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Six-Pack of Hu-Dey: Manageable third downs and cutting out penalties and this offense will flourish

I rode into work Wednesday on the butchered stretch of I-75 when it hit me, I haven't started this week's Six-Pack of Hu-Dey. Actually, I didn't even conjure up topics. So I busted chops, caused synovial fluid cavitation in my fingers, drank a cappuccino and did what I do best. Wing it. This week we take a look at the Bengals offense. No, no, we're not ripping them. We looked at penalties against the Vikings that stalled the offense, long third down situations, Laveranues Coles (lack of) contributions, the offensive line, Jerome Simpson's chance to play, and why it might be a good idea to open up the passing offense against the Chargers.

So, you know. Read on.

Bengals can't put themselves in third and long against the Chargers. Cincinnati's biggest struggle wasn't necessarily the passing game against the Minnesota Vikings. It was the penalties. It was the 57% third down conversions by the Vikings. It was a lot of things. But consider this for a minute.

Of the 14 third downs that the Bengals faced, seven of them were with nine yards or more to go. The Bengals converted one.

During the Cincinnati's first only touchdown drive, the Bengals moved the ball largely because of the successes on first and second down. With 7:58 left in the first half, Cedric Benson took a second-and-ten hand off and picked up seven yards off the left edge setting up an easy third-down conversion that was picked up after Andre Caldwell's seven-yard reception. With 5:30 left, Benson picked up another seven yards on first-and-ten, eventually setting up third-and-three that was converted after a five-yard reception by Caldwell. On the next play, Palmer hit Chad on a 15-yard pass for a touchdown.

This offensive line isn't designed to give Palmer a pocket for too long. And when you face third and long, you need good protection for deeper routes to develop.

Have to reduce drive-stalling penalties on offense. The biggest culprit to the offense's showing against the Vikings were penalties, penalties, penalties. On third-and-ten at their own 37-yard line in the first quarter, Bobbie Williams was flagged for a false start, pushing the offense back to third-and-15. Palmer was sacked and the Bengals punted. Still in the first quarter, third-and-nine at their own 31-yard line, Chad Ochocinco false starts putting the offense in third-and-14. Dump off pass to Brian Leonard for no-gain. Punt.

With 11:05 left in the game, Evan Mathis is called for holding which eventually set up a third-and-18 scenario. Palmer completed a 10-yard pass to J.P. Foschi and the Bengals punt. During the J.T. O'Sullivan led offense, the Bengals were called for 12-men on the field. No first downs. Punt. On possessions the Bengals didn't commit a penalty, the offense picked up third downs and moved the football -- even scoring points.

If the Bengals can stop committing penalties termed "mental mistakes", this offense can sustain drives, putting themselves into position to score. Also consider, the Bengals most complete game of the season against Chicago saw Cincinnati committing three penalties for 20 yards lost -- only one flag on offense.

Side-by-side comparison of penalties committed per game by the Bengals and teams they've faced. In parenthesis are yards lost to penalty.
Week Opponent Result Bengals Opponent
1 Denver L, 7-12 4 (27) 6 (39)
2 Green Bay W 31-24 13 (100) 11 (76)
3 Pittsburgh W, 23-20 4 (30) 5 (51)
4 Cleveland W, 23-20 6 (46) 5 (44)
5 Baltimore W, 17-14 7 (39) 10 (76)
6 Houston L, 17-28 4 (45) 7 (60)
7 Chicago W, 45-10 3 (20) 6 (44)
9 Baltimore W, 17-7 6 (40) 7 (80)
10 Pittsburgh W, 18-12 7 (87) 5 (50)
11 Oakland L, 17-20 8 (59) 3 (13)
12 Cleveland W, 16-7 10 (75) 4 (30)
13 Detroit W, 23-13 9 (75) 7 (45)
14 Minnesota L, 10-30 11 (85) 9 (69)

Bengals should consider replacing Laveranues Coles in the starting lineup. Bengals starting wide receiver Laveranues Coles committed an offensive pass interference with 13:00 left in the first quarter (it was declined) against the Minnesota Vikings. Then he disappeared. NFL's Gamebook lists the number of times Palmer target Coles as "0". At first, it seemed that Coles was getting into the groove of things; between November 8 (Baltimore) and November 22 (Oakland), Coles caught 13 passes for 200 yards receiving -- by far, his best three-game stretch of the season. In his past three games, he's caught four passes for 49 yards receiving.

Week Opponent Target Catches Yards Touchdowns
14 Minnesota 0 0 0 0
13 Detroit 4 2 25 0
12 Cleveland 9 2 24 0

For the season, Coles has caught 50.8% of the passes thrown to him with two games in which he was completely shutout (Baltimore part 1 and Minnesota).

Would it be a stretch to say that perhaps the Bengals should consider replacing Coles in the starting line up?

Bengals should consider opening the passing game up early against the Chargers. There's rumblings that the Bengals might try to open the passing game against the San Diego Chargers this week. If there's a week that the Cincinnati Bengals wanted to prove that they have a potent passing attack, why not this week? We're not too opposed to experimenting with new things during ultra-critical games or anything. It changes the pace. Breaks routine and predictability. Furthermore, the Chargers sport the league's 21st rushing defense and their rushing offense is 31st in the league. Both are ideal matchups for what the Bengals have done all season.

So if the Bengals elect to go happy-pass offense, they could do that early, reverting to what's worked all season if happy-passing offense falls flat on its back and still have a chance to win.

But there is one concern when conjecturing this possibility. San Diego scores a lot of points and they generate big passing plays. If the Bengals defense can't stall the Chargers offense early this Sunday, then the Bengals may have no choice but to open up the passing game -- this time, not by choice. What's the old phrase? Force them to play your game?

Will Jerome Simpson finally make his season debut against the Chargers? There's more than a good chance that Jerome Simpson will get on the field Sunday, apparently. Geoff Hobson writes very matter of fact:

With the Bengals now down to five receivers, it should mean that Jerome Simpson is going to be active for the first time this season Sunday in San Diego.

Simpson hasn't been active through the first 13 games this season. He was active in eight games in 2008, playing in six , catching one pass for two yards. And if I recall correctly, that reception was made against Pittsburgh and he was hurt on that play. The debate between Simpson and DeSean Jackson has been of the rage from some; Jackson was still available when the Bengals drafted Simpson. I hope Simpson absolutely blows us away so that debate will shut down -- oh, and plus it would be awesome if he did anyway.

Below is a maddening fiery of Tweets by Lance McAlister (note that the world of tweets forces one to use unorthodox abbreviations).

From Marvin Lewis "he's got a chance to give us a shot in arm" | "he's got to contribute on sp teams and blocking" | "he's had an urgency of details in his practice habits...with us trying to rest chad and l.c." | "his athletisim and seed is limitless"."it all must be channeled in right direction"

From Carson Palmer: "i'm not sure of timeline to get him on field, hopefully its sun. He's a vertical threat like andre" | "he's come along way, didn't know a ton of fb when he got here, he'd just played" (translated: He's come a long way, didn't know a ton of football when he got here).

However, Joe Reedy tweets that the coaches "want to see how Jerome Simpson does in practice this week before making the final decision to make him active on game day".

Based on performance, this offensive line is better than league average... sometimes. So I had a really tough time coming up with a sixth topic. Trust me, this stuff isn't easy (note: if you have a subject for the Six-Pack of Hu-Dey email me). But I really wanted to focus on the offensive line for an offensive-only (or is it only offensive?) Six-Pack. Instead of coming up with a topic and ranting, I decided to do something else. Throw something against the wall and hope that something sticks.

Cincinnati's offensive line is ranked 9th in the league, allowing 23 quarterback sacks. Furthermore, Palmer has only been hit 50 times this year, which is also within the top ten of least amount of times the quarterback has been hit. Cincinnati's offensive line -- notably Andrew Whitworth and the flavor of the week at left guard -- has opened up enough room for running backs to pick up 10 yards or more on the left side, 26 times (second in the league). All of this incorporating one of the league's most inexperienced offensive lines this year -- combined, the Bengals have 201 career starts on the line -- 26 teams have more combined starts.

However, as good as they've performed -- and let's face facts, their body of work over the course of the season has been tremendous -- they've also struggled. On 430 rushing plays, 41 have gone for negative yards -- only three teams have more negative yardage rushing plays. On the other hand, the Bengals are one of the best teams on short-yardage to-go distances, converting 78% of their runs to the left, 70% up the middle and 79% to the right -- all three are inside the top ten in the NFL.

Football Outsiders ranks the offensive line as the league's 10th best, with an adjusted sack rate of 5.6%. Since I don't automatically assume you know what Adjusted Sack Rate means, here's the explanation from Football Outsiders. And another if you're quest for knowledge is epic.

Teams are ranked according to adjusted sack rate, which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. Pass blocking stats are explained further here. Our sack totals may differ slightly from official NFL totals depending on the league's retroactive statistical adjustments.

What's more surprising is the team's Adjust Line Yards of 4.04, which is ranked 18th. So technically, Football Outsiders ranks the Bengals pass protection better than their run blocking. I'll let that sink in for a moment while you guys think to yourself, "BULL CRAP."

I agree that the offensive line has appeared to struggle in recent weeks. But they only allowed one sack to the league's best pass rushing defense (Minnesota) and are still the league's sixth best rushing offense. They still deserve a huge bulk of the credit for this season's successes.