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Week 5 Observations: Bengals playing well behind rookies

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US Presswire
Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have helped the Bengals get off to a surprising 3-2 start.


Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green is turning into a nice little combination. Cincinnati's top two picks are turning attention away from temporarily-retired quarterback Carson Palmer and putting the focus back on the field, where the Bengals are 3-2 and remain one of the feel-good stories of the early portion of the season.

In place of Palmer, who is at an impasse with Bengals ownership after demanding a trade, Dalton is managing games and making the occasional big play when needed. He is completing 59 percent of his attempts, not bad for a rookie quarterback coming out of a lockout, and has a better passer rating (78.7) than Jay Cutler (77.8), Kevin Kolb (77.2) and Josh Freeman (74.1), to name a few.

Meanwhile, Green has reached 90 yards receiving in three of the past four games, and he's been targeted 37 times in that span. Clearly there is a comfort level between the two rookies. And that duo is benefitting from a strong defense in Cincy.

Looking at the schedule, the Bengals could be an intriguing team. They still have games with Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and St. Louis. And, yes, they have to play the Steelers and Ravens twice more, but remember it wasn't that long ago the Bengals won eight straight in the AFC North. It's also worth noting that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled mightily against the Bengals, with nine picks in six games and a poor 62 rating.

Jackson in position of power

Hue Jackson's emotions poured forth after a comeback win at Houston, coming just a day after legendary owner Al Davis passed away. Jackson was handpicked by Davis to take over the team and, in the short term, if not the long term, there might be no more powerful person in the organization than Jackson.

Davis was the final decision-maker on every football matter, and his son, Mark, now becomes the controlling partner in ownership. With the Raiders lacking a general manager, and Al Davis calling the shots, coaching contracts stipulated the coach reported directly to ownership, and not anyone in football operations. Jackson has brought a new energy to the team and the Raiders have a mojo going now that they won't want to interrupt. Jackson is a big part of that, and he surely will have an influence on personnel for the duration of this season.

Mark Davis lacks his father's football résumé and acumen, and it's almost impossible to bring in a new GM on the fly. Jackson and his staff were already bringing in players for visits and working the waiver wire -- Trevor Pryce and Alex Brown worked out for the Raiders on Friday, for example -- and that's unlikely to change. I'm not sold the Raiders pursue a big fish like a Bill Parcells, and indeed some titles could be altered and roles tweaked, but Jackson could assume a strong voice in helping shape the roster into the future.

The Davis family always had a deep relationship with John Madden, and he could end up making suggestions in a consultant role as to how to reshape the front office. However, these next 12 weeks could be quite an audition for Jackson with this upstart team that's 3-2 and hasn't lost a division game since 2009.

First coach to go?

It looked like the Chiefs' Todd Haley might be under the most early-season scrutiny, with the Dolphins' Tony Sparano nipping at his heels. But with the Jaguars' brutal start and all the consideration given in recent years to letting Jack Del Rio go, you can't help but think a change could be coming, perhaps within a few weeks.

It's tough to win with a rookie quarterback, and Blaine Gabbert has had his struggles, but Jacksonville had some strengths coming into the season -- robust run game, young defensive line rounding into shape -- and little has gone right. They've lost four in a row and have been outscored 115-59. The Jaguars also have Dirk Koetter, who merited head-coaching consideration elsewhere in recent years, on staff. Having Koetter serve in an interim role -- like Leslie Frazier and Jason Garrett a year ago -- could lead to a permanent change, especially with the development of Gabbert and that offense so vital.

Quick-hitters

» How about Alex Smith? He's third in the NFL with a 104 passer rating and a 7-to-1 TD/INT ratio. He's sixth in completion percentage. Sure, it's not a big vertical offense and it's more dink and dunk, but if Smith continues this type of game management the 49ers might well run away with the NFC West. They've won four games, and if they manage to win four more, I figure they take that division.

» The Jets continue to play a lot of seven-defensive back sets -- due to a lack of play-making linebackers -- but it's going to continue to leave them vulnerable against the run. I know the Jets have struggled before, but getting this turned around could be Rex Ryan's biggest test yet.

» Anyone else see that stat with Tom Brady throwing his first career red-zone interception at home, which occurred Sunday. He has a 91-to-1 ratio in those situations in his career. Unreal.

» The Chargers continue to look lethargic and willing to play down to the level of any opponent. They're nursing a lot of injuries and the bye comes at the right time for them health-wise, particularly for stud tight end Antonio Gates. I need to see some signs of life and a willingness to put teams away before I buy into them as a real Super Bowl contender.

» The Seahawks love rookie receiver Doug Baldwin. Coaches rave about everything with him. He could be this year's Mike Williams as an improbable breakthrough player. Quarterbacks there love throwing him the ball, I can tell you that much. Bigger role each week.

» The Raiders are excited to get Louis Murphy back, likely this week. He is Jason Campbell's go-to guy. And, quietly, Darrius Heyward-Bey is making an impact, and his speed is finally manifesting itself on the field. He has 11 receptions for 214 yards the past two weeks (19.5 yards per catch), with a touchdown and three plays of 25 yards or longer. He had two receptions of 25 yards or longer in his previous 28 games.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora

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