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It's Not the Running Game, Stupid: Turnovers Are Killing The Bengals Offense

Whoa. That can't be good.
Whoa. That can't be good.

Here's something I'm willing to bet money that you didn't know. This year's offense absolutely stinks. Alright, so what if this year's squad (5.2 yards/play) actually averages more yards than last year's offense that averaged 4.9 yards/play. It's not like that Carson Palmer's pace to break his own franchise record for most passing yards is that big of a deal. And does anyone really care that this year's offense will record 30 more first downs? Like first downs even matter. This year's squad is actually averaging 63 more total yards per game than last year. Big deal. And it's not like the pace that this year's squad is going to score more touchdowns than last year makes that big of a difference, right? Scoring 22 more points than last year's squad is totally meaningless, bro.

So what's the team's solution? Run the football more.

If you compare last season's offense, one noticeable difference that stands out is the team's run/pass ratio. With 505 rushes against 511 passes (attempts and quarterback sacks) last year, the Bengals balanced offense propelled them to the playoffs. At least that's generally believed, considering that this season, the team is projected to pass 242 times more than run -- a difference of 60 more passes than the team's 181 difference in 2007. Obviously, the two are directly are related.

  Runs Passes* Difference
2010 398** 640** 242
2009 505 511 6
2008 420 530 110
2007 416 597 181
2006 435 558 123
2005 459 566 107
2004 437 573 136
* Pass attempts plus sacks. ** Projected.

“We want to generate something in the running game. We’re at our best when we’re generating 120-130 rushing yards per game,” offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said.

As much as it might sting to hear it, Bratkowski is right. However, only partly, because taking a historical account and comparing this year's squad to last year's squad is a bit simplistic. The issue isn't so much that the team is on pace to run the football 100 times less than last year (though it doesn't help either), it's that the offense is careless with the football.

Between Carson Palmer's interceptions and the team's propensity to fumble the football, the Bengals offense is on pace turn the football over 34 times. That's nine more turnovers than last year's squad. Palmer is two interceptions from reaching last year's interception total (13). Four more lost fumbles and the offense will reach last year's total of 12 fumbles lost.

In fact, you could argue that turning the ball over is a primary reason that this team is losing -- though I'm not one to make such simplistic claims when your defense is arguably one of the worst defenses that this Bengals squad has put on the field during the Marvin Lewis era. However, based on the game-by-game chart of who wins the turnover battles, it's again not as simple as that.

Opponent Turnover Ratio Result
Patriots -2 L, 38-24
Ravens +4 W, 15-10
Panthers +2 W, 20-7
Browns -1 L, 23-20
Buccaneers -1 L, 24-21
Falcons +1 L, 39-32
Dolphins +1 L, 22-14
Steelers 0 L, 27-21
Colts -5 L, 23-17

There are some instances in which it's clear. When the turnover ratio decidedly sides more in one direction, the team clearly wins or loses. For example, a -2 turnover ratio or worse, the team loses and a +2 turnover ratio or better, the team wins. That's basic football understanding. Games against the Falcons and Dolphins, the team won the turnover battle, but lost the game.

In Atlanta, the defense quickly put Cincinnati in the hole giving up 24 points in the first half. Even then, Cincinnati nearly completed the comeback of the year -- even taking a one-point lead in the third quarter. Yet a late Cedric Benson fumble led to Atlanta's eventual game-winning touchdown. Turnover. Bengals lose. With a 14-12 lead coming out of half-time, the Bengals punted five straight times while the Miami Dolphins scored 10 points before a late interception by Palmer sealed the loss. Turnovers led directly to the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with three Palmer interceptions leading to 17 Buccaneers points. Within the first five minutes against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals found themselves in a quick hole with a fumble on the game's opening kickoff and a blocked punt (also considered a turnover on downs) on the next possession. Palmer's first half interception also led to seven points. And five turnovers isn't a really good formula to beat a team like the Indianapolis Colts.

Sometimes this team is blown out in the turnover battle and sometimes they lose by only one. And sometimes they win the turnover battle, but lose because of an untimely and costly turnover late in the game.

And that's the biggest difference from last year to this year. Turnovers. It might not seem like much, considering that the team is only -1 in the turnover department for the season. Yet timing is everything. Losing the football early in the first quarter is easily rectified and resolved. Lose it with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, and you might as well go to the media and say you lost the game.

So it's turnover. Well, aside from the team setting a pace of passing the football 242 times more than running it. Oh, and a defense that's on pace to give up the second most points in the Marvin Lewis era. But it's not like we're looking at what's actually wrong with this team or anything because the solution that escaped us all, running the football more effectively, completely escaped us.