.O. – Why Not?

There have been several reports circulating through the internet lately about a potential marriage for 2010 between the Bengals and WR Terrell Owens.  Chad Ochocinco and T.O. himself did nothing but fan the flames in recent appearances and through interviews and tweets.  As for the Bengal brass, Marvin Lewis hasn’t directly addressed the speculation, but seemed to leave the possibility open by calling Owens, “A hell of a player.”  He also said, “We may do some things” when asked if the team would pursue a veteran receiver once free agency starts on March 5th.

Initial reaction from team observers seems to be that it won’t happen for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there’s Owens’ age.  He’s 36; way past the expiration date for your typical wide receiver and especially for the Bengals, who’ve been perpetually trying to get younger at every position since 1989.

At his advanced age, he’s probably lost a step.  His 55 receptions for 859 yards and five touchdowns were all-time lows for a full season.

Secondly, there’s the perceived ego factor.  Owens has the well-deserved reputation of being a legendary prima-donna.  The Bengals already have that department covered in spades with Chad Ochocinco, whose annual antics are already considered by some to be a major distraction.  With T.O. added to the mix, how could the Bengals fit that much ego into one locker room?  With only one football on game days, there simply wouldn’t be enough passes to go around to satisfy the two camera hounds.

Thirdly, the team would argue they’ve invested in Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell.  They are the future, and there is no good sense in releasing one or both of the youngsters in favor of a gray beard.

My response to all this is one word:  “Hogwash”.

If there was one problem with the Bengals in 2009 it was the lack of a reliable, vertical passing game.  Chris Henry’s season ended just as it was getting started.  With his unexpected death, the team can’t look to him as an option next year. Laveraneus Coles proved to be simply too small and erratic to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh as a viable threat opposite Ochocinco.  Caldwell had a solid but unspectacular season, and clearly experienced a sophomore slump.  Simpson, coming in via the second round in 2008 with all the athleticism and size one looks for, hasn’t been able to learn the playbook sufficiently to get on the field in two full seasons.

Thus, teams simply doubled Chad and forced QB Carson Palmer into check-downs and underneath routes to running backs and tight ends.  This led to slow drives, mistakes, and three-and-outs.

Owens would instantly erase most of those problems.

With Owens lining up on the other side, double coverages on 85 would be unrealistic for defensive coordinators.  Owens still possesses the speed to go deep, and the size to out-jump defensive backs.

His career lows last year could be contributed to his age, or it could simply be the byproduct of playing in Buffalo with Ryan Fitzpatrick as his primary quarterback.  Chad and T.J. didn’t exactly light it up in 2008 when they were hauling in passes from Fitz either.

The Ownens-Ochocinco mutual admiration society should hold together through one season, especially with both clearly at the close of stellar careers and hungry for championships.  While some may see a recipe for conflict, I see them pushing each other and feeding off of each other.

With two legitimate deep threats on the field, the middle would open up more for Caldwell and TE Chase Coffman, expected to make a big impact in his second season.  WR Matt Jones, with his 6-6 frame could add additional match-up problems for defensive backs and linebackers.

The team should clearly look for more help through the draft, with a WR or TE being a high priority in April’s draft.  However, bringing in a veteran not named Matt Jones should likewise be a priority come March 5th.

The defense under Mike Zimmer should be at least as good as last year, especially with the return of Antwan Odom, a healthy Rey Maualuga, and another year in the system.  The running game should be solid again with a strong and big offensive line returning.  The only question is the passing game.

Will the Bengals be able to pick up 3rd downs and stay on the field?  Will they be able to stretch the field and loosen secondaries?  With the planned addition of Matt Jones and a first round WR, maybe.  The chances of doing so with those options and a one year rental of Terrell Owens becomes much more of a sure thing.

Marvin Lewis spoke last week of going from “good” to “great.”  The lack of a powerful passing attack is the one glaring weakness on the team.  Say what you will about Owens’ style, his age, and his past.  All are fair ball.  Can he be a distraction?  Yes.

But can he catch a 60-yard bomb?  Can he reduce double-coverages on Chad Ochocinco?  Can he out-duel 5-10 cornerbacks?  Yes, yes, and yes.

If the Bengals are serious about taking it to the next level in 2010, then adding a player of Owens’ ilk just makes sense.

I’ve got my popcorn ready.

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