Hobson's Choice: '05 On The Mind

Q: Let's face it, the offense looks horrific. The question is simple. Who's to blame? Carson, the receivers, the TEs and RBs for not picking up the blitz, the OL, Brat, all of the above? It just seems crazy to have a team that was so offensively dominant in 2005, upgrade the personnel, and look this bad just three years later.
--Sean, Allentown, PA

SEAN: Mind-boggling. That '05 offense should be in its prime now, and even better with a more explosive running back and pass catching tight end. Instead, to have the worst offense and lowest rated passer in the league after the first week of the season three years later is pure, uncut madness.

But we'll try, in no particular order, to figure out what are the differences from now and three years ago:

  1. It seems they've never been able to reproduce the recognition and rhythm on the offensive line that they had when Rich Braham was at center.
  1. Right tackle Stacy Andrews has to start playing like a franchise player that has been designated the replacement for a franchise player in Willie Anderson. He flashed all the signs last year. This upcoming game is a nice gauge. Back in '05 when the Bengals went to Nashville and Kyle Vanden Bosch led the world in sacks, Anderson blanked him and the Bengals put up 31 points in a hostile building.
  1. The preseason pounding of quarterback Carson Palmer maybe has taken its toll. They say it's just not the O-line but backs, tight ends, receivers and even Carson himself. All I know is he doesn't look as comfortable in the pocket, and who can blame him if he does indeed have one eye on the rush? When you protect him, he's an MVP candidate, case closed.

Please address the complaints that Palmer is not a franchise quarterback to the fantasy football guy, care of Tom Brady/P.O. Box ACL.

(Even the almighty can't throw on his back.)

  1. Is it any coincidence that their two Pro Bowl receivers, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco, combined for just four catches Sunday after injuries took them out of training camp?

Clearly there was rust. While they'll be solid when they get back into the swing, physically you can't say right now they are where they were in '05 with Chad gamely and bravely playing with a separated shoulder and T.J. working his way back.

But that said, just look at what numbers they've put up together since they hooked up with Palmer in '04 and it's hard to see them at the end of the day not combining for something like 2,600 yards and 20 TDs. Yes, T.J. turns 31 in two weeks and The Ocho is 30 and that can get you worried. But if the new 50 is the old 40, then the new 28-29 for WRs is 33-35.

  1. They haven't been able to develop a third receiver to replace Chris Henry. He was huge in '05 with the long ball and scoring once every five catches. In Palmer's four '08 appearances, his longest completion is 24 yards.

Tab Perry got hurt. Kelley Washington got on the wrong side of the coaches. Kevin Walter got $2 million from the Texans after catching 19 balls in '05. Antonio Chatman got hurt for two years. And they say rookies Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson can't help them right now.

(By the way, anybody else see Eddie Royal, like Simpson a second-round pick, make nine catches in his first game for Denver Monday night?)

  1. In '05, the offense snuck up on people. Remember, they were coming off a tough '04 when Palmer threw as many touchdowns as picks in his first year as the starter.

But it took off with Palmer as the triggerman and defenses had few answers. Now they have plenty and it's time to counter.

Sure, plenty of reasons. But answers would be nicer.


Q: I like Chris Perry but Kenny Watson proved himself last year. Why is Watson not the starter, or at least getting more the running plays? Also, time and time again I see the coaches call a running play when it is obvious they should have passed it. It seems like they are trying to be something they are not. Use what the football gods gave you! The team has one of the best quarterbacks and group of receivers in all of football. It's the regular season now. It's about WINS, not trying to create a new "identity" for the team.
--Thomas S., Aliso Viejo, CA

THOMAS: The one good thing that came out of Baltimore was that the Bengals finally stuck to the run. Winning is all about finding an identity.

You can say it was clear the running game didn't work, but you have to know who you're playing, too. Baltimore lives off turning sacks and interceptions into points. If they threw it 37 times Carson would have been in intensive care and they might have been out of the game by the second quarter against a big-play defense like that.

If you've read this space, you know we've been a big advocate of the running game. And even more so now because:

  • It allows you to prevent your $130M QB from getting blown to bits behind protection that simply hasn't been there for whatever reason. Can we please at least get him to the bye week?

That group of receivers you're talking about isn't the '05 group. So until Chad and T.J. get back into sync, they should be pounding so they don't force it.

It shortens the game and takes the pressure off a defense in the first year of a scheme.

People are screaming about the lack of play-action passes. Well, when you're not committed to the run, they don't respect the action. All you have to do is look at the jammed passing lanes of Arizona, Pittsburgh and Frisco last year when linebackers were sprinting 20 yards backwards.

Look, I'm not calling for a Woody Hayes playbook. But you have to be balanced. You also have to be creative and, sure, I'd like to see more ways to get Perry the ball on the perimeter via swing passes and screens, and some more balls to new tight end Ben Utecht. To me, he's the answer underneath when teams bracket T.J. and Chad. Throw him the eight-yard pass like Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger will do Sunday with his tight ends.

But look, the Titans sacked the Jags seven times last Sunday. How many times do you want the Bengals to throw it against them this Sunday?

Please run the ball.

No question that Watson is a hell of a back. Productive, reliable, and they want to use him.

Like they did in the two-minute drill at the end of the half and on third down Sunday. His two carries for 14 yards came against pass packages and I don't think it would have mattered who was running it on first and second down because there was nothing nowhere.

They obviously feel Perry has more speed and explosion and that's why he's starting, but Watson is going to get his shots. I think the reason he only got two carries is they simply didn't have the ball enough.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has talked about using some back by committee. But when you convert two third downs the entire day, you only need a committee for public safety.


Q: Given that reports have the Bengals saving upwards of $9 million in salary-cap space, what do you see them doing with it? I know you've mentioned extensions for Shayne Graham and Johnathan Joseph, but is there enough money for someone else? If so, who? Does the money have to be used in 2008?
--Drew, Mt. Washington, Ky.

DREW: About half that $9 million figures to go to incentives for the last two first-round picks. And Leon Hall and Keith Rivers figure to easily get them since they have to play in just 35 percent of the snaps.

Some of the money is also going to go to injured players, so they may wait it out a few weeks to see how that goes before they approach some guys.

As for extensions, Graham and Joseph are the first ones that come to mind, although Graham has said he prefers not to talk during the year and that would take them out of this cap year for him.

You've got to think they'll make another run at T.J., but age is going to be a real factor there (he turns 31 later this month) and I think you'd have to call that a tossup at best. They can't talk contract with Stacy Andrews until after the season, so he won't be extended under the '08 cap.

They don't have to use all of the space, but every year since they moved into Paul Brown Stadium they've finished the season at or over the cap.

Certain incentives can be pushed into the next year's cap, which has happened several times.

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