Q: What is it about this offense that is off? We have the skill positions and arguably the best four receivers we've had in 10 years but it sure isn't the O of 2005. Is it the line and all their holding calls? What is it? It is bizarre for a Bengals fan to believe more in punting and defense but that is how it is now.
--Brian, Boca Raton, FL
BRIAN: It isn’t off. It has changed. As offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said Monday and Carson Palmer amplified Wednesday, this is a run-first, ball-control offense. Any resemblance to the ’05 offense is purely coincidental.
And why not? Some argue it takes away the explosiveness, but doesn’t it make your quarterback more dangerous and protected?
The change and the result are a product of a number of things.
This is an inexperienced offensive line going against some great pass-rush teams. Back in the day of that veteran group, you could run long-ball routes knowing Carson wasn’t going to get hit back there in seven-step drops. There were virtually no long balls against Pittsburgh, but Palmer did a great job getting the ball out of there quickly. Granted, saddled with a very mediocre secondary on Sunday, Pittsburgh blitzed about as few times as it ever has until the last drive, but the protection was superb in those last few moments.
Palmer still isn’t totally sharp. Why should he be? He missed 12 games last year and three preseason games this year and they want to protect his sprained ankle. He’d probably tell you he’s left some throws out there that he would normally make, but he’s getting sharper. The idea seems to be, why expose him before he’s ready?
The change in philosophy dovetails with the emergence of their best defense in two decades and the drafting of their first Pro Bowl punter. When that will be, who knows, but he’ll go to a couple. They’ve got those other elements to match a run-first offense, and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
This has been a fire-and-fall back team that for this decade has watched ball-control teams with at least solid B-plus defenses (Tennessee, Giants, Eagles, Carolina, Seattle) be perennial playoff teams. Pittsburgh and Baltimore don’t count because their defenses are so good it doesn’t matter what they do on offense.
Too many times this team has had their explosive offense shut down and the defense and/or special teams wasn’t good enough and they got beat. Defense and teams allow you to survive the days the offense struggles.
But it’s not like they’re putting Palmer in mothballs. Remember how Boomer Esiason used the league’s No. 1 rushing attack to go deep to wide receiver Eddie Brown and tight end Rodney Holman off his lethal play-action fakes? Best way to slow down the rush.
That said, they certainly aren’t going deep and at some point they have to start opening it up and get it down field to Chad Ochocinco and Chris Henry. They can’t let those guys be just decoys. But it seems that they’re doing this in stages as they get the offensive line’s feet wet and Palmer gets sharper and healthier.
Really, this run-first deal should make the passing game so much better. Here’s a stat from one of Thursday’s stories on here. Over a stretch of 15 games in 2004 and 2005, Palmer had at least a 100 passer rating in 14 games and Rudi Johnson rushed for at least 4.2 yards per game in eight of them. Since then he’s had just nine 100 in three seasons they averaged under less than four yards per carry.
Q: I know you talked about the no-huddle offense and how it’s not good for the running game, but what if we run the no-huddle at the beginning of the game, maybe first half, and get a lead on a team, then come out second half and run it down their throats. I also don’t like that on third-and- two, third-and-one we don’t put in Jeremi Johnson, a true fullback, and run the ball with Cedric behind Bobbie to get the first down. If we can’t get running first downs on third and short then we are not a good running team.
--Adam C., Clayton, OH
ADAM: I didn’t talk about the no-huddle offense. A power much higher did. Bratkowski, who we’d much rather listen to than me since he’s the guy calling the plays.
You make a good point. The Steelers didn’t no-huddle, but back when they had a running game their whole thing was getting 10-14 points ahead and then mashing you with the run. If they were still that good of a running team, they would have won Sunday’s game 27-13.
But Bratkowski seemed to suggest that you can’t do both. If you’re committed to the run, you have to run and the no-huddle isn’t geared for that. But, yeah, I see your point. What would be wrong with opening up in a two-minute drill? And who’s to say he won’t once Palmer and the offensive line get their feet under them?
Jeremi has been getting his share of time. They have had him in there often enough, but Bratkowski’s thing is to keep changing formations and personnel groups so the defense can’t get a bead on you. So sometimes it’s one back and two tight ends, or a tight end in the backfield, as well as Jeremi.
And they’ve been pretty good in short yardage.
They’ve had 11 snaps on third-and-one and third-and-two have run it six times, making it five. Benson is 2-for-2 converting third-and-one rushes.
Q: Beating the Steelers is always a treat. (There are so many Steelers fans in this area and 0 Bengals fans.) But hopefully this team doesn’t fall into the trap of this win being their season Super Bowl (breaking the streak and all) and have a letdown next week against the Browns. The offense still needs better production. Thoughts?
--Caton B., Williamsburg, VA
CATON: This game should put a shiver through all of Bengaldom. They have more of a chance of coming out flat this week in Cleveland than last week, when they were at home playing their arch-rival that just happens to be Super Bowl champs.
But Sunday they are on the road against a wounded, desperate team, the kind of team that has a potential to pick your pocket while you sleep.
You could make an argument that last Sunday was their most important division win since they beat Baltimore in the 2007 opener. But remember what happened the next week? They lost to a 0-1 Cleveland team that had just traded its quarterback five days before and was supposedly in disarray and getting ready to fire the coach. Poof, the Browns put up 51 points on them and went on to win 10 games.
You can bet Marvin has been all over them about that.
As for the offense, no question. They have to score more. They are capable of what they did in Green Bay during a 31-21 win. Score about a point a minute and make every drive count. But against Denver and Pittsburgh they wasted a lot of chances with stupid stuff.
Q: Why is Coffman not getting in at TE? Is he still recovering from the injury he had on draft day? Or has he not picked up on the offense yet? I know the Bengals are dedicated to the run this year, but it sure would be nice to have more offensive sets with a pass-catching TE. It seems to me it would help Palmer to dump off to the TE as an outlet a little more often.
--Buford, Colorado Springs, CO
BUFORD: You answered your own question. With Benson and backup running back Brian Leonard solid receivers and four nice wideouts, they need their bigger tight ends to block rather than be receivers and Coffman virtually never blocked in high school or in college spread formations. He’s still learning the pro game and if he’s out there now, he’ll tip the foe on what they’re doing: Pass. Great kid, but the NCAA’s all-time tight end receiving leader isn’t well-rounded yet. When he is, and he will be, he'll be a heck of a third-round pick.