Improving the Bengals Offense: Don't Rush to Stop Rushing

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This is the beginning of my 'Improving the Bengals Offense' series, which examines how the Bengals can improve and enhance their offensive efficiency in 2014.

Too often over the past three years, the offense has kept the Bengals from winning more games in the regular season, as well as winning just one playoff game. They've scored 10,13 and 10 points in three playoff losses.

In 10 of the Bengals' past 21 losses (including playoffs), the offense failed to score 20 points, and two of those games went into overtime.

In 2013, 16 NFL teams scored 23 or more points per game, but in the past 21 games, the Bengals have failed to reach that mark 15 times. This is the first part of a study dedicated to how the Bengals can improve their offense in 2014, and finally win a playoff game.

First up is a look at the rushing offense, which offensive coordinator Jay Gruden rushed to abandon far too often in 2013.

For the past three seasons, Andy Dalton has quarterbacked in every game, but he's received more blame than he should for Cincinnati's shortcomings. A poor running game (20th and 22nd in first two years) put more pressure on his shoulders than a QB should have to endure early in his career.

When the Bengals finally had a good ground game with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, they were plagued by the erratic play-calling of Gruden that failed to take advantage of an improved rush offense.

When the Bengals trailed in games in 2013, a pass was called on 70% of their plays. That was the ninth-most of any NFL team.

Even when Cincinnati was tied with opponents, they still threw 60% of the time, the 10th-highest rate of any team. The same cannot be said for the other teams who were good enough to make the playoffs in 2013:

Behind

Tied


Pass %

NFL Rk

Pass%

NFL Rk

GB

63%

30

60%

10

CAR

67%

20

58%

18

NE

68%

13

59%

14

SD

64%

28

56%

23

SEA

61%

32

51%

30

SF

65%

26

58%

15

PHI

65%

27

61%

5

NFL Avg.

68%

58%

Credit to PFF for this table

The Bengals passed the ball when they were behind more than eight of last year's other 11 playoff teams.

The ones that did pass more while behind were Denver with Peyton Manning, Indianapolis with Andrew Luck and New Orleans with Drew Brees.

All due respect to Dalton, he's never going to be in that class of NFL QBs, so his offensive coordinator doesn't need to expect him to.

Hopefully, Hue Jackson doesn't make the same mistake Jay made far too often by abandoning the running game too soon after falling behind. He's certainly been a better play-caller when it comes to running the ball anyhow.

In his two previous seasons as an OC in Oakland, Jackson called a run 30.3 times per games, and his backs averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

As for Gruden's three years in Cincinnati, he called 28.5 runs per game while his backs rushed for just 3.86 yards per rush. Only four teams had worse averages. Also last season, Cincinnati's running backs averaged just 24.9 carries per game.

Hue knows he has a talented backfield with Gio, Green-Ellis and second-round draft pick Jeremy Hill, and he plans to use them plenty this coming season.

"What I need to do is unleash these guys," Jackson said earlier this offseason. "We're going to try and create an environment for these guys to be great. That's what [head coach] Marvin [Lewis] is all about. We know we need to run the football. We want to run the football. That's where it starts. That's what he preaches."

An improved rushing offense is key to improving the offense in 2014, but not abandoning it when plans go astray is just as important. Dalton simply isn't the kind of QB to lead Cincinnati from behind as often as Jay seemed to think he was capable of.

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