The Cincinnati Bengals offense is considered by many to have the ability to explode for mass amounts of points at any given time. The teams' offensive weapons may have gone through some changes since lighting up NFL defenses during the 2005 playoff run with the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rudi Johnson and the addition of Cedric Benson and Laveranues Coles. So why has the offense struggled to put up points at a rate that causes us fans to have angina?
The Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski came to Cincinnati in 2001 on the heels of leading the Seattle Seahawks offense to the third spot overall in 1997. The expectation of a high powered offense followed him and he provided that in 2005 when the Bengals finished 6th overall. He did it by keeping the defenses off balance with imaginative play calling and not hesitating throwing the deep ball. His play calling has now come under fire from those who feel he has become predictable with a game plan that is stale and unimaginative. Against the Oakland Raiders, it would appear that he supported this theory with a pattern of conservativeness in the second half with a run on first and second down and then throwing a short pass on third down philosophy. This may be due to the confidence in the defense's ability to stop the opposition on a regular basis over the past several weeks, expecting a 14-7 lead to hold up. But this game became of tale of two halves with the Bengals dominating the first half and the Raiders dominating the second half.
So when you have the likes of Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, emerging rookie running back Bernard Scott and an offensive line that has been opening holes and protecting Palmer in a manner not seen since 2005, is it really all Bratkowski's fault for the offensive struggles? Should there not be some blame placed on the players for not executing the play called to the level it was designed? When a receiver fails to catch a pass that hits him in his hands, is that Bratkowski's fault? When the fullback fails to make a lead block on a linebacker or pick up a blitzing safety, is that Brakowski's fault? When Carson is sacked by only four rushing linemen, is that Bratkowski's fault?
When a play is called, a certain level of execution is expected from the coach who calls it. Each player is expected to perform a certain task during the execution of that play, whether it is making a block or running a certain route, in order for it to be successful. If the play is not executed as expected, the ability for the offense to progress is impaired. These plays are derived from a game plan that is based on the perceived weakness of the opposition. The Raiders for instance had one of the worst running defenses in the league, so the tendency is to call plays to expose this weakness with the expectation of making significant gains. But the failure for the offensive line to open holes for Scott to dash through helped the team's demise against the Raiders. Scott may have gained 119 yards on 21 carries, but that is a skewed by a 61 yard gain on one play. Subtract that play; it becomes 58 yards rushing on 20 carries for a 2.9 yard average. You can then make the argument that the offensive line did not execute the running plays properly.
Another aspect of the Bengals loss was they lost the turnover battle, which is a key indicator as to why underdogs such as the Raiders pull off the upset. Coaches preach every day that protection of the ball is a must and turnovers are not acceptable. When a play is called, the belief that the proper protection will be in effect to ensure that a loss of the football will not occur. But there are players that like to carry the ball as if it were a loaf of bread not wanting to smash it. So when the defense places the hit, the ball will squirt out and bound around with bodies flying all around it in hopes of landing on it. Another factor in this is the quarterback's decision making. An interception usually occurs when the QB decides to throw into double or triple coverage. So is this the fault of Bratkowski's play calling? I tend to think that this may fall on the player's ability of protecting the ball.
Defenses that face the Bengals know that they have a big play capability and look to take that away. By taking away the deep threat, this in turn leads to a short pass that may come up a few yards short of first down or the end zone. The play may have originally been designed to go much farther but the defense may have been able to make the correct adjustment preventing Palmer from going down field. He has acknowledged on a number occasions that the offensive struggles are also due to taking what the defense is giving.
So are the offensive struggles solely Bratkowski's fault? Should the players not take some of the brunt of criticism for not executing the play or failing to protect the ball properly? I am not saying Bratkowski's play calling is flawless as he should use a little imagination and creativity in certain situations to help keep the defenses off balance. He has the weapons as his disposal and he should try and use them to their utmost abilities.
Bratkowski was considered an offensive guru that was creative and imaginative in his play calling abilities. Since coming to the Bengals, the offense he guides puts fear in opposing defensive coordinators. They have to game plan around not just one or two weapons, but several that cause confusion as to what the defense should do. But when the players don't execute or mistakes are made, this can cause the offense to look anemic and ineffective. The obvious choice for the finger pointing is Bratkowski; but maybe that "fickle finger of fate" should be pointed in the direction of the players themselves who wound up ineffectively executing the play called or committing a drive killing mistake. If Bratkowski and the players make the commitment in correcting these concerns, the offense will score points at a clip that will cause the scoreboard to say "tilt".
Oh, and one more thing. After you chew me up and spit me out like turkey bones, my wife and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!