When Bob Bratkowski arrived in 2001 as the Bengals offensive coordinator, he inherited one of the worst passing games in the last 50 years.
With the help of quarterback Carson Palmer it became one of the best in the NFL during his first 47 starts before it has rather mysteriously disappeared in his last 50. Bratkowski's successor, who could be named as soon as Wednesday, may or may not have Palmer. But his charge is much broader. Per head coach Marvin Lewis, he has to consolidate the running and passing games into a streamlined and coherent scheme that can be executed more consistently.
Yes. The dreaded get-on-the-same-page oath.
And on the way to reaching that identity, here are the five stats the new coordinator must attack and improve in order for the Bengals to make the playoffs.
POINTS: It is always about the points. The magic number is 24 per game. That's what the 12 playoff teams averaged this year, ranging from the Patriots' 32.4 to Seattle's 19.3. The Bengals have hit that average just once since going for 25 in 1989, and that was in 2005 with 26.3. They followed it up with 23.3 in '06 and 23.8 in '07. Not enough. After Palmer threw for six TD passes on Sept. 16, 2007 in Cleveland, the offense has scored three TDs in a game just a dozen times.
The Bengals won the division in '09 averaging barely 19 points, but they could only jack it to 20.1 this year. Seattle was the only playoff team with less than 20. Sounds easy. Score more points. But it's been hard since Sam Wyche left.
RUSHING TDs: With nine in '09, the Bengals were the only playoff team to be in single digits. The Saints were the only team this year with nine. The Bengals had eight this season, ahead of only Buffalo and Carolina. This seems to be a more telling stat than red-zone TD percentage, where the Bengals have been awful for years. They were just 49.1 percent this season, but five playoff teams were worse. Somehow Baltimore (49) and Pittsburgh (48) were behind them, as were the Bears (45.1), Seahawks (42) and Jets (40).
SHORT YARDAGE: This one and rushing TDs are all tied into the philosophy thing. When it gets down to crunch time, players have to know what they can do and not screw it up with a false start or motion because there is too much going on. Lewis' big beef is "We don't know who we are."
And this is right here where the Bengals need an intro. They were 28-for-58 on third-and-two or less. That has to be an almost automatic conversion for an offense to survive. It's a stat that says so much, and it starts with the ability to impose its will and ends with executing whatever is its bread-and-butter.
YARDS PER RUSH: Pretty standard, but elusive. If Bratkowski had to fix the pass game 10 years ago, his successor has to delve into both. Lewis counted more than 80 snaps where running back Cedric Benson got hit before he got back to the line. The Bengals went for 3.6 yards per rush and that wins nothing.
Of the playoff teams, Seattle was low at 3.7 and half were at 4.0. Cincinnati's attempt at a high-powered passing game to take the next step in 2006 and 2007 was dragged down by a run game that averaged 3.6 and 3.7 yards, respectively. It's not rocket science. Palmer threw a total of 25 picks in the two division-winning seasons the Bengals averaged 4.1 and 4.2 on the ground. In his two losing seasons as the starter, '07 and '10, he threw 20 picks in each when they averaged 3.6 and 3.7 rushing.
YARDS PER PASS: Something is seriously wrong with the offense when Palmer hasn't averaged seven yards per throw since 7.18 in 2007. With an arm like that, it just can't happen. Especially for a guy that averaged 7.4 in his first three seasons. Since '07? It would be 6.8.
No question there has been turnover at receiver, but 6.8? In '09, Palmer had only one guy to throw to, so the 6.64 isn't surprising. But 6.77 with some new guys in '10 doesn't make it. Seven of the 12 playoff quarterbacks averaged at least 7.02, and only the Jets' Mark Sanchez and Atlanta's Matt Ryan (both 6.49) were lower than Palmer. And in a division where Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (8.23) and Baltimore's Joe Flacco (7.41) continually jack it up, the Bengals have to keep pace.
The first thing the new guy has to do in the pass game is get everyone on the same page. The second thing is to make sure no one says "we weren't on the same page" ever again.