As the Reds edge closer to their first playoff appearance in 15 years and football season in Cincinnati is back in full swing, it is easy to see some of the similarities between the Bengals and Redlegs. Good defense, a lot of talent, some young and promising players and a sometimes struggling offense. Both teams make me scream at the TV until I'm red in the face and both teams make me extremely proud to live in Cincinnati and be a longtime fan, through the bad times and the good.
Even though it's extremely likely that the Reds are going to the playoffs, definitely if the St. Louis Cardinals lose to the Pirates tonight, there has been one constant complaint coming from my mouth all season: the Reds don't play enough small-ball. There have been so many times that there has been a runner on first or second where I would completely expect Dusty Baker to give the signal for the upcoming batter to bunt, advancing the runner into scoring position. It usually doesn't happen though. Usually, Baker gives the signal to swing for the Ohio River. Sometimes it pays off but usually it doesn't. The Reds strand players on the bases and they rely on their pitching and solid defense to make up for it. So far this season, it's worked and hopefully it works throughout the playoffs.
Maybe my complaints have been falling on deaf ears in Great American Ball Park but somebody might be paying attention to them in Paul Brown Stadium. Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski seems to enjoy the small-ball type of offense instead of swinging for the fences. The Bengals offense has struggled to move the ball down the field during their first three games of the season. Instead they've chipped away at the opposing defense three or four yards at a time using Cedric Benson and a series of short passes. And just like the Reds, it's worked so far, or at least worked well enough to give the Bengals a winning record.
I don't like to complain and I really don't like to complain when my favorite teams are winning. I had to suffer through the "dark ages" of the Bengals franchise just like you did and when I complain now, it makes me feel like I'm taking a good Bengals team for granted and I don't want to do that. The fact is, Marvin Lewis won't always be a coach in Cincinnati and Mike Zimmer will be a head coach somewhere else before you know it. I hope the hard-nosed Bengals defense doesn't leave with him but it could. We should all just enjoy the winning while we can before it goes away. But, on the other hand, it's the nature of a fan to complain, it's what we do. We'll complain if we go 0-16 and we'll complain if we lose the Super Bowl. That's just the way it is.
Of the small-ball playing Bengals, Bengals safety Chris Crocker and defensive tackle Domata Peko say that it's just the Bengals style football and there's nothing wrong with it:
"That’s the type of ballgame we play. Field position ball,’’ said safety Chris Crocker.
Domata Peko said, "We’ve been in this situation before, where there ain’t too many points on the board.’’ And come out ahead.
Sundays win against the Panthers was a perfect example. The defense looked incredible throughout the game but the offense sputtered. There were moments of "what could be" here and there like the screen pass to Jermaine Gresham or the long pass to Jordan Shipley, but through most of the game, the offense lacked explosiveness.
As in, there is never one answer. Case in point. On the first play of the game, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco ran the wrong route. On the third play of the game, Palmer threw a ball too far inside to The Ocho for an interception. On his other interception, Palmer got his arm hit when the pocket collapsed and it fell short of wide receiver Terrell Owens streaking open down the middle for a long touchdown pass."
It is hard to place blame on what is wrong with the offense. One would think that with the level of talent on the offensive side of the ball that no defense would be able to contain them and that they would put up college football numbers. That hasn't been the case though. The offensive line has been overwhelmed at times, the wide receivers have run the wrong routes on occasion and Palmer just hasn't looked like Palmer. I guess you can just blame everybody. But, before the Bengals decide that the passing game is a lost cause and change their offensive game plan to Cedric Benson blasting, I hope the powers that be realize that they have an engine that is just a tweak or two from exploding to NASCAR speeds.
Maybe the solution is to give Bob Bratkowski Dusty's job and Dusty can take over the offensive play calling for the Bengals or maybe we should be patient and hope that the Bengals passing game catches up with the preseason hype.