Posted: 4:45 a.m.
Head coach Marvin Lewis says not everyone is doing his job. Quarterback Carson Palmer says defenses have taken away his top threat. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski points to the failures on third down and hopes the addition this week of running back Chris Perry can help.
And Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson didn't blow up. But he would like the Bengals to blow up their offense that has the ninth fewest passes in the NFL of at least 40 yards with just two and the sixth fewest runs of at least 20 yards with two
"We need to start dictating what we want to do; without saying it the wrong way," Johnson said. "That's what we've been doing: Take what they give us. But at some point we need to be the aggressor. Even when they're not giving it to us, just try and take it anyway."
Lewis and Bratkowski smiled and shook their heads Wednesday when informed of Johnson's game plan. Johnson is lobbying publicly and privately for the Bengals to return to the swashbuckling days of last year, but the braintrust doesn't want to force a big play when the defense isn't giving it to them.
"Let Chad speak for himself. I don't necessarily agree because Chad has a very tainted view of things all the time," Lewis said with a laugh. "But that's OK. Greed is good. I think we would all like to make sure we continue to be aggressive, and I think that's all he's speaking to. But we're not going to be careless or foolish."
Or, as Bratkowski said, "He has an opinion and I think the rest of us have our opinion."
Bratkowski's opinion is that defenses saw what the Bengals did to them last year in reaching No. 6 in NFL offense and have vowed not to let them do it this year at No. 19. Forget last year's first five games when Johnson by himself had two touchdowns of at least 40 yards. After their bye, the Bengals turned to the No Huddle offense and had four scores of at least 40 yards in the last seven games. This year, they have no scores of 40-plus.
"It's a combination of things. People have done a good job studying our No Huddle," Bratkowski said. "We scored a number of touchdowns in No Huddle on quick counts and trying to take shots downfield. People have studied those and are ready for them. We have an answer to that. They're just telling their guys, 'In No Huddle, keep everything in front of you. Don't let that get open.' "
In the last two weeks the Bengals have missed converting 20 of 25 third-down tries. Of their dozen drives Sunday in Tampa, eight went five plays or fewer.
But injuries and suspensions have completely altered the third-down offense of this club.
Third receiver Chris Henry, who finished in the AFC's top 20 last year with 17 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns on third down, is going to miss his third straight game Sunday because of discipline problems.
Chris Perry, who finished among the NFL's top tier last season in catches by a running back on third down, practiced for the first time since last season Wednesday and the hope is he can be active Sunday. But how much can he provide right away on his rehabbed ankle and knee?
And wide receiver Tab Perry, who has missed all but the first two games with a hip injury, had been trained all spring and summer as the replacement for tight end Matt Schobel on third down as a pass protector in the backfield or flexed out as a receiver. Then when he got hurt, the Bengals trained Kelley Washington to do it and both Tab Perry and Washington (hamstring) are out this week.
That doesn't even take into consideration the loss of center Rich Braham and left tackle Levi Jones as the Bengals prepare for Carolina and what Bratkowski calls" the best front four in football." Braham was able to communicate the crazy third-down protections for the whacky blitzes, and Jones was able to hold up one-on-one against the game's best pass rushers without the Bengals always giving up a receiver to help him block.
"You have to play the cards you're dealt," Bratkowski said. "There's no way around it. We have to do better on third down. ... Until that third threat is out there, they can squeeze (Chad and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) pretty good."
Houshmandzadeh has been calling Chris Perry the Bengals answer to Reggie Bush, and Bratkowski says he's looking forward to getting another playmaker. But Bratkowski and Palmer aren't sure what Perry will be able to give them.
"He hasn't played football in a long time; it's going to be a struggle for him to get back in the right game shape," Palmer said. "He hasn't played since last year. We're really going to be counting on him to make big plays for us three or four weeks down the road. Running back is a difficult position just to come in and play. You've got guys flying all over the place trying to hit you. You're trying to get into a rhythm with the offensive line to read blocks, predict blocks and make the cut."
Perry may have to be split wide more often than not Sunday, since the Bengals have only three healthy veteran wideouts in Johnson, Houshmandzadeh and Antonio Chatman.
"He's got phenomenal hands and runs good routes," Palmer said.
The other guy who can score from anywhere on the field, Chad Johnson, is clearly restless.
"We were airing it out," said Johnson of last season. "That's something we'll probably get back to, slowly but surely. ... (We) should at least have 10 more 50-yarders by now. I guarantee you eight of them would be completions. Put up a lot more points. It gives the better chance or opportunity to score instead of trying to drive the field every time 80, 90 yards. I think we've stayed away from it."
Palmer, who has a lot of liberty at the line of scrimmage in and out of No Huddle, actually called himself out Wednesday in the passing game even though he and Johnson hooked up Sunday on their first completion longer than 18 yards this season.
"I think we've struggled specifically with Chad just because people have been really trying to take him away," Palmer said. "I don't think that 51-yard completion got us back in sync. It was just nice to get a 50-yard gain ripped off there and change the field position with that play. Chad and I are fine. We're going to keep working. I haven't done a good enough job getting him the ball and throwing accurate enough passes for him and making it easy on him."
Bratkowski simply hasn't seen the open spaces.
"Every time you have something designed to go deep, you always have to have a complementary part on the other side because certain plays are designed to go deep against two deep coverage," Bratkowski said. "Certain plays are designed to go deep against one deep coverage. Some are designed to go against straight man and when you call them, you have to have that alternate way out. If you don't have what you want, you go somewhere else."
The coaches are pleased that Palmer isn't forcing it, although NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots' take is that Johnson is still getting double teamed every snap and when it looks like there is a lack of communication it's because Palmer is trying to jam it into Johnson in a virtually impossible spot.
On the first series of the second half last Sunday, Palmer and Johnson missed on a fade on third-and-four. An automatic play last year?
"We missed that last year and threw incompletions," Bratkowski said. "Except there would be a bunch of other completions and nobody would think about it. It doesn't have anything to do with them not being on the same wavelength."
Lewis broke it down even more.
"We need to make sure we run the right route," he said. "We need to make sure we line up corrrectly. We need to make sure we throw it correctly, protect it, get the right depth and get the right guy protecting on the right protector.
"And until we do, we're going to be upset and angry. It's easy to point a finger, but the first thing we want to do is take care of our own job and make sure we're where we belong, and we're not 100 percent at that yet. And Chad realizes that."