In order to look ahead, we have to first look back.
Early in the 2008 season, the Cincinnati Bengals knew they were in trouble. Right out of the gate, the Ravens eliminated the Bengals passing attack completely and at that point, exposed the inevitable collapse of Bob Bratkowski's offensive philosophy.
The routine had become old hat. Based on formations and down-and-distance situations, thousands of people on their couches knew what play was coming next. NFL defenses certainly did, and suddenly the passer who routinely collected 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns each season now looked mediocre. Once he hurt his elbow, Palmer was shelved after five games (only four of which he played in) and the rest of the year basically went into preseason mode. The Bengal brass (more like copper?) had a long time to decide what would happen once Carson healed. This is what it appears they went with:
The offensive line couldn't hold up well in pass protection and it resulted in an injured star quarterback; that simply wouldn't do. It's no secret that Mike Brown puts a premium on the arm of Mr. Palmer and would likely agree that he doesn't want to pay him to stand along the sidelines.
Also, the offense had become stale and even they had to know it. That mudslide began in 2007 when the predictability started to set in and Carson Palmer's interception total spiked. Adjustments weren't made soon enough; the team was losing again!
The last influential development that has molded the team that we see today, was the resurrection of Cedric Benson. He looked good, the line blocked well for him, and the offense began thawing just enough to steal a few wins late in the year. A ray of hope shined from an unexpected source; The Redeemer earned another feather in his cap.
The combination of these things prompted Brown into making a sensible business decision: the team would run more. I can envision Marvin Lewis smiling and rubbing his hands together at these words.
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But then Brown made a personal decision, a counter-business decision, an it's-my-team-and-I-will-do-what-I-want decision; he retained Bratkowski. Here was the perfect chance to find a new brain to compliment the new run-first philosophy instead of keeping a mind who appears addicted to the deep pass and calls plays from a script as common as a Denny's menu.
Of course, Brat had the best excuse; as good as a doctor's note: my quarterback got hurt. Well, that just wouldn't be right to fire a guy who lost his QB. After all, who can win with Ryan Fitzpatrick? Fair enough, Mr. Brown, but the Bratkowski shenanigans cost the Bengals at least one Playoff season and that should have been grounds enough to find someone else.
Yet it was not to be.
At first the Bengals shocked the world with their rushing prowess. The offensive line didn't have to pass protect as much, Benson was performing up to the team's expectations and the receivers had yet to become a fatal flaw. Bratkowski, for the most part, stayed out of the line of fire from fans and media, mostly because the team was now winning. His happiness, and more important, job security, reached a crescendo against the Chicago Bears in a game where his offense looked unstoppable.
Those happy times lasted exactly one more half, after which Chris Henry broke his forearm, the offense sat on the ball for the rest of the game, and then began to shrivel and die from that point on.
Without Henry, opposing defenses dared Cincinnati to go deep, and while it appeared that they really wanted to at times, no team was scared and for good reason; the Bengals passing game had eroded to nothing.
Still, Bratkowski could have adjusted. If you must run the ball the majority of the time---something 95 percent of the NFL does not agree with---then it only makes sense to utilize more than one runner. For the record, Benson is a top-five running back who I would not replace for anyone---maybe Chris Johnson, but I'm more loyal than that...I think.
Bernard Scott, though, is another talent worth showcasing. Scott should get up to---but not much more than---10 touches a game, and should be utilized in well-practiced screen plays. The man has uncanny hole recognition (easy now; I'm talking about running lanes) and has the speed to produce explosive plays---an oft-used word in the Marvin Lewis vocabulary. Scott has serious instinct and skill and couples as an exciting kick-returner; to regularly ignore this type of back in any sequence of play-calling seems, frankly, moronic.
In 2005, Bratkowski's offense was all the rage. The vertical passing game was sensational with arguably the best receiving corps and the best offensive line in the league. He too obviously liked it because it was never changed and still apparently limps along. After an embarrassing amount of losses in '08, he finally went to a more West Coast offensive style in the end and, lo and behold, he got a some wins. Late in ’09, when the pass looked juvenile, no adjustment like that was made, and if there were any, the players did not execute them. Key losses ensued.
An owner or a general manager (usually two separate people, but not for the Bengals) would see a person like that as an obstacle toward a championship. Replacing a head coach is a big shake-up that may not be in the best interest of the team as a whole, but coordinators are typically the first to get tossed around when things fall apart---which Chinua Achebe says will always eventually happen. Three defensive coordinators have worked in Cincinnati since Marvin Lewis has been with the Bengals; Bratkowski predates even Marvin. When Mike Brown has his man, he has his man.
But one would think that Brown would embrace change and innovation. His own father, Paul Brown, is credited as being the most important figure in football history based largely on the changes he instituted to the game. I, for one, believe that if Paul Brown hadn't changed the way offenses were run when he did, American Football would look a lot more like rugby today.
So what can we expect for the future?
For starters we can expect Brat back. All those calling for his head: I hear ya, but it's not going to happen until the man in charge thinks that's the best way to go and we may have to wait until he dies for that to happen. Literally.
The Bengals have the personnel to keep running, so we run. Benson will continue to be our offensive keystone and all strategy should be based around his continued success. Chad Ochocinco will be eager to have a bigger year, and based on Marvin's comments, the team will look to acquire additional weapons---without hopefully catching the attention of the ATF.
I covet a large possession receiver who becomes a reliable target, excels on third-and-medium and takes pressure off of Chad. He doesn't have to be fast and stretch the field; lots of receivers are fast. If Terrell Owens finds himself a Bengal this offseason, he would serve as a patch to stop the bleeding right away, but an alternate strategy will have to be in place for any of it to work. Another hopeful person to change the misfortune of the Bengals passing attack is last year's third-round draft pick, tight end Chase Coffman. I've given up and moved on from thinking receiver Jerome Simpson will ever make an impact, but I am optimistic that Andre Caldwell will take another step toward becoming a legitimate receiver next year. These guys and a couple of new bodies should help Carson in 2010.
Yet the future of the offense still rests in the coaches’ booth, next to the owners booth elevated high above the playing field. Like a Caesar looking down upon his subjects, our favorite team is at the mercy of the whims of Mike Brown and his money, and neither is ready to cut Bratkowski loose. Therefore, we all must suffer through Brat's redundant play-calling and the stubborn insistence of always following his script. How many Bengal fans will it cost? When will common sense prevail once more?
There is no real possibility, but for fun, let's say Brat is fired. First we celebrate like it's or own Mardi Gras, and then we search for new candidates.
I like the idea of returning to the Sam Wyche School of Offense and hiring Turk Schonert, though I admit that his numbers as offensive coordinator and apparently his perceived report with players stink.
Still, the man logged many hours on the sideline with Wyche when he backed up Boomer in the 80s, and the no-huddle of that era produced the Bengals a league-leading offense in the 1988 season. He knows the no-huddle well, prepared the Bills to run it last training camp and managed three points the entire preseason using it. He was canned 10 days before the season opener, complained publicly that head coach Dick Jauron felt his scheme was too complicated and hasn't been heard from since. Players like Lee Evans and Trent Edwards supported the firing at the time, claiming that the team wasn't buying into the system. Other personnel within the organization said Schonert had a hard time handling feedback from his fellow coaches and players. Sounds messy.
If you would prefer a coordinator that compliments the running game, consider another former Bill Walsh disciple, Paul Hackett. Here’s a guy who had success at Kansas City and in New York with the Jets, running the ball with such talents such as Marcus Allen and Curtis Martin. He may be a more comfortable fit with Marvin’s way of doing things.
Either way, history has proven that innovation leads to success in the NFL, and when a new twist is applied to an old idea, it can often take the league by storm. But not for long; that's really what NFL stands for. Today's coaches have every conceivable advantage of scouting any team out there and the smallest trends and patterns are now quickly detected. What worked in the last four games will likely be severely challenged in the next four, and constant adjustment and innovation is how the best teams win.
Cincinnati switched up their offense early on last year and made some strides by doing so, but then stubbornly stuck to it and found that their offensive blueprint had been spammed out to every inbox in the league. The secret was out and the Bengals had no more cards to play. Instead of figuring out ways to go around or under or over the wall, they committed themselves to keep running right into it until the wall gave way. The wall never budged and a team with gobs of offensive innovation, the New Orleans Saints, won the Super Bowl instead.
A change should be made but it won't. Under the current offensive philosophy, the Bengals might always make the wild-card round, but without a fresh spark of new thinking, a championship seems perpetually out of reach.
Mojokong---I no longer want to talk about Bob Bratkowski pretty much ever again.