Outside of coordinator Bob Bratkowski and his staff, if there is one guy that has broken down the Bengals offense more than anyone on earth, it is ESPN's Ron Jaworski.
After breaking from Saturday's production meeting in preparation to help call Monday night's Bengals-Steelers game with fellow analyst Jon Gruden and play-by-play man Mike Tirico, Jaworski gave Bratkowski a vote of confidence.
"There's nothing wrong with the design of his offense; it's a beautifully-designed offense," Jaworski said. "I think Bratkowski knows what he's doing. He knows how to attack. It's just the execution."
Jaworski, the 17-year NFL quarterback, teams with former Steelers and Bears running back Merril Hoge to offer TV's most in-depth X-and-O show, a weekly feature on ESPN. On Saturday he made the following observations:
» He is surprised by quarterback Carson Palmer's inaccuracy, but believes it is because of lack of trust with his receivers rather than because of mechanics and arm strength.
"I've looked at all his passes coming into this game," Jaworski said. "I've been really caught between, 'Has he become a little bit inaccurate?' or 'Is he just not getting definition of the routes?' I think it's a combination of both. I didn't see anything that you can really pick up on tape, or there were throws he wasn't making. But the inaccuracy was the surprising part. Is it him or the new cast of characters?"
» He thinks wide receiver Terrell Owens is having an excellent season and has been an asset, but he's still looking for the vintage burst and speed he has yet to see this season from wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
» He thinks the Bengals are going to have to throw against the Steelers because he'll be "shocked' if they rush for 100 yards. But he thinks they can use the short passes like runs.
"No one runs against the Steelers," Jaworski said.
» He needs to see more from second-year SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga before he replaces Dhani Jones in the middle.
"I know he's a physical guy and he'll get after people," Jaworski said. "I haven't seen enough of a complete game yet where I see him flying to the football, where he's just pulling it and letting it go. Where you see him really understand what the offense is trying to do. And that takes time."
Jaworski admits the Bengals are "a head scratcher" because he sees a lot of talent, particularly on offense where he thought it was coming together in the third quarter of the Atlanta game two weeks ago.
"I don't know if I ever saw Carson as sharp as he was," he said. "Back to a couple of years ago when I had him in my elite quarterbacks with (Peyton) Manning and (Tom) Brady. But then they fell back, even in the same game. They're just not consistent.
"It's a very bizarre team right now. I see the talent. I look at (Johnathan) Joseph and (Leon) Hall at cornerback and this is as good as any tandem you're going to find. These are damn good corners. Now the pass rush isn't there and that's hurting the overall defense. When you're not rushing the passer the secondary doesn't look as good and the linebackers don't look as good. If there's one thing that stood out to me this week, you just don't have a pure pass rusher."
Jaworski defends the liberal use of the three-receiver set, saying that rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham "are going to be fine players." He also says the three-receiver alignment is his favorite formation.
"Three wide receivers, one tight end, one running back. I think it affords you everything you can do," Jaworski said. "It affords you three wide receivers to press the defense, a strong-side running game because you have a tight end, and you can still use seven-man protections. Best formation in football."
But Jaworski does buy the argument that offenses need to have an identity and he's surprised the offense is struggling with all the talent, although he believes the offensive line isn't playing as well as it did last year as a group.
"I actually thought last year they were a little reminiscent of the Ravens style of play," he said. "Heavy. Bring the sixth offensive lineman. More the power running game. It seemed like, 'OK, we're going to kick butt.' Then all of a sudden, teams were cheating down in the box. Then getting one-on-one with the isolation routes. I think this year they kind of went, 'Hey, we've got all these weapons,' and maybe forgot a little bit about the running game.
"Every team has a stamp. We're going to come out and man block you, or we're going to power block, or we're going to gap block. I just don't see where they say, 'OK, stop this. Here's what we do.' And I think that's what good football teams do. They say, 'Here's what we do. Stop us.' "
Jaworski says he can see how Palmer is pressing.
"As an old quarterback, I kind of understand when a (receiver) runs his route two yards further," he said. "Or he doesn't give you the right hint. Or he doesn't read the coverage exactly when you have to sit down in a hole, or exactly when to run away from a man. It's those little things where they aren't seeing the field through the same eyes. It's probably a little bit of both. I don't think Carson is as accurate because he doesn't trust his guys. He doesn't know exactly where they're going to come out. And then I think he starts to press a little bit to make the perfect throw. It's a cumulative effect of being just a little bit off."
Jaworski enjoyed his meeting with Jones, the middle backer who knows his role so well.
"He calls himself 'The Plant Manager,' and that's exactly what he is," Jaworski said. "He's not a dominant middle linebacker. He's not a kind of player like a DeMeco Ryans or E.J. Henderson. He's never been that kind of player. He's a journeyman, but he has contributed."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Head coach Marvin Lewis continues to rave about Owens.
"He's a very good, diligent worker who's trying to get to the right spots on the field," Lewis said after Friday's practice. "He knows when he gets to the spots that things will happen based on the coverage. He's been in that kind of offense, so he understands the timing of things and why route depths are important."
"He's been able to communicate and help them understand why it's important," Lewis said of his impact on the other receivers. "Why you can't be short. Why you have to be at the right cuts and the right depth and come back."
Lewis says he love Owens's attitude now that things are tough:
"He's that kind of guy. He'll step up and want to put the team on his back. He tries to do it in the most positive way he can, and sometimes that's a hard thing. He came here to win games and we're not winning them, and his thing is, 'What more do I have to do?' Which is the response you'd like to have. He helps the guy on the other side from flaming out."
Lewis says Owens has been good for The Ocho. But The Ocho went silent this week, which always meets Lewis' approval.
"Like he said. 'I want to do something. I want to win some games before I talk,' " Lewis said. " 'I'm tired of talking. We're not winning. I'm not happy.' He's got the right attitude about it."
» Despite not practicing this week, starting defensive tackle Tank Johnson (knee) and backup linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy (ankle) were both listed as questionable after Saturday night's practice on the Paul Brown Stadium field. Also questionable for Monday night's game at PBS against the Steelers after being limited all week were starting right end Frostee Rucker (knee) and SAM linebacker Keith Rivers (foot).
» The National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio is calling for Monday night's kickoff temperature at 50 degrees and it will be in the low 40s by game's end. There is no chance of rain under clear skies with a wind out of the southwest at about six miles per hour…