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Bengals Grapple With Offense

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and his staff treated Monday like a "semi bye week" in an effort to analyze how the Bengals can revive an offense that hasn't been this bad since the Akili Age.

A day after his unit failed for the fourth time in six games to generate at least 216 total yards and at least 3.2 yards per rush, Bratkowski has put everything on the table.

Particularly the running game.

"We're analyzing everything we've done to this point," he said. "Try to fix things that need to be fixed and make sure we're doing more of the things we're doing well."

With the club mired next-to-last in NFL offense and rushing, there is a school of thought that says what the Bengals haven't done well is establish themselves as a physical, ball-control running team and that they should go back to their identity as a big-play passing team.

Head coach Marvin Lewis disputed that notion Monday after revealing that backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick starts for the second straight Sunday against Pittsburgh as Carson Palmer continues to rest his inflamed throwing elbow.

"No, because if you can run the ball, you're going to see more eight-man spacing," Lewis said. "So that's going to give you a chance for those deep shots you're talking about. So that (theory) would probably not be a true look at it."

Bratkowski indicated the club isn't looking at an abrupt shift in philosophy but a guide for more points.

"I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we won't run it," he said. "But it's become more of a point what do we run and what down and distances do we run."

Bratkowski's stamp is all over the Bengals record book. Under his watch since 2001 they have produced their single-season passing, rushing and receiving records, as well as the best season by a receiving duo and a revision of the all-time receiving records.

But even with everyone but running back Rudi Johnson still around the premises in the first six games of this season, the offense has produced four of the worst nine games in Lewis' 86 regular-season games.

Two have come in Fitzpatrick's starts but the offense was already broken before Palmer got hurt.

In fact, that's how Palmer got hurt. On one of those blitzes that the Bengals always seemed to pick up for him until this year.

Here are some things that are different with the offense since the glory days:

The running game really hasn't been consistent since the 2006 injury to center Rich Braham and an injury later that year to right tackle Willie Anderson.

In '05 with both of them healthy, the Bengals rushed for 4.2 yards per carry. In '06, when Braham got hurt in Game 2 and Anderson got hurt in pregame of Game 13 and still played, the Bengals rushed for 3.7. Last year with both basically gone, it was 3.7 again.

This year it's a horrific 3.1.

Exhibit A? On Sunday Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins had a big game against the Bengals interior.

The Bengals didn't have a true fullback after Jeremi Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury and they could use his lead blocking right about now.

Since '05, the Bengals have never had any consistency at No. 3 receiver. In and around Chris Henry's three suspensions, Kelley Washington went to New England, Tab Perry got hurt, and Antonio Chatman struggled with injury for two years.

Bratkowski wasn't delving into any matters like that. He's simply trying to get something ready for Pittsburgh to protect Fitzpatrick from a typically relentless Steelers pass rush that is third in the league in sacks per pass.

Bratkowski points to a variety of reasons for the lack of protection, such as adjusting to the change in running back, receivers not getting open as easily and as quickly, and more individual breakdowns.

"The protection issues have varied from week to week," Bratkowski said. "The backs have missed protections. Guys haven't shaken free so the quarterback holds the ball longer. We've had issues in individuals blocking people up front, or have had issues with sometimes the ability of two or three people to work together on a certain pass-rush stunt teams have done.

"We still had those issues, but we didn't have the individual breakdowns as much. Or the breakdowns in the back position, or didn't have as many situations where we held the ball because we weren't shaking free."

But it all gets back to the running game, doesn't it?

"In the effort to run the ball we have left ourselves with more third-and-longs and not converted them," Bratkowski said. "Which then becomes a cycle of first down, second down, third down, throw it. Back on the field, first down, second down, third down, throw it. So you're not generating enough first downs through the course of the game to get as many runs and passes called as you like.

Or, as Bratkowski says, "the longer the down and distance, the harder it is to protect the quarterback."

Another factor for the struggles? Four of the Bengals' first six foes are in the top 10 in NFL defense heading into Monday night's game and three of them—Baltimore at one, the Giants at three and the Titans at five—are in the top five. And the Jets, at 11, and the Browns, at 14, werent gimmes.

Now Fitzpatrick faces the second-ranked Steelers. Bratkowski wasn't pleased he held on to a potential long pass long enough to get sacked and stripped, but he was better than he was against Cleveland.

"We saw improvement in certain areas this week," Bratkowski said. "I don't think he really threw the ball yesterday into trouble. He didn't make any poor decisions with where to throw it. He should have got rid of that one ball and you've got to have a feel where people are around you, but he really improved in that area."

Bratkowski liked the way Fitzpatrick ran the game.

"He was trying to look at the initial reads and do what the coverage says," Bratkowski said. "If the coverage said check it down, he was checking it down and that's what you ask a quarterback to do."


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