One of the many debates we'll get into this offseason is the team's passing offense. But before you can offer solutions, you have to examine the problems, which are generally spoken in question format. Has Carson Palmer lost confidence in his receivers? Are the team's protection schemes not protecting Palmer long enough? Has Palmer lost it? Is there something to be said about the team's wide receivers not being good enough? If you take away Chad Ochocinco's production this season, then combine all of the remaining wide receivers numbers, it looks like this:
I realize that you can't simply remove the statistical production of the team's best wide receiver and expect flourishing numbers at that position. Furthermore, most offenses in the NFL tend to use tight ends and running backs out of the backfield for their short passing game, as well as outlets for quarterbacks under pressure. As Bengals fans, we've been spoiled with Chad and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Let's admit that, why don't we? In his final three seasons with the Bengals, Houshmandzadeh averaged 98 receptions. Combine all the receptions by receivers not named Ochocinco, and they collectively recorded 12 more receptions than Houshmandzadeh's three-year average.
Quite bluntly, no one stepped up where Houshmandzadeh left off. Laveranues Coles, the team's high profile free agent last offseason, recorded 50 yards receiving or more in only three games during his worst statistical season since his rookie year. In the Bengals's final 11 games of the regular season, Andre Caldwell averaged 2.6 receptions and 20 yards receiving per game. He never recorded more than 35 yards receiving nor caught more than five passes in any one game during that span -- he was shutout twice and had two receptions or less in four of those final 11 games.
There is, however, something to be said about the team's focus running the football. Consider for a moment that Carson Palmer only attempted 466 passes in 2009 -- the lowest attempted passes throughout a 16-game season in Palmer's career. And the Bengals did have their most productive rushing offense since 1999. The team's 505 rushing attempts is the most since the 1989 squad rushed the football 529 times. But that's not to say Palmer's production doesn't remain noticeably lower than we have come to expect. His yards per attempt (6.6), his passer rating (83.6), his touchdowns (21), 40-yard passes (5) and his yards passing per game (193.4) are all career lows during a season in which he played all 16 games.
For as dominating the offensive line has been in the running game, they seemed to struggle giving Palmer a firm pocket in which he didn't feel pressured, or forced into throwing a mistake. Granted, Palmer was only hit 56 times in the pocket, which ranked sixth best in the NFL and his 29 times sacked ranked inside the top ten. So the question I'm starting to face is, was Palmer feeling pressure that wasn't there and forcing his throws? Football Outsiders ranked Cincinnati's offensive line with the 10th best pass protection in the league whereas they ranked 24th best in run blocking. Oddly enough, the team's rushing offense ranked ninth in the NFL and the passing offense ranked 26th.
Did we just vindicate the team's offensive line? I'll give them the benefit. I love linemen. It's my favorite part of football.
I honestly don't believe the problems facing the team's passing offense is resolved with one solution; a free agency pick up or a draft pick. Regardless, this team had issues with their passing game. Palmer struggled a lot throughout the season; whether by pressure, or anxiety, or simply making bad throws. At the same time, the only help he did receive was an outstanding rushing offense. In the end, the Bengals would be right to keep the identity of a rushing offense and a powerful defense. However, if this team wants to make a run in the playoffs next year with, you know, a win, they have to become much more efficient and productive in the passing offense.