Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski took a break from game planning for Jacksonville and talked to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com over the past couple of days.
HOBSON: Since the bye week, the offense has had problems. Is this what happens when you have a new offense, a new quarterback, and young receivers trying to learn each other in the first year?
BRATKOWSKI: I think that's part of it. I think when we started this back in February, we knew there were going to be bumps in the road. Coaches are coaching a new offense, there are players in a new offense. Some of the players are new. These aren't excuses. I thought we'd be better. I thought we'd be closer to where we were in the beginning when we were having some success in moving it fairly consistently.
HOBSON: Is it fair to say you were using more spread formations earlier?
BRATKOWSKI: We've been nicked up at receiver the last three or four games. We lost Chad Johnson in the (Oct. 14) Cleveland game. We've played halves, if not entire games, at times without Peter (Warrick) and Darnay (Scott) and when they have played, they've played hurt.
At the same time, we're trying to get the running game back to where it was and that means you're in two-back (sets) with (fullback) Lorenzo (Neal) leading and that might try to get us going, so we've gone a little back to that.
HOBSON: You moved the ball on the last two series against Tampa Bay with a lot of spread stuff. And Corey (Dillon) had his longest run out of a spread. Can he be effective out of that? I guess it's always like this. There's the sense the backs and the offensive line want to pound it and the receivers want to throw it. What was different in the last two series?
BRATKOWSKI: We went to a three or four wide package because we needed to get back in the game and we sprinkled in the run. It's easy to look at the last two series and say, 'Boy, they spread it and got some runs out of it. '
But No. 1, in that situation, they knew we had to throw the ball and they were in two deep coverages, which takes the extra guy out of the box and that left the run open. If we had come out of that on first down in the second series of the game, they would not have allowed you to run the ball. They're going to put the extra guy down in there and force you to throw it.
So you have to take into account what the situation of the game is. We were throwing against the hardest coverage to throw against, but had the best run opportunities late in the game because they were playing coverage.
HOBSON: But you completed passes against it when you hadn't done it all day. What was the difference? Some guys said it was just going back to some of the basic plays you've been running since training camp.
BRATKOWSKI: Pretty much. But that's a little bit of an understatement. We had two new passes in there (on the last drive). The touchdown pass (the six-yarder to Dillon). To say that it was all old stuff is a little oversimplified.
HOBSON: What about the third-and-10 Warrick converted over the middle right before that?
BRATKOWSKI: That was a new pass. The one to Corey was new. He was one of the primary guys. We had run it two times before. They had blitzed it and we didn't handle our hot reads properly.
HOBSON: Can you put your finger on why you can't put a full game together?
BRATKOWSKI: It's a lot of things. A lot of things.
HOBSON: Jon Kitna just said in his Wednesday press conference that the offense is making the same mistakes now that they were making in Week 1 and that it makes him wonder about a sense of urgency. Does it concern you?
BRATKOWSKI: It really does. The mental mistakes that ruin plays. Dropped balls. Untimely penalties. Fumbles. We're a team that's not getting our butt handed to us each week. We're in every game. What we're finding out about our team is that the margin for error is so small. A lot of the guys who haven't been around for awhile and maybe haven't been in as many close games are finding out we need to be more disciplined to win the close games.
That's a step we have to take. We're in every game. We know we are going to have a chance to win it. We're good enough to do that. What we haven't learned to do yet is have the discipline and the confidence to not beat ourselves.
HOBSON: You're trying to install a pass offense with a running game that's already established. Is that hard?
BRATKOWSKI: Not really. It's just finding a balance. If you remember, we were more efficient when (we were balanced). Looking back, we had a bad half against Jacksonville, had a bad half against Tennessee. Had an entire bad game in Cleveland and two bad quarters against Tampa Bay. My point is when we were moving the ball, we were more efficient bouncing in and out of one-back and two-back because our two-back runs were more efficient.
Get five yards and you can come back in a one back. When we get zero yards running on first down, do you come back and throw it? That means you're not getting the ball to Corey enough. Now you run it and if you get two yards, now it's third-and-eight. You make it hard on yourself. All these things taken into consideration, it's not going to take much for us to improve drastically. You can go look at all that tape and analyze it Sunday against a good Tampa Bay defense and it's not going to take much.
HOBSON: Is the fact that you were sort of plugged into a staff and didn't get to bring in any of your people a factor?
BRATKOWSKI: I wouldn't use that as any kind of a reason of where we are.
HOBSON: There's a school of thought that says with a back like Corey, why not bang it four, five times in a row?
BRATKOWSKI: I was fixing to do that in the overtime. I told JA (running backs coach Jim Anderson) to tell Corey the game is on him. We're going to ride him on this overtime. (But) you've got to understand, if you run him on first and second down and convert on third down, you have to throw the ball some on first down.
You've got to somehow get big plays. Get plays in chunks. If you noticed in the drives we scored, we were efficient running. We had some nice runs. But we also threw a post for pass interference (on first down) that would have been 22 yards and then threw another pass to Darnay (on first down) that was (19 yards). You have to get those chunks.
HOBSON: Can you only get them on first and second down?
BRATKOWSKI: That's where you're going to get them. Third down, you end up third and 10, they drop eight guys and it's hard as hell to throw it.
HOBSON: The running game was sixth in the league heading into the bye week and in the four games since it's down to 19. What has happened to the running game?
BRATKOWSKI: We've gone against good defenses hell bent on taking away the run and forcing us to throw it. And when we throw it, we haven't been efficient enough to score enough points.
HOBSON: Do you think the receivers are learning or are they underachieving?
BRATKOWSKI: They're learning. We haven't made as many plays (lately) as we had. We let some get away on the deep balls in the last three weeks. A drop here, a drop there. A poor route. They're like everybody else. They are no bigger part of our inconsistency than in the offensive line or the mistakes that we make at running back or all the other positions.
We're not playing very well. We 're not making big plays and we're making mistakes in critical situations. Like I've said all year long. There's a critical penalty Sunday at the wrong time. It came right before the half when we got up to around the 30-yard line and we got a hold. Now it's first-and-20. Then it's third-and-five, they blitz us, we make a site adjustment, we punt. Then the ball Darnay dropped, it should have been first-and-10 on their side of the 50. We can't seem to be able to overcome it. You have to be able to overcome your mistakes. You have to be able to come back on the next down and get the first down. We're in the situation right now where we're not making enough plays to overcome the critical mistakes.
HOBSON: Has there been an inordinate number of drops?
BRATKOWSKI: Not just drops. It's been penalties. We've had very poor, ill-timed penalties that have created problems in the last three or four games. The penalties in very critical situations have resulted in stalling drives.
HOBSON: I would imagine the play calls are dictated by the mistakes.
BRATKOWSKI: At times when things aren't going good, I get a little conservative to get it settled down. Get Corey the ball and run it. At times when we're not getting the yards, I open it up a little bit. Obviously I don't always make the right call. There are very few calls I would take back and say, "That was dumb." Maybe one or two over the course of 11 games. One or two at the most.
HOBSON: Which ones?
BRATKOWSKI: I'm not going to tell you.
HOBSON: On that second-and-1 on the goal line (a toss sweep to the left Sunday on which Dillon lost four yards). . .
BRATKOWSKI: By the way, that's not one of them.
HOBSON: Jon went to the line with two plays, right, and he did the right thing?
BRATKOWSI: Yes he did. We did not execute the play perfectly. It's a play Corey has scored a number of touchdowns on in his career here. When we're in that that close they go to what we call a gap defense, they've got nine people inside our tight ends. That play was one of three plays we would use against those guys when they did that and we'd call it again.
HOBSON: Tight end is such a key position because it's important in dictating formations. With Tony McGee and Marco Battaglia out the rest of the year, what do you do?
BRATKOWSKI: It really does. We've lost our top two. Now we have to work with what we have with Kirk McMullen and with (H-Back) Nick (Williams) some.
HOBSON: Will that make you spread it out more and not use a tight end as much?
BRATKOWSKI: We're going to have to be creative and we're going to have to come up with a number of different packages.
HOBSON: Will this injury situation at tight end make you closer to what you really are as an offense and where you want to go?
BRATKOWSKI: I look at it this way. We've lost two pretty good players in Tony and Marco and we're going to play the cards we're dealt with at this point. I can't say I think it's going to make us better.