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Thursday, October 2, 2008
Four ways to improve the Bengals

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Earlier today we looked at four ways to improve the Cleveland Browns (1-3) now that a quarter of the season is in the books.

Now we're going to take a look at how to improve the 0-4 Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Improve pass protection

If Cincinnati is going to be a pass-first team, it must first protect the passer. Sounds simple, right? The Bengals did a good job of that the past several years, but those days have come to an end this year. Quarterback Carson Palmer (elbow, broken nose) has taken a beating this year and already missed one game because of it. If needed, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski needs to keep in more backs and tight ends for help.

2. Defense needs to get off the field

Let's start by saying that this unit is playing harder than in recent years. That's a solid building block. But the Bengals' defense is still not up to the level where it's impacting and winning games. There are a lot of young players on this unit and that's part of the reason Cincinnati is failing to make the key plays. The biggest stat is the Bengals are allowing opponents to convert 42 percent of third downs. That's a lot of key defensive plays throughout the course of a game where Cincinnati needs someone to step up.

3. Perry needs to step it up

The Bengals liked what they saw from Chris Perry so much in training camp that they let go the steady and consistent Rudi Johnson. Cincinnati has given no indication that it's disappointed in the move, but the Bengals have to be disappointed that Perry hasn't taken off the way they expected. He's only averaging 2.9 yards per carry and has fumbled four times, losing two. Cincinnati signed Cedric Benson this week and hopes he can provide a spark.

4. Find a third receiving threat

Chris Henry comes off suspension this week. Is he in football shape and ready to contribute? That's to be determined. But the Bengals need Henry or someone else to step up as another threat in the receiving corps. Antonio Chatman has done a decent job the past two weeks, but he doesn't have the big-play ability to break open a game. Rookies Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell also need to get up to speed and make a contribution.