Bengals Spit-Out Balanced Offenses Like Spoiled Milk (And Good For Them)

Peter Aiken

The Cincinnati Bengals have never been a model of balanced offense, especially since the turn of the century. Nor should they be.

The Houston Texans have the most balanced offense in the NFL, splitting their 698 plays almost evenly with a 50.1-49.9 percent rushing to passing ratio this season.

"It is part of our identity," says Schaub on the Texans’ balanced offense. "It’s how we operate. We can control the ball and put drives together. It’s just something that we need to stay true to our plan and who we are."

San Francisco also sports the most balanced play-calling in the NFC, with a 50.4-49.6 percent run to pass ratio. Obviously with two teams near the top of their respective divisions, and nearly the entire NFL, one would think this is the marquee talking point for thriving NFL success; like the once popular and now outdated defense and good rushing offense wins championships; sure they help, but their importance is on the decline. Absorbing the generalities of this simpleton data presents risks, considering that Kansas City and Washington are two of the top-five most-balanced; the ultimate meaning of the data is what, exactly?

Call it a segue.

The Cincinnati Bengals are far from balanced in their play-calling this year. Of 635 offensive snaps, 58.1 percent were called passes with 41.9 percent runs. Of course the reasoning behind it is fairly common-knowledge; the Bengals have no rushing offense to promote or keep opposing defenses honest. It's why Cincinnati's passing game, namely A.J. Green, has been impressive. Yet you do what the defense gives you and follow your game plan.

"You can’t worry about whether the game is balanced or not," said head coach Marvin Lewis during the postgame press conference following Cincinnati's 28-6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. "We have to play on offense based on what looks we’re seeing defensively. It probably is statistically, but the thing you want to feel good about it is what you’re doing. If they’re going to sit and play certain things, then we need to be able to counter and do what we do best. Today it was a little bit of mix of things and we were able to grind in there pretty good."

Fact of the matter is the Bengals have never been known as balanced since the turn of the century. Save for the 2009 AFC North Championship season (one play became the difference), Cincinnati has generally passed, at minimum, 55 percent of the time on offense. This year is no different, with the offense aiming 58.1 percent of the passes through the air.

PLAYS RUNS PASS
2012 635 41.9% (266) 58.1% (369)
2011 1,015 44.8% (455) 55.2 % (560)
2010 1,046 40.9% (428) 59.1% (618)
2009 1,011 49.95% (505) 50.05% (506)
2008 984 42.3% (420) 57.3% (564)
2007 1,008 41.3% (416) 58.7% (592)
2006 994 43.8% (435) 56.2% (559)
2005 1,018 45.1% (459) 54.9% (559)

As we pointed out before, the need to throw is something of a necessity. Prior to Cincinnati's win against the Chiefs, Bengals feature back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been hovering around the 3.4-3.5 yard/rush mark this season.

Then that was all "blowed" up on Sunday. Against Kansas City on Sunday, Cincinnati's Bengals play-calling was dominated on the ground, rushing 55.1 percent of time with a 5.0 yard/rush average. Simply put, the balanced offense kept Kansas City on their heels, allowing play-action to generate an unexpected presentation (lack of rushing this year has limited the impact of play-action). On the other hand during Cincinnati's 38-13 win over the New York Giants, considered the Bengals top performance of the season, the offense balanced out with 28 runs against 30 passes.

Ultimately balanced offenses are meaningless and totally misleading. Think about it. Most of the time a productive and "balanced" rushing offense tends to favor the victor because most teams open their ground attack largely when sporting a lead in the second half; trying to milk the clock after the ariel assault manifested into a comfortable advantage. And that's true for the Bengals.

During their win over the Giants, Andy Dalton attempted 20 passes while the Bengals rushed 14 times. Truth is that trend is common with Cincinnati this year, especially during wins. The lone exception was last week, with the ground game out-pacing the pass.

In the end there really is no advantage of disadvantage to a balanced offense; not with this Cincinnati Bengals team. Lewis is right in that you take what the defense gives you and most plays are designed per situations, defenses, etc.. When you begin forcing game plans to the point of ineffectiveness, now you really start getting into the Bob Bratkowski era.

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