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Offense searches for points

Carson Palmer

Posted: 10:15 p.m.

It was a curious Monday for Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

On Sunday in Oakland his unit had the ball for more than 38 minutes and 68 plays while rushing for 177 yards. Numbers for all but certain victory.

Yet the Bengals only scored 17 points. Not enough to beat a team that came into the game averaging single digits. It was the 22nd time a Marvin Lewis-coached team had rushed for at least 150 yards and just the third time it had lost.

"Turnovers (four) and penalties (four on offense)," Bratkowski said.

But there is also concern about the passing game, a scheme Bratkowski would like to produce a minimum 230 to 250 yards. It is a number the Bengals have hit just three times this season and not in the last three games. The transition is complete to a run-oriented offense (and why not? It has them on top of the division), but Bratkowski said they still need better efforts from a franchise quarterback and a five-time Pro Bowl receiver.

Take the second series of the game with the Bengals already up, 7-0, and facing a third-and-1 from the Raiders 22. After wide receiver Chad Ochocinco got his second false start of the day, quarterback Carson Palmer faced a blitz on a third-and-six and missed his hot read, which is why he was sacked and stripped of the ball.

"I can't remember the last time Carson missed a hot read," said Bratkowski, which is why the Bengals are going to be going over that in practice this week, as well as trying to get The Ocho onside. "A receiver should never be offsides."

You've got to be careful when talking about ditching the running game for the passing game. The Bengals are 5-0 in the AFC North and in only one of those games did they throw for more than 230 yards.

But the passing game purred early Sunday when Palmer hit eight of his first nine passes for 129 yards and with the Raiders shutting down the run with defensive backs outnumbering the Bengals blockers, there was some speculation they should have kept chucking. Did the Bengals stick with the run because they had a lead and wanted to run the clock? And, because they overcame three negative runs in the first quarter? They eventually scored that second touchdown on nine straight runs.

"They had crowded the line of scrimmage on us," Bratkowski said. "It was a little of both and when you make a commitment to the run game ... it's not like we were beating our head against a wall in the running game. We were being productive. We were making positive plays. We were moving the ball while doing so."

Bratkowski knew coming in that the Raiders are an all-or-nothing defense. One snap could be a loss. The next snap could be for 61 yards. Of the Bengals' 43 runs Sunday, 19 went for one yard or less and 16 went for five or more.

"We were getting stuff generated in the running game to stick with it. The longer we went with it, the more productive we would get," Bratkowski said. "Boom, they get out of their gap, there goes a long one. It wasn't an early conscious effort to drain the clock. We were ... (getting) an acceptable amount of third downs."

The word before the game was that the Bengals receivers had the edge because the Raiders played so much man coverage. And The Ocho openly wondered why they hadn't gone to him more after he caught three balls for 55 yards in the first quarter and just one more the rest of the game.

Bratkowski said it was a variety of reasons. Maybe the quarterback missed him on a read. Maybe the defense dictated another read because it wasn't always man coverage. Maybe The Ocho stumbled on a route. Maybe the quarterback didn't have enough time to throw. 

"They covered us some," said Bratkowski of the receivers' work against the defense, "and we got open on some."

The Bengals are committed to the run but there's no reason they can't get their vertical passing game going, Bratkowski says. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles got his first 40-yarder as a Bengal on Sunday, Cincinnati's first since Oct. 18, and just their fourth of the season.

"We're getting a lot in the 16- to 20-yard range, we're not getting the 50 to 60," Bratkowski said. "People have a tendency to not let us throw the ball over their head. There were instances yesterday when the safety was 20 yards deep. Pittsburgh played a lot of two safety deep and in many cases, extremely deep."

The problem Sunday wasn't the failure to hit a big play, but the failure to play big in the red zone. Remember, in going 5-0 in the division the Bengals have only had two passes longer than 25 yards.

But they didn't score a touchdown on their last three red-zone penetrations Sunday, largely because Palmer got sacked for an 18-yard loss on third-and-one from the 1 and fullback Jeremi Johnson fumbled on the Raiders 14.

Bratkowski admits he got some grief for giving the ball to Johnson from some people calling him Monday saying he should have thrown for the end zone four times. But with Larry Johnson on the bench and Bernard Scott wearing down, Bratkowski opted to give the ball to Jeremi Johnson even though he's been fighting some nicks and had carried just twice this season and not since Oct. 4.

"I would never say that. Why?" said Bratkowski when asked if he second-guessed the call. "It's a play we had planned to use in short yardage. Paul (offensive line coach Alexander) and I talked and we said, let's run (it). It looks good. It's a good time. Some guy got his hand on the ball and hit it perfectly ... we were going to use that play in short yardage. I don't think that he was dinged up had anything to do with it. ... He was playing."

Bratkowski wondered what would have happened if Johnson rolled to the five-yard line. He could just hear the "great change-of-pace-call" praise now. And it was Johnson's 40th touch since the end of the 2005 season, when he had his last fumble.

The 18-yard sack on a blitz on third down from the 1 may have been even more unfortunate. Bratkowski said he knew the blitz from cornerback Stanford Routt was coming and that the Raiders fouled up the coverage on Palmer's play-action bootleg rollout to the right. Instead of the first option being open to beat the blitz, the defender that should have followed his man was in the wrong spot and in the area Palmer was going to unload.

"They kind of blew the coverage. They had an extra guy over there," Bratkowski said. "Everyone did their job the way they were supposed to do."

Now, if he can get them to do that on most of the other 67 snaps.

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