Comparing 2009 To 2010: Why The Bengals Rushing Offense Is Worse

ATLANTA - OCTOBER 24: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals fumbles the ball against Curtis Lofton #50 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 24 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

One thing is for certain this year; the Bengals rushing offense is more of a liability than an asset. Not only is their 87.8-yard rushing average ranked 30th in the NFL, Cincinnati ranks amongst the league worst in nearly every major rushing category this season. Let's put this in a nice chart, because everyone loves a chart, comparing this year to last year.

  2010 2009
Yards Rushing 1,142 (30th) 2,056 (9th)
Yards/Rush Avg. 3.6 (t-30th) 4.1 (t-19th)
Touchdowns 6 (t-30th) 9 (t-22nd)
Longest Run 42 Yards (t-25th) 61 (18th)
First Down Conversions 20.1% (24th) 21.6% (t-16th)
20-Yard Runs 3 (t-last) 17 (t-4th)
40-Yard Runs 1 (t-16th) 2 (t-14th)
Fumbles 8 (t-24th) 8 (t-18th)

A noticeable difference? Well, for one thing, the Bengals rush defense wasn't all that great last year. They benefited to more explosive runs, but most of the major rushing categories ranked below 16th, meaning that they mostly resided in the bottom half of the league. Not that it mattered. The Bengals were 10-6 with a fourth ranked defense and a time consuming rushing offense. Those things did matter and it showed in the standings.

However, something else. Something only the Football Gods can dabble in. Last year the Bengals ranked four the the NFL with 505 rushing attempts. This year, Cincinnati is ranked 27th with 314 rushing attempts. You can literally freak yourself out, by swapping the rankings this year. With 314 rushing attempts in 2010, the Bengals rank 27th where as their 501 passing attempts is ranked 4th.

  2010 2009
Rush Attempts 314 (27th) 505 (4th)
Rushes/Game 24.2 (27th) 31.6 (4th)
     
Pass Attempts 501 (4th) 477 (27th)
Attempts/Game 38.5 (4th) 29.8 (27th)

Obviously, if you're going to go on a pace to throw the football over 600 times in a season, you're going to throw interceptions. Of the top four teams with the most passing attempts, all have over 15 interceptions with quarterbacks with names like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

So the ultimate question is, why are the Bengals forced to pass so much?

Palmer, Who Didn't Play Well In 2009, Is Asked To Do More

I don't believe that we're actually seeing Palmer play any worse than he did in 2009. His completion percentage is roughly the same, his interception ratio is a difference of eight tenths and his average yards/pass average is a difference of two tenths.

Where Palmer appeared to shine last year, as opposed to this year, is that Palmer did win critical games early in the year, which provided a sense of protection against criticism, even in the final seven games of the season when the team finished the regular season with a 3-4 record. During that stretch, Palmer recorded a 7/6 touchdown to interception ratio -- similar to his ratio this season -- and in over half the games, Palmer recorded 139 yards passing or less. That also includes his 1/11 effort against the New York Jets. During the team's one-game playoff, Palmer completed 18 of 36 passes for 146 yards passing, a touchdown and interception. In reality, that stretch of games and the team's playoff loss is no different than what you're seeing out of Palmer this season.

So, yes, Palmer is playing at the same level as he did last year. It's far more noticeable this season because the Bengals have only won two of 11 games and several of Palmer's interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. The truth is, Cincinnati's ultimate downfall is in one of several areas, which begins with Palmer on pace to throw the football 145 more times than he did in 2009.

A Question: Are The Bengals Facing Tougher Defenses?

I actually started wondering. Are the Bengals simply playing better defenses; specifically against the run.

No, they're not.

In 13 games this season, the Bengals have played six against a defense that's currently in the top-ten with only three defenses outside the top-20 (and one of them is the New England Patriots). How much of a difference is that from last year? The Bengals actually played more games against top defenses, playing eight games against top-ten defenses. Seven games last season were played against the top-ten rushing defenses whereas this year, the Bengals have only played four games against a top-ten rushing defense.

At the same time, Cincinnati played the three worst defenses in the NFL last year. This year, they've played against five of the eight worst rushing defenses in the NFL with mixed results. The Bengals have rushed for over 100 yards, as a team, only three times -- all against the league's lesser rush defenses; 120 yards against Carolina, 149 yards against Tampa Bay and 133 yards against Buffalo.

Even if you don't acknowledge that Cincinnati's competition is worse on defense, you have a somewhat motivated argument that opposing offenses could be indirectly related to Cincinnati's struggles in the running game. By the end of the year, Cincinnati will have faced four of the top five scoring offenses. Then again, they'll have also faced five teams ranked worse than 22nd or worse on scoring offense. The Bengals finished 1-4 against those teams.

So the competition is good, obviously, but not consistently good. It's not like every game the Bengals have played are against great defenses and offenses. No, the Bengals are clearly focused on "Lets Wreck Our Own Team" mode, making fatal mistakes that's brought the eventual beast to the doorstep of the Grim Reaper.

A Season In Review Before The Season Is Even Over

Against the Patriots, Cedric Benson ran the football five times in the first quarter, or 45% of every offensive play. On his fifth rush attempt in the quarter, Benson fumbled the football and the Patriots would finish the quarter with a 10-0 lead. On his very next rush attempt, Benson lost a yard and the Bengals would eventually go three-and-out. The Patriots took a 17-0 lead on their next possession, forcing the Bengals to largely throw the football throughout the contest. Not only did it make sense that the Bengals threw the football, having to deal with a 17-point deficit, but Benson only picked up six yards on his first six carries and lost a fumble in the process.

The question against the Patriots wasn't if the Bengals ignored the running game, it was how could you possibly find ways to avoid it.

Yet, during Cincinnati's vic.. vic.. victories, such as against Baltimore, Cincinnati kept a largely balanced offense, running the football 31 times (23 by Benson) and passing 35 times. It was even more balanced during their last win against the Carolina Panthers, running and passing an even 37 times each.

This was the theme in 2009, even with Palmer playing as poorly this year as he was forgotten to have played last year. Difference between the two Palmers? Now Carson has to force make terrible throws into triple coverage, opening the possibility of a pick-six whereas last year, he could also rely on a good rushing offense and a very strong defense. We're not excusing Palmer; we're saying the same thing we've said all season. This team just stinks across the board.

But it's true, sometimes the Bengals completely lose their minds throwing the football. Against the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals noticeably abandoned the run. Benson ran the football four times on the opening possession that went nine plays, picking up 10 yards on a drive that would stall after an incomplete third down pass. Did the Bengals keep with the running game? Not at all. Palmer, who had a great fantasy football game with 371 yards passing and two touchdowns, would be sacked four times while throwing four incomplete passes on third down and fumbling the football twice. Unfortunately, the Bengals were put in a position to throw the football after falling behind 20-10 early in the third quarter. Well, at least from their point of view because a ten-point deficit in the third quarter is hardly insurmountable enough to ditch the running game. Then again, we're talking about the Bengals here. They do things in extremes. The irony in the story is that because the team abandoned the run, it directly led to the Browns taking a lead that the Bengals wouldn't be able to recover from. This, however, shouldn't be an indictment to Palmer either, who recorded a passer rating of 121.4 passer rating, two passes of 40 yards or more and a 78-yard touchdown pass.

Benson mirrored ran the football well with a 52-yard performance in the first half against the Miami Dolphins. The Bengals kept the offense balanced, with Palmer throwing the football 16 times against 16 rush attempts by Benson, Scott and Leonard. The Bengals held onto a 14-12 half time lead, playing football much like their 10-win season last year.

And it actually got more promising. After the Bengals went three-and-out, Michael Johnson recovered a muffed punt giving the Bengals the football at their own 45-yard line. Palmer passes three straight times and the Bengals punt. Sound familiar? Miami would take the lead on a 31-yard field goal on the ensuing possession and takes an eight-point lead with 11 minutes in the game. At no point losing by more than a touchdown, the Bengals would only run nine times in the second half.

WHY RUN WHEN YOU CAN PASS AND THROW PICKS FOR A TEN-POINT SWING AND LOSE THE GAME IN THE FINAL TWO MINUTES: (catching breath) While it's easy to blame Palmer for two late interceptions that led to 10 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including a game-winning field goal, there's no reason for anyone to look beyond the play-calling as the culprit. Yet the running game finally made an impression on the season, with Benson picking up 144 yards rushing on 23 attempts. This is a game that the Bengals should have won, largely thanks to the balanced offense that's proven as a working formula for Bengals wins.

The Bengals had a 21-14 lead with 2:28 left in the game when Bob Bratkowski called a pass, out of shotgun! Let's get this straight. You have a seven-point lead, there's only two and a half minutes left in the game and Tampa Bay had just used their final timeout of the game and you want to throw the football with 13 yards to go for a first down? Admittedly, the team wanted to shut the door and win the game on that play. Fine. But lessons are learned harshly sometimes and now you learned that throwing on third-and-13 with 2:28 left in the game and a seven-point lead turns into a heart-breaking three-point loss.

Run the football, Bob. Get to the two minute warning and then punt. Instead of starting their game-tying touchdown drive at midfield with 2:18 left in the game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have less than two minutes to begin a drive that starts within their own 20-yard line. Hindsight is 20/20, true. Even on matters of common sense.

This is the only time this year in which Palmer throws two really bad interceptions and I actually felt sorry for the guy, with all of my disdain filling up in Satan's cup of Earl Gray awaiting the team's offensive coordinator.

PLAYING FROM BEHIND: Benson ran the football very effectively against the Atlanta Falcons, rushing eight times in the first quarter for 36 yards. Then Falcons fans said upon Roddy White, giveth thee awesome receiving performance. And Roddy White said, thou will taketh away from the Bengals secondary. The Falcons took a 24-3 half time lead with White's 157 yards receiving. Benson's 57 yards rushing on 12 attempts in the first half was simply respectable, only because that's what we've expect him to do every week.

Thanks to the lead that the Bengals gave up, typical theme for the entire season, the running game was going to become irrelevant again and the Bengals were forced to play from behind. And boy, did they. Three touchdowns and a field goal later, the Bengals took a one-point led at the end of the third quarter. It was the single reason that some poor soul had to examine a word that I recently submitted to the organization that updates the Oxford Dictionary. Unfortunately, they rejected holysmokinghotshitpancakes.

The Bengals were in the middle of a shootout, with the Falcons responding with their own touchdown on the ensuing drive. Then Palmer led the Bengals offense to Atlanta's 39-yard line and... Cedric Benson fumbles the football. The Falcons scored another touchdown, winning the game 39-32.

Again, at what point should we feel comfortable giving the football to Benson?

CONCLUSION: Let's make a few things clear again. Carson Palmer is, if anything, only slightly worse than last year. The Bengals rushing offense just isn't good and maybe even more of a liability. The play-calling is worse and the defense is nothing like it was last year.

In other words, the 2010 Cincinnati Bengals simply stink. Not that you needed to read a book to figure that out on your own.

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