11-27-03, 3:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
In offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's third season, the balance of the Bengals' offense wakes up the echoes of the late 1980s. In the league's 17 major offensive categories, the Bengals are in the top 10 in seven of them with their No. 3 ranking in third-down efficiency the highest. They are ranked No. 11 in both yards per game rushing (122.7) and passing (217.5) and in the last three games they racked up 665 rushing yards and 633 passing yards.
The man they call "Brat," seems to have them guessing run or pass. We didn't want to guess, so we asked him five questions. We'll give defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier the same treatment before the Bengals play the Steelers Sunday. **
GH:One of your best friends in the league is Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, the guy they call "Inspector Gadget," because of his creative playcalling. You've really opened it up yourself lately with shovel passes and using wide receiver Peter Warrick as a runner. Will you guys be going gadget for gadget in Pittsburgh, and why have there been so many different plays of late?
BB:** We'll always have our group of specials plays that we carry every week. It won't be any different this week, and I'm sure he has his. He usually carries more than we do, but we'll have our special plays just like he will.
We're at a point now where we're away from where we have to spend all of our time on the base plays. We can insert a few of those special plays and trust the base plays don't need as much work as they normally do. When you have what we call special plays, it looks really good when it works. Sometimes it blows up in your face. The past few weeks they've worked.
They are base plays, they're not trick plays. They are plays that have been schemed out and designed to take advantage of certain things. A lot of that stems from our trust in the players being able to handle the different things we're trying to do. Their experience, their maturity as they grow allows us to throw some special wrinkles in each week. **
GH:** Why has the running game gone from struggling so much not even a month ago to averaging 222 yards in the past three games?
BB:** Commitment. Commitment since the bye week (Oct. 12) by all the coaches, and all the offensive players. Receivers. Backs. Everybody, including the coaches, to step it up. Not much longer sessions in practice, although we did spend long sessions with the players during the bye week. But just a more focused, detailed approached along with a little bit of a change in our philosophy. We've cut the number of types of runs down and tried to get good at a few things.
GH: You've been around quarterback Jon Kitna since 1996. Why is he playing at Pro Bowl form? **
BB:He's getting a lot of help from the people around him. That helps any quarterback. He's very well prepared every week. (Quarterbacks) Coach (Ken) Zampese has been doing a great job of helping him get prepared. He's maturing every week as a quarterback and I think that's something that even six, seven, eight-year veterans can do to elevate their game. His decision-making has really stood out. He's managing the team. He knows exactly where to go with the ball.
GH:When you came here in 2001, you said you wanted to be versatile in deceptive formations so that defenses had to guess . With the balance you've reached in the past three games, are you there yet, and how can you keep the Corey Dillon-Rudi Johnson backfield rolling because that really seems to keep them guessing?
BB:** If you can stay balanced and have an efficient running game and an efficient passing game, then you are truly capable of taking advantage. If they want to stop the run, you're able to throw it. If they want to stop the pass, you're able to run it. You would hope you can do them well enough that you can call on either one to win a game for you.
Having (Dillon and Johnson) fresh going into the last five regular-season games is a plus for us because we've got guys that we can just keep pounding defenses on a weekly basis, and those two healthy bodies, along with everybody else involved in the running game will hopefully bode well for us.
In order for both of them to have the kind of carries they would like, we're going to have to convert third downs, and keep drives going because if we do not, then we'll end up with a limited number of snaps, and we're not going to be able to get either one the ball enough.
GH: How do you explain the phenomenal success on third down? **
BB:** A lot of practice at it. Coach Lewis has it set up in practice where we practice third downs almost as much as we practice anything else and I think our coaches have done a great job scheming on third downs, and our players have an understanding of what they're going to see and they're able to go take advantage of it. If you can leave yourself in third-and-five or less, we feel it's an advantage, offense. If you're third-and-seven or more, it's a little bit advantage, defense.