Anatomy of a Play: Palmer key to Bengals' turnaround

If you asked Carson Palmer what the keys are to the Cincinnati offense, he'd probably say the solid play of the offensive line, the luxury of having several explosive wide receivers, and the resurgence of Cedric Benson in the backfield.

If you asked anyone else in the Bengals organization, or any of Cincinnati's opponents, the answer would unanimously be, "Carson Palmer."

Sure, it can be said for just about any offense in the league that the key is the quarterback. However, in Cincinnati, Palmer does more than just run the offense. He is the one man everyone looks to with confidence. He is the gleam of hope shining off the orange and black helmets, making every player around him better with his work ethic, talent and leadership.

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Chad Ochocinco, better. Cedric Benson, better. Offensive line, better. Defense, better.

They look at their 6-foot-5, poised, precise, impassioned captain and know they can win. If they work a little harder during the week, a little harder on Sunday, do their job a little better, then there is no opponent too good to beat.

Palmer's passing numbers are the worst of his career. On Sunday, he threw a costly interception that was returned for a touchdown by Ed Reed. What did Palmer say about the play?

"He got me ... That's why he's a potential Hall-of-Fame player ... What he did, that's not an easy thing to do."

Palmer has the ability to accept blame, give credit, and show humility. These are skills that develop over time, by absorbing all of the lumps of his first five, rocky years as a starter.

Despite only a 57.7 completion percentage and a 7-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the only number that really matters through five weeks is that Palmer has led four game-winning drives.

On Sunday, he marched the Bengals 80 yards in 11 plays to beat the division-rival Ravens in Baltimore. The play that we feature in our Anatomy of a Play segment is Palmer's winning, 20-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell.

The Ravens aligned in a man-under, two-deep coverage -- with man-to-man on all of the eligible receivers and two deep safeties to help over the top. The wrinkle for Baltimore was that they only rushed three defenders and dropped Ray Lewis as an extra free coverage player in the middle of the field.

The playcall for Cincinnati was "999 Seam," which in the backyard means, "Everyone go deep." Against man-under, two-deep coverage, Palmer wanted to hit Caldwell in the right seam, behind the man-to-man defender and in front of the safety.

With Lewis dropping out and reading Palmer's eyes, Palmer knew he had to first look left and manipulate Lewis away from Caldwell's route. With only a three-man rush, Palmer had the necessary time to accomplish the look off.

Caldwell, in the face of a pressed, bump-and-run corner, got physical. He initially beat the jam with power and excellent hand-fighting technique, then ran away with speed.

When Palmer looked back to the right, he saw Caldwell had badly beaten his defender, and all that was left was pitch and catch. It was one of the easiest reads and throws of the day for Palmer, but given the situation not a play that a lot of quarterbacks would make.

At 4-1, the Bengals currently sit alone atop the AFC North. With a solid defense, the NFL's leading rusher, and Carson Palmer, there's no telling how high these cats can climb.

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