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Bengals Game Changing Offseason Moves: Overhauling the Offense

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The Cincinnati Bengals were a pretty good football team in 2009. Their reworked defense and run game wore out opposing teams over the course of four quarters, and the quarterback who has undergone so many trials in one Carson Palmer allowed the ice to flow through his veins in the fourth quarter over and again to win games on final drives. Andre Caldwell appeared for the first third of the season to be the second coming of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, coming through with clutch, crisp routes and sure hands that hauled in two game-winning catches.

Something happened during a game against the Baltimore Ravens in the latter half of the season, however. Chris Henry (may he rest in peace) came down hard and awkwardly on his arm, causing a break that sidelined him for the remainder of the season and his short life. Without the threat of Chris Henry on the field (take my words there at face value, Henry's production last year wasn't all that great), opposing secondaries were able to send help over to whomever was guarding Chad Ochocinco or just send the free safety deep into center field. Teams running a Cover 2 defense had great success against the Bengals' offensive personnel and Bob Bratkowski's schemes, leaving Cedric Benson and the mountainous offensive line the only viable offensive threat.

Even the play-action pass suffered last year due to a broken left thumb of one Carson Palmer, making it necessary for him to hand off on either side of his body with his right hand.

This year, it's all supposed to be different. Mojokong recently wrote a very nice piece about the addition of Jermaine Gresham and what that should mean for the offense considering Bob Bratkowski is able to work him effectively enough into the gameplan. I won't rehash the points Mojo made, but I'll agree heartily with him that Gresham's presence in the Bengals' offense should rightly excite Carson Palmer a great deal.

We've talked about Antonio Bryant as well. Bryant is a guy who has a high #2/#1 type skill set, and he should offset Ochocinco quite adequately on the opposite side of the field. I look forward to watching Bryant haul in those long circus catches and cheering him on rather than cursing him as was the case when he was hauling them in wearing a Browns uniform last I watched him.

Andre Smith should be a full go by training camp, and I and many others anticipate him proving the worth of his high draft selection this season.

Hey, do you know what? We've been hearing good things about Jerome Simpson this offseason! All offseason long!

Reggie Kelly is back. I'm sure that opposing defensive coordinators are thrilled to see the man who has been known to be called the third offensive tackle return to block their linebackers, and he is reported to really be taking Chase Coffman and Jermaine Gresham under his wing.

We still have Kyle Cook. That makes two years in a row in which we won't see Casey Hampton picking our center up and carrying him into the backfield.  

The Bengals also drafted a young man named Jordan Shipley. A young man who was widely considered the best route-runner and the most NFL-ready wideout in the draft will now operate out of the slot. If you live in the Cleveland area, you can ask their new quarterback Colt McCoy about our new wide receiver Jordan Shipley.

So let me paint you a picture here. Let's say the Bengals run a two-tight end formation. Ocho wide right, Bryant wide left. Coffman and Gresham in the tight end spots. Cedric Benson or Bernard Scott in the backfield. If the strong safety stays in to cover two of the most prolific pass-catching tight ends in college football history, that leaves either Ocho or Byrant in one-on-one coverage. Perhaps they'll leave a linebacker seven yards off the line of scrimmage to help in the middle. That's fine, because in that case either Cedric Benson will run over one less LB on his way to the open field, Bernard Scott will have one less defender's ankle to break or Brian Leonard will have one fewer linebacker to Leonard Leap.

Let's leave the second tight end on the sideline in Chase Coffman, shall we? In this case we have Shipley in the slot and Gresham in at TE. Do you see anything easier for the defense with a sure-handed, shifty, Wes Welker clone on the field now?

Let's stay with the power running game this time. Except let's replace Dan Coats with Reggie Kelly's pancake blocks hitting opposing LB's. It worked just fine last year and with another year of cohesion on that young offensive line, I'm not inclined to think we'll all of a sudden stop being able to run the ball.

Okay, how about this one. Four wide. Bryant and Ocho out wide, Shipley and either Dez Briscoe, Andre Caldwell or Dez Briscoe inside. Who is the defense going to leave alone?

Let the other teams in the NFL go ahead and try to run that Cover 2 on us all year long in 2010. I'll enjoy watching the God of Golden Arms (whom John Clayton named "elite" again just today) and his Cardiac Cats march the ball up and down the field with alarming regularity for sixteen weeks. Then I'll enjoy watching a playoff win or three as well.

Sometimes, different can be very good. Even if it's just different enough to make a big, big difference.