BY GEOFF HOBSON
The frustration around a Bengals offense that has scored just three touchdowns all year and just three points in the second half has now officially surfaced.
After Sunday's 23-14 loss in which they could scrounge just seven first downs and seven of their 12 series were three-and-out, the steam was rising.
Quarterback Akili Smith stood up the media after his worst effort in nine NFL starts. With a 10-for-23 passing day for 85 yards that was marked by dreadful inaccuracy, Smith did Sunday exactly what he didn't want to do and took a step back.
Meanwhile, rookie receiver Peter Warrick longed for his college playmaking days after catching his only pass in the game's final 1:27. Right tackle Willie Anderson said his young offense needs to be able to make more mid-game adjustments rather than relying so much on the coaches.
Former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason was in attendance and told Smith before the game, "Don't try to do it all by yourself."
"He had a tough one," Esiason said after he watched. "He didn't hit some open passes."
But he had time. The Titans sacked Smith just once, but it was end Kenny Holmes from the blindside and it caused a fumble on a play that Smith appeared to hold the ball too long.
Warrick said, "I'm not sure if that is for me to say," when asked if Smith should be looking for him more. "I have people calling me on the phone every week from all over the country asking me, 'When are they going to start getting me the ball?' All I can tell them now is I'm wondering the same thing."
Warrick, who accounted for 40 career touchdowns at Florida State running, throwing, catching and returning, is having culture shock after his first five NFL games. He's got 16 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown and two runs for 11 yards.
"I've always been of the mind, 'I'm just out there to play. I try to keep my mouth shut, a track record should speak for itself.' I don't even know what to say right now. We say the same things every week like, 'We're going to do it this week,' but it never happens. . .I feel like it's time to stop talking about this stuff and start producing results. People wear thin. It will take its toll sooner or later. Losing is not in me and I'm trying to keep it out of me."
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Warrick's offense has not been able to go downfield ever since speed receiver Darnay Scott went down in training camp Aug. 1 with a season-ending broken leg. And defenses know there is not only average speed, but even less experience. Three of the four receivers the Bengals dressed Sunday were rookies on a day Smith's longest completion before the end-of-game two-minute drill was 15 yards.
"When we put eight men in the box," said running back Corey Dillon, "we have to get the passing game going."
After Dillon scored a touchdown on the longest run of his career – 80 yards – Tennessee adjusted by putting eight men at the line of sc rimmage as they continually blitzed strong safety Blaine Bishop. Dillon never got his 100-yard day because he got seven yards on his next 11 carries and finished with 95 on 15 carries.
"As a team, we have to realize what they're doing in the secondary," Anderson said. "What coverages are they playing against the run. Until we figure it out and learn how to attack it on the move, and not come in Monday and have the coaches explain it. . .coaches can't give us all the moves all the time . That's where experience comes in . Coaches give us a great game plan , but we have to be able to adjust on the move.
"You see it on the NFL highlights, (experienced teams) adjusting on the sidelines," Anderson said. "That's what we have to learn to do."
Anderson can see the frustration. He can see it when Dillon tries to make a move against an eight-man line.
"Our running back gets kind of frustrated a little bit because he sees stuff that he thinks he sees and it makes him run the wrong course," Anderson said. "A couple of times on third-and-1, we had guys blocked, but he saw guys coming unblocked because we don't have enough guys (to block), and he basically runs the wrong course. But you get that a lot when you get eight, nine men in the box."
Anderson says Smith is still hanging with it, still trying to lead, still hustling, still trying to stay positive. But he needs help.
"He's still young. He's going to make mistakes, but the people around him have to pick it up," Anderson said. "He needs help from the receivers. Running backs. The line. Coaches. Everybody. He can't do it all by himself . All we can do is protect him well, like we have the last couple of weeks. Make him think he's got more time to throw so that he can be more comfortable back there."
At the moment, there is no level of comfort on offense.