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Watch out AFC North: The offense is changing

So when we figured that the Bengals would allow offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski another season, we were surprised, but not shocked. After all, the "Carson Palmer will return in 2009" argument applies. Our main argument against Bratkowski is, while talent is critical for success anywhere in life, the system is flawed. However, the man has staying power. Even the worst offense statistically in the league, with a plethora of excuses holstered at the hip, isn't enough. His free pass turned in, likely on the back of a perceived aberration in 2008 after Bratkowski's offense spent the three seasons prior inside the Top Ten.

I think an interesting theory is emerging however.

Last week, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis promised that the Bengals would have a "way different offense." At the time, we believed the coaches were basically safe, especially the offensive coordinator. You also have to remember that Lewis wanted to do something similar after last season, using the popular words, "time to blow the whole thing up".

"We've got to start from scratch," said Lewis after the 2007 season finale. "We have to blow it up and empty everything." Basically, the offense did blow up, going from the 10th best offense in 2007, to the 32nd best in 2008. Yes, saying 32nd best is so much easier to type than worst in the league -- you wouldn't call the best offense in the league, the 32nd worst, would you? Anywho.

It's going to be a "way different offense" in 2009.

Bob Bratkowski elaborates on Lewis' impression.

"He wants us to be a more physical team that runs the ball better and uses more play-action," said Bratkowski. "We've got some issues to deal with but any time you've got a guy like Carson Palmer at quarterback you can turn it around very quickly."

"From my conversations with him, we're not throwing everything out. It's more adding in some new things," Bratkowski said. "When you're talking about a system, you're talking terminology, protections, run scheme and those things that can be adjusted. We've discussed it and we still haven't finalized it. I know what direction he wants to go: run it so we can play-action it and throw the ball down field. That's the direction he wants to go."

This is what we're assuming. In order for Bratkowski to remain as the team's offensive coordinator, he must change the offense's philosophical views, incorporating more of Lewis' vision into the system, creating more run-balance; not suggesting a "running team", but an effective power rushing offense. If you want a dramatic theory, we wonder if Lewis simply demanded this, giving Bratkowski the ultimatum to hit the road. The Enquirer's Joe Reedy even used the phrase "smashmouth offense", in a piece that included Bratkowski calling Cedric Benson a savior (true, true).

In the end, we're generally thinking that the Bengals want an effective power rushing offense, while using more play-action to generate bigger plays down field. We might not approve of Bratkowski's play-calling, or his system. But he's here for 2009, and the next best realistic thing you could hope for, is changing his mind set.

Indirectly, this could also bring about a focus on the draft -- positions they want. It's obvious the Bengals need to retool the offensive line, but does this also mean the Bengals want to go after a running back? Would they go after Beanie Wells, then use their later rounds for linemen? Me? No way. Durability is something I'm done having patience with in running backs -- and running backs are more likely to be successful as undrafted free agents than linemen.

However, if the team does go "smashmouth", as Reedy questions, then the Bengals need to retool running back. Benson is fine, but generally rushing offenses, or smashmouth offenses, need several backs, to limit the aches and pains of the primary feature back. DeDe Dorsey. James Johnson. Chris Perry (he ain't cut, yet), I don't think, would be ideal for that type of philosophy. Maybe they are. We have a small sample size to judge either way. Oh yea, then there's the issue of re-signing Benson in the first place.

Damn, there's a lot to do, isn't there?

I do have one final thought and I'll stop rambling (thank god, someone whispers). The Bengals won their division games simply by out-throwing their opponents. During Lance McAlister's show, John Thornton called Chris Henry the one player the Steelers and Ravens fear the most -- you know what I mean. However, in order to play to the style of the best teams in our division, we have to also have a powerful rushing offense. If the passing offense is shutdown, then having a rushing offense enables the Bengals another dimension against our enemies -- and that's something we've just not in a while.