To paraphrase an old political axiom, it’s the Offensive Line stupid.
This year there has been a lot of discussion on this blog and in the media as to why the Bengal’s offense was not showing up. Even in two wins there was too much drek on the offensive side to feel truly happy with the W’s. For most of the season the focus had been on Palmer, and we heard all the talking heads discuss how maybe he had lost it, how the balls he was throwing just did not have enough zip, that his decisions were off, and that we would never see a return to 2005.
I got really sick of this talk very fast because I could not believe how so many who are paid to watch and comment on the game seemed to be ignoring the elephant in the room. Carson has not played great, but a big part of that is that the offensive line has regressed from last year.
This year's offensive line is actually what I expected from them last year; a team that would struggle to open holes in the defense, and not be able to give Palmer time to settle in the pocket.
There is a reason why the Bengal’s are having such a hard time in the red zone this season. Plain and simple it is that they have no confidence that the line can create space for Benson when they get within 15 yards of the end zone. You can see this in the play calling the team does once they are in the redzone. Even the one touchdown the team got in the endzone was not a run up the gut, we dare you to stop Cedric Benson type play. The Bengal's had no confidence that they could line up and run over the Browns. And too be honest they were right, this line is not getting any punch, in fact the reality is they seem to be the ones getting punched in the gut. I believe it is the same reason we rarely see the Bengal’s run on third down, despite having some very make-able third and two’s and three’s.
Part of the problem is that the Bengal’s fooled them selves at the end of last season. There were a lot of indications that part of Carson Palmer’s issues was that he had no confidence with his line. He had happy feet, he would rush passes, and his follow through was just bad. The coaching staff when asked about this would point to the low number of sacks, but this was a poor statistic considering the amount of running the team did, and the number of passes that were basically thrown away.
Last year this could be overlooked because Cedric Benson was able to run over a hundred yards in 6 games, and could be counted on for four yards an attempt in most games. Now Benson is having trouble finding lanes with which to run and so he does not hit the line with any momentum and looks tentative behind the line.
I do think that the team expected Andre Smith to come in this year and be the player they thought they were drafting. I also think that they thought that the return of Reggie Kelly would improve the line, which was not unreasonable. This has not happened though.
I truly believe that the team needs to insert Smith and see what they have in him. Who knows maybe they find out he can play, and more playing time motivates him to play even better. It could happen. Maybe he plays and they find out they have Bobbie William’s eventual replacement at guard and they need to draft another tackle next year. That could also happen, it would not be the best but it would be better than the third option where we find that we wasted the number 6 overall pick in last year’s draft.
Whatever we learn, we already know that Roland has hit his ceiling. I like Dennis Roland a lot. I think his is a great story and think he is a great back-up, and sometime tightend in jumbo packages.
Similarly I believe Nate Livings has hit his ceiling at the guard spot. He has been another good story of an undrafted player working hard and becoming a starter, but right now he is not getting any push up the middle and both he and Kyle Cook are struggling against the large bodies they are going up against. The question I have for the Bengal’s coaches is a combination of Nate Livings at guard and Andrew Whitworth at tackle a better combination than Whitworth at guard and Anthony Collins at tackle?
I have always thought that Andrew Whitworth was a really great guard for the Bengal’s, and that the team took a potential pro bowl guard and made him an average tackle. I also remember that Anthony Collins played really well at left tackle for the Bengal’s two years ago. Yes he struggled at right tackle last year, but then he was drafted as a left tackle.
Now of course I don’t think there is any chance that this coaching staff would ever make a whole scale change as to move Whitworth inside and promote Collins. Lewis is to conservative to take such a chance. At the same time Bratkowski is still trying to prove he really is an effective offensive coordinator.
Trust me every year I pray that Bratkowski is let go, and every year the Bengal’s make some excuse to keep him; it is just so very depressing. Imagine if Lewis had done the right thing at the end of last year, or the year before that, or the year before that? How Bratkowski still has a job as offensive coordinator I will never understand.
Still he is still the offensive coordinator and Lewis for all that I love him is still not one too shake the boat up too much, so we are stuck with the line-up we have (save for any injuries which hopefully do not happen) though there is some speculation that Smith might get some more reps. Thus we can hope that the Bengal’s offensive line can get it together. Hopefully they improve their play because if they can I believe the Bengal’s will be able to get their offense going.
If the Bengal’s can’t fix their line the team will continue to struggle to move the ball both on the ground and through the air and they will score very little; especially from inside the redzone.