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How close is offense?

With his unit so much in the news this past week, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski sat down with Geoff Hobson of this week to discuss quarterbacks and other topics.

HOBSON: I think you would welcome another quarterback, but you're also anxious to see what last year's group can do in the second year of the same system.

BB: If we don't get a guy, we still have some issues at that position. Look at all the free-agent quarterbacks that moved last year. Their success rate was not very good. It takes time at that position.

The biggest concern is the No. 2 and 3 spots. If we don't get a guy, when and how will Akili (Smith) be recovered (from hamstring surgery)? How much will him missing the entire offseason and maybe even some of training camp affect his play as the No. 1, 2 , or 3 guy?

We felt all along if we got a (Trent) Dilfer or a (Elvis) Grbac, the position would be extremely solid with Jon and Akili. If we don't get a guy, it puts a lot more pressure for Akili to be ready by the start of camp. How much is not being able to work in the offseason going to affect him? He needs that work. You're also dealing with the No. 3 job. We had hoped Scott Covington would go to (NFL Europe) and get some playing time. He decided not to do that, now he's even more of an unknown. He's farther away from having played in a game.

HOBSON: In the past, he has wanted to stay here during the offseason so he can be with the same receivers in the same system instead of having everything new in Europe.

BB: That may be his thinking, but I don't agree with it. Just take a look at the guys around who have played over there who have gone on to have success in the NFL. **

HOBSON:** One J. Kitna. And Scott Mitchell.

BB: How about Kurt Warner and Jay Fiedler? Those are things he may be thinking, but maybe we have to alter our thinking and find (a No. 3) that we know about. That's the issue. We know if we get another guy, we'd have two guys and be very solid at the position and it wouldn't be so critical for Akili to come back really soon. **

HOBSON:** You think you'll be better even if you don't have a different quarterback, right?

BB: We've felt Jon would come back and have a better year next year with the people around him doing things better than last year. We would like to think that would be good enough to achieve our goals.

HOBSON: You guys looked so good in the two-minute drill at the end of the half and game . Any plans to employ anything like a no-huddle offense as sort of a change of pace in the middle of a game? **

BB:** Yes, but we're talking about not necessarily with just four wide receivers. The structure of it would be different than the two-minute offense. That limits you to four wide receivers. You have just a couple plays. If you do it in the middle of a game with four wides, you would basically be in a run-and-shoot offense where you're throwing it all the time and just running draw plays. We're looking at it with different personnel groups.

HOBSON: Why is the passing game so successful out of the hurryup?

BB: The way the system is set up, those plays that we run are basically the same plays we run every week. Those are the same plays we run from Day One. And it helps that we call some of our plays at the line of scrimmage, which is what you're doing in the hurryup.

HOBSON: The one stat that seems to stick out is Kitna's 5.5 yards or so per pass attempt. Almost no one else in the league was under six.

BB: Some of that may be my fault. I may have called too many quick passes in an attempt to get us into a rhythm when we were struggling. I would tend to make a call that would get us five and a half, six yards. I probably didn't call enough passes down the field. I called more down the field later in the year.

Some of that could fall on me. I have to be careful I don't get into that mode where I'm thinking, 'First down, First down,' and trying to put us in third-and-four or less. Sometimes when you're struggling offensively, you're looking to give yourself medium to short third downs. So what I tend to do on first and second down is go to those quick, high percentage throws which leave us at third-and-four or less. Now all of a sudden, your yards per attempt aren't very good. I told that to the offensive coaches that I may have gone to the quick game too much in an attempt to keep us in those situations. **

HOBSON:That said, when you did get a big play open, it either seemed overthrown, underthrown, or dropped.

BB:** It sounds like excuses. I know Bengals' fans don't want to hear it. The last thing they want to hear is how close we are, but I'll say this. When we turned tape on Dilfer, there were two or three plays where he threw the ball almost identically where we had thrown the ball. Where it was placed. When it was placed. And their receiver came down with it, or it was thrown four inches shorter and it was a completion.

All of a sudden, the big plays we could have had stand out. The 99-yarder against Baltimore (dropped by wide receiver Chad Johnson). The two in the first Tennessee game (one pass each off the fingertips of wide receivers Darnay Scott and T.J. Houshmandzadeh), and the post in the first half against Jacksonville when we were losing 3-0.

HOBSON: The one just over Darnay's hands and he was behind everyone for a touchdown?

BB: By inches. Go back and look at the tape and we're not missing by much. In the last two games, Jon played well, but those receivers made some really nice plays. All of them. Against Pittsburgh, the catches by Danny Farmer and Ron Dugans in the end zone. Darnay made some big plays. Peter Warrick had a 100-yard game.

HOBSON: I guess Farmer has earned more playing time.

BB: I think he has. We have to find out where and when, and whose snaps is he going to take away. If he plays in the slot, it's going to be putting Dugans and Warrick some place else. **

HOBSON:Can Danny only play the slot?

BB:** No, I don't think any of them are limited to that, but there are some places where they are stronger. His real strength is inside. He's a prototype in there.

But if you go back and look at it, you've got two outside guys in Darnay Scott and Chad Johnson. Now you go inside. If you're going to give more time to Danny Farmer, then where does that put Peter Warrick? Does Peter stay in, does that take Chad's side away? So we have a good group there, but in order to give everybody a chance, it's going to have to be well thought out. It will be very competitive. Danny and T.J. have shown their ability to make plays and be very consistent.

HOBSON: T.J. plays outside. Can Peter play outside?

BB: T.J. has played inside as well. Peter can play outside. I think his real strength is inside. Personnel wise, you have to play to your strengths and put them where they can succeed. **

HOBSON:With Peter scoring just one touchdown last year, I guess you're looking to get him going.

BB:** We're looking at creative ways to use him. We're trying to get the ball in his hands and it doesn't necessarily mean dropping back and throwing the ball to him.

HOBSON: Can the receivers and Jon have a relationship after last year? There was that verbal bloodletting in Baltimore followed by those last two games of the year in which everyone played well. **

BB:** Oh yeah. They'll be fine. This is a business where you can't be sensitive. You're going to have that when you have young guys that sometimes think they know how it's supposed to be done, but don't really know how it is supposed to be done, and Jon could have handled some of it a little bit better. With every quarterback, you need to let people around you know that they're not doing what you expected them to do.

At the same time, there is a right and wrong way to do it. I think it's a minor issue. As they look at what they did the last two weeks, I think they will see this is what we've been talking about and what they can accomplish. **

HOBSON:** The problems of the passing game have overshadowed your desire to also improve the running game. Even though Corey Dillon got over 1,300 yards, you want to see his 3.9 yards per carry get bigger.

BB: No question about that. We went for a number of weeks where we didn't run it well and that just put more pressure on the quarterback. **

HOBSON:Can you put your finger on why the run was inconsistent?

BB:** Maybe we went into games leading with the run too much instead of going with the pass. All these things have to be analyzed, but maybe we went into some weeks putting too much on the running game.

HOBSON: Do you change schemes, personnel?

BB: I don't want to get into specifics about it, but we're looking at what we've called and how we've run some things and we're looking at changing some things there. A lot of what happened last year had to do with the run defenses we played.

HOBSON: Most of your division was in the top 10 stopping the run, right? **

BB:** Better than that. Baltimore and Jacksonville were second in the league allowing yards per rush (3.4) and Pittsburgh and Tennessee (3.5) were next. And we played all of them twice.

HOBSON: You played some other top ones once. **

BB:San Diego was No. 1 (3.3) and the Bears (3.5) were very good. But that's not an excuse. We've got to run the ball better and we're looking at what we run and when.

HOBSON:After watching tape, you think you're close to turning it around, don't you?. Even if there is no change at QB?

BB:** It's hard to say you're really close when you finish last in scoring. It really is. Technically as a coach, analyzing it, it really is easy to say that. The average ticket holder, isn't going to recognize that and I know they don't want to hear any excuses and I don't want to give any.

If you look at the progress that we made in the last two weeks of the season, we actually were moving the ball before then. In the Jets' game, we lost so we weren't good, but we moved the ball substantially better. The next week against Baltimore, we moved it better against them than in the first game, when we beat them, and we ran it against them better than anyone has against them in a long time. But look what happened when we got in the red zone. Tipped balls , interceptions where the receiver should have done a better job going up for the ball. These are the things that have to be fixed.

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