FOXBORO MA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Carson Palmer #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals talks with the offense before the opening kickoff against the New England Patriots during the NFL season opener on September 12 2010 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
In five of his final six games (not including the win over Cleveland) Cedric Benson sported a contract-deserving 2.4 yards/rush (72/173) average. Only once did Benson rush for a five-yard average this season while posting an average of less than three yards/rush in seven games this year. We would tell you that the Bengals were 1-6 when Benson averaged less than three yards/rush, but it wouldn't matter; they were 1-6 on nearly everything we bring up anyway. And I bet it would grind your gears to learn that Benson's lone game of a five-yard or more average was the game that Bob Bratkowski threw the football with 2:28 left in the game on third down to lose the game against Tampa Bay.
One could argue (justifiably so) that Cincinnati spent most of the season playing from behind, making the obvious decision to throw the football with more frequency, failing to get the rushing offense into any rhythm. During Cincinnati's 12 losses this year, Benson averaged 18 carries compared to his 26 carries/game average during the team's four wins. Additionally Benson ran the ball 172 times in the first half compared to 149 rushes in the second half, where Benson's average lowered to 3.2 yards/rush. You would also assume Cincinnati's rushing average would increase because opposing defenses tend to relax, preventing the big pass plays. Not so. When the Bengals were losing by more than one possession (eight points), Benson's average fell to 2.5 yards/rush. Is that just an issue of effort? Or was Cincinnati's passing offense that bad that defense still focused on the Bengals run when enjoying a two-possession lead?
What, says the Benson-apologist. You expected better from a running back that faced six of the ten best rushing defenses this year? Well, Benson did rush for only 24 yards rushing on 14 attempts against the league's 25th rushing defense (Colts). So there's that.
Cedric Benson has been verbally upset this season, complaining that the offense lacked identity, that coaches do not listen to players and more recently proclaimed that he would welcome change if he returned for the 2011 season.We had assumed that the change was simply Bob Bratkowski's play-calling (therefore a new coordinator was needed) because we figured that Benson was looking for a post-NFL career in the vicious world of Cincinnati politics (don't sit there and tell me you wouldn't vote for him if he said that publicly).
Once we dug into the stats and the ratings, we wondered why he just didn't say, "There's just no room, dude."
Cincinnati's rushing offense ranked dead-last in the NFL with 3.6 yard/rush average while only two teams (Carolina and Buffalo) posted fewer rushing touchdowns than Cincinnati's eight. The Bengals lost yardage on 23 rushes to the left (behind the recently snubbed Andrew Whitworth), which ranked last with the Baltimore Ravens. While the Bengals only recorded two runs of negative yardage up the middle, they also ranked 30th with a 50% conversion of their powers runs (3rd or 4th down runs with two or few yards that picked up a first down or touchdown) up the middle. In other words, they didn't lose yards up the middle. Awesome. But they didn't pick up those first downs on third (or fourth) and short either. Not awesome. When they ran to the left, that percentage dropped another nine points.
Football Outsiders joins Pro Football Focus with Cincinnati's power rushing offense, ranking them 28th with a 51% conversion on power runs. And 22% of Cincinnati's rushes resulted in stuffs (runs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage). Let that settle for a moment, like a meal before anxiously hitting the pool when you're five years old. Nearly a quarter of the team's run resulted in no-gains, or even negative yards. While the offensive line is a target for this mind-blowing success, we often saw Benson stumbling around the line of scrimmage because someone's hands slapped the running back's thighs. Yes, the offensive line could do a better job blocking. And yes, the team's feature back could stop acting as if the planet had gravity wells randomly placed all over the football field.
PFF rates Whitworth, Kyle Cook, Evan Mathis and Williams as good run blockers while Jermaine Gresham (the team's worst rated run blocker), Andre Smith, Anthony Collins, Dennis Roland and Nate Livings were rated with negative scores. And yes, it's still confusing why Mathis only received 114 offensive snaps compared to Livings, who participated on 1,014 snaps.
When you shift gears to the team's passing offense, the Bengals offensive line shows improvement. This is us being fair. Even though the offensive line ranked eighth with only 28 quarterback sacks allowed, they also allowed Carson Palmer to be hit 73 times, ranking 16th in the NFL. Yet, Football Outsiders ranked the offensive line as the seventh best pass protection unit in the league with a 5.1% adjusted sack rate (sacks divided by pass plays, which include passes, sacks, and aborted snaps). Pro Football Focus rates the Bengals tenth with Andrew Whitworth listed as the league's second-best pass blocker at offensive tackle behind Jake Long and Bobbie Williams rated as the second-best pass blocker in the league at right guard.
Here's one final statistic that will do nothing to fully resolve anything, other than re-focusing on the Bengals coaching staff, sending you to bed. If the Bengals offensive line were truly the unit struggling during Cincinnati's rushing offense, then every running back would have struggled this season. Correct? Not true. In the final five games this season, Bernard Scott averaged 5.3 yards/rush, finishing the season with an average of 4.9 yards. Yet, there's no power in the universe that can make a convincing argument as to why Scott only ran the football 61 times. Scott still has durability questions to answer, therefore few are confident enough that he could become the team's feature running back. Yet, 61 rushes for a running back that averaged 4.9 yards/carry only seems like a complete failure to properly use every weapon at your disposal.