Most of Carson Palmer's 345 passing yards came out of the no-huddle Sunday in New England. (AP photo)
With seven balls to wide receiver Terrell Owens, six to rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham, and five to rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer got plenty of chances to try out his new weapons in Sunday's opener in New England.
The problem was he had to because the first five series were so inept that it helped dig a 24-0 deficit and it was the reason the Bengals ended up going no-huddle, which produced all 24 of their points in the 38-24 loss.
Which begs the question. They looked so comfortable in the no-huddle and were so wildly successful in hurry-up situations last year, is time to go more no-huddle?
"We have already a large history of three wides, no-huddle," offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said Monday. "Go back to 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and we were doing a substantial amount of it. We kind of know the balance we want to use with it."
It got so out of whack that the Bengals running game had withered and died by the time running back Cedric Benson arrived in 2008 and the offensive line was revamped in the following offseason. While Benson is comfortable running out of the no-huddle ("It puts you against nickel situations," he says), Bratkowski indicated he doesn't want to lean heavily on no-huddle because it compromises a little bit of the commitment to the run.
But clearly the Bengals are going to use it more this season. It not only helped show off the new weapons, but it revived two old-standbys. Palmer's 345 passing yards and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's 159 yards were their most since the 51-45 loss in Cleveland three years ago this week. It might have been 31-3 with 12 seconds gone in the second half, but Bratkowski said he didn't see a prevent defense until the last three snaps of the game and for the most part the Patriots played the same scheme they started the game.
"It's more like the old days; we got it spread it around," Bratkowski said. "The young guys made some plays. Shipley and Gresham were involved in different things. They've still got quite a long way to go.
"I thought (Palmer) made some great throws. I thought he managed the no-huddle extremely well, I thought he handled the protections on third down well. He made accurate throws. There were decisions he made under pressure that he'll clean up."
Palmer is the No. 1 reason to use the no-huddle. But now that the Bengals have found a confident, smart successor to center Rich Braham in Kyle Cook, tight end/fullback Reggie Kelly is back with his versatility, and the new offensive line is a year older, Bratkowski is getting sold on it again.
"That's because last year at this time a lot of these guys had not done much of it. Now over the course of last's year training camp to right now they've been able to do more of it," Bratkowski said. "The things you find in the no-huddle are it slows the pass rush down because the defense gets tired. And the rush is not as hard as it was and the run is the same thing. You've fatigued the other side of the ball and they're more comfortable with it now whereas last year there were a lot of new guys in new places that hadn't played together and there is a lot of communication that has to go on."
And Sunday showed how the no-huddle can take a defense out of its game plan. In those first five series, the Pats moved their front seven around in enough confusing fashion that it put the Bengals on their heels. But the no-huddle made them more vanilla.
Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com had a great defensive breakdown of those first five series. The Pats showed five different packages while mixing their "bigs" with their linebackers up front in a shuffle of rush-based and nickel-based concepts.
"The no-huddle causes them to play a different style of defense; it gives them a chance to put their tricks out on the table," Benson said. "It forces them to play one style of defense. They still managed to throw a couple of different looks at us but we were able to pick a lot of things up."
Palmer liked how it opened up the field for him.
"It got us some more throws to move the ball down the field," he said. "It just kind of changes the way a defense is used to playing. It changes the pocket a little bit, it changes the look. It is just a good changer for us."
But there is a sense that the Bengals have to figure out how to meld the strengths of the no-huddle with the smashmouth mentality that spawned last season's playoff run.
"We ought to be able to line up and be able to run whatever we want," Benson said. "We need to establish ourselves and do some of the things we did last year that made us successful. The things we did last year, it got us a long way. It got us to the playoffs. It's important this year that we stick to our guns and get that established."
That would be the run, but Bratkowski said the Bengals never had a chance to get it established when they failed to convert third-and-twos on the first two possessions. They tried passes each time, one ending in a sack and the other in a hurried incompletion when Palmer threw off the wrong foot and missed wide-open tight end Daniel Coats in the flat.
"Three small breakdowns," said Bratkowski of the incompletion, but he's not ready to be concerned.
Not this week.
"On Opening Day, funny things happen. They shouldn't, but they do," Bratkowski said. "Let's wait until next week because I thought once we got going, we were going. We scored (touchdowns) on three straight possessions. The most concerning thing to me is we had had two third and threes or less that we didn't convert."
Even though the Bengals scored those three touchdowns out of the no-huddle, Palmer doesn't sound ready to go to it 24-7.
"It is something we will continue to use all year when the situation presents itself," he said. "We (were) also playing down by a number of scores so we had to take some shots and run some plays we normally wouldn't run in those situations. I was throwing some balls I normally wouldn't throw in those situations, just to make touchdowns fast."
But don't look for the Bengals to indicate when they're going to use it.
MORE BRAT:Those who were looking for more Bernard Scott got the backup running back nine times. He ran it six for 35 yards and caught three for 15. Partly, Bratkowski said, because Benson was given a rest. But also because Scott is the team's two-minute drill back and they went to it with nine minutes left.
Bratkowski said not having a fullback and the blocking of the tight ends weren't issues. But he's looking for more from the offensive line.
"They can do better," he said. "We started off; we were out of synch at the beginning. The courses with the backs weren't what we wanted them to be. The landmarks of the linemen and their footwork and placement weren't what we wanted them to be. It got better as we went along. We didn't run the ball that many times and sometimes you have to keep running it for those guys to get the feel and to start pounding on have the effect and we didn't have the luxury to do it."
The best example of lack of blocking in the running game came when outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich was able to overpower the edge, hit Benson four yards deep in the backfield, and force a fumble that he recovered.
"One critical breakdown (was) on the onside that forced the defender right on top of Ced," Bratkowski said. "Now Ced had the time to protect the ball, they made a good play of pulling it out but it contributed to the fumble."