Bengals Banter: OK, so we could be over-reacting to the lack of a passing game

Alright. One last thing about the whole Bengals offense is struggling thing and we'll let it go. Vikings week is over. Hasta la vista, baby. What happened, happened. However, sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels of another Bruce Springsteen song, the idea Cincinnati has no momentum weighs heavily. What happened against Oakland, the Browns, the Lions, and the Vikings is meaningless. Because the Bengals biggest test comes against the Chargers. That can't influence the team, or us (the fans) heading into the biggest game of the year. Those games happened which led us to this point. But so did sweeps against the Ravens and Steelers and a win over a very strong Packers team that's coming into their own. Now, wipe all that away and focus on this week, where the Bengals still hold onto their own destiny for a bye week -- and homefield advantage against every team not named the Indianapolis Colts -- during the Wild Card weekend.

Meaningless note of the week: Carson Palmer has thrown for 110 yards passing or less in two of his past three games.

The question asking for Marvin Lewis' assessment on the passing game was asked Monday.

“We've got to do a better job of executing. We have to protect. We have to be in the right spots at the right depths and give the opportunity to the quarterback. And I think we've got to go back and do a better job of manufacturing some balls down the field. When we had our opportunities yesterday, they (Vikings) just happened to be in the right spots, and so the ball couldn't get there. But we've got to continue to do that and keep fine-tuned in that area, until we get some opportunities to make some plays. Yesterday for whatever reason, the luck wasn't in, the opportunity didn't match up.  We had some good throws in there. But we have to do it consistently and all the time, and that will help.

“If you just turn it around, look at their offensive production yesterday. Their passing game was about 150 yards, and four balls to the backs that converted another 70. So in that kind of game, where neither team is really getting the ball down the field, we've got to make some hay with some of these other things that occur. We didn't execute our screens very well when we had them. We had opportunities there. Brian (Leonard) made a great run for our first first down, but there's got to be better execution around the board.

“All that being said, we're right where we wanted to be (in the standings). That's the exciting part of it. That's what this job is all about, and that's what the NFL is all about, and here we go.”

Coach speak. Yes. We never expect to have exciting information during a press conference. I mean, it's not like Lewis is going to slam his fist on the podium and say, "Damn it" and go into Dennis Leary style rant on Bob Bratkowski. He said the right things. Execute better, being the oldest talking point from a losing NFL coach since man discovered the wheel, BBQ ribs and corny Mentos commercials.

This one stuck out at me. "And I think we've got to go back and do a better job of manufacturing some balls down the field." My gut reaction? You're crazy. We have to bring back the vertical game? This has been an old complaint from Bengals fans this year. Slinging passes 50 yards would be great. And in truth, it doesn't really matter if they're completed. At least spread it out, make it possible that the Bengals can score a touchdown inside of five plays on a drive. No. Actually score a touchdown before reaching the dreaded red zone.

In two of his past three games, Palmer's longest completed pass went for less than 20 yards. Only twice has Palmer connected for a pass 50 yards or more... this year. Furthermore, of Palmer's 390 attempted passes, 153 have fallen incomplete. Here's a breakdown of those incompletes, courtesy of Stats, Inc.

Type Number % Incomplete % Overall Passes
Passes Dropped 21 13.7 5.4
Poor Throw 54 35.3 13.8
Passes Defensed 42 27.5 10.8
Passes Hit at Line 5 3.3 1.3
Other 28 18.3 7.2
Intercepted 10 6.5 2.6

But we're not here to pile on. This isn't the point of this post. I mean, it's not like we could activate Jerome Simpson and BAM, we're the New Orleans Saints. There is no easy fix, says Carson Palmer.

“If there was one reason we’d fix it,” said Palmer of the passing game. “All we can do is continue to get better. There’s no quick fix or easy answer. We have to try to find things to tailor to our strengths and improve.”

Paul Daugherty speaks plainly. Bengals receivers are simply not getting open. "Right now, Carson Palmer is hitting eighth and slapping singles the other way. It’s not necessarily his fault, only his problem. Palmer doesn’t have the personnel, and the personnel he does have isn’t getting open very much."

And you think to yourself that Paul is right. How many times has Palmer forced passes to Chad Ochocinco this year in tight coverage?

Then questions were raised about Palmer's health Monday night. Are they protecting Palmer's elbow by calling shorter routes? Or is that merely a coincidence based on the fact that the offensive line isn't built to allow deeper developing routes? I do believe that if the Bengals offense doesn't explode, then the Bengals offensive coordinator will be in Cincinnati for how many games remain this season. And I'm not speaking in emotional outrage.

Clearly this offense is starting to come under fire for lacking a threatening passing offense. Joe Reedy writes, "A day after losing 30-10 at Minnesota, the biggest question on the minds of everyone remained – what has happened to the Bengals passing game?"

Palmer isn't convinced that there is a problem.

“We’re a team that throws it about 20 times and run it 30,” Palmer said. “Because of one loss we’re not going to go back to the drawing board or change our identity or freak out like everyone else outside of this locker room is doing.”

Fair enough. Let's take that approach and examine from the world-not-ending perspective. How many times has the lack of a passing game really bitten the Bengals? Against the Broncos, the Bengals were leading 7-6 with 38 seconds left against the Denver Broncos. Right. We didn't blow them out but we were in position to win before luck and the football gods smote the Bengals.

Cincinnati was leading Houston 17-14 at Half Time. In the second half, Daniel Coats and J.P. Foschi fumbled, Palmer was sacked once, threw two incomplete passes and a game-ending interception with 1:55 left in the game. And you can't really blame Palmer too much here, because he's trying to lead Cincinnati to at least two scores with two minutes left. You have to take risky shots. Cincinnati led the Raiders 17-10 before Oakland's Bruce Gradkowski led the Raiders on a game-tying touchdown drive that went 80 yards on 11 plays. Then Andre Caldwell fumbled on a kickoff return that led to Oakland's game winning field goal.

So maybe the lack of a passing game hasn't cost the Bengals as much as we dramatically think. We could attribute that to the loss against Houston and Minnesota. Maybe it's half and half. Something in the middle.

We want answers. We want reassurances. It doesn't make us less of fan, nor does it question our loyalty. We've been in this really long relationship with a bunch of rocky roads and sometimes we fight. In the end, there's nothing better than a Bengals Sunday and whether be it passing or rushing, we really don't care how, just win. Because really, that's all that matters.

Now, onto the Chargers...

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