A shout-out to Seapit for putting his finger on the nub of the problem, the offensive line. For anyone who is serious about answering the question, what's wrong with the Cincinnati Bengals offense, the story begins and (largely) ends there. But we'll get to that "largely" later
Earlier this week, Doc contrasted this year's offense with the offense of five years ago:
Back when the Bengals offense was scoring lots of points, nobody in stripes talked about what the defense took away from them. The offense discussed taking what it wanted.
Yup, they did. But that was five years ago. It's 2010 and that ship hasn't just sailed, it sank. No matter how long we stand on the dock and wait, pining for our beloved 2005 offense lost to the Great Gridiron Ocean, it ain't coming back.
The 2005 offense could dictate to opposing teams primarily because that year, the Bengals had arguably the best offensive line in football. This year? Well, let's put it charitably: we don't have the best offensive line in football.
For those not feeling charitable, or not convinced, let's go down the line. This year, we have just one survivor from that great 2005 line, Bobbie Williams. And while Bobbie remains one equal temper of heroic hearts, he too no longer has that "strength which in old days moved heaven and earth." Of his four companions this year, which of them, if transported back in time, would oust one of 2005's starters from the position they play now?
Would Andrew Whitworth unseat Levi Jones? Not in 2005.
Nate Livings over Eric Steinbach? Nope.
Kyle Cook vs. Buckethead? No contest.
And do I even need to name the respective right tackles? Heck, there are people calling for us to resign Big Willie right now.
Not only wouldn't they be starting, I'm not sure half these guys would even be on the team. Does Dennis Roland or Cook or Livings make it even as a backup in '05? I don't mean to run these guys down (mainly because any of them could probably kill me with a good hard stare) but that's how good the line was that year. And that's why the first thing the Bengals did in the following offseason was to secure the two tackles with big bucks deals. Of course, we all know how that worked out, unfortunately.
Carson Palmer is done? I guarantee you, put him back behind the 2005 o-line and he'll "done" his way right into the playoffs and set passing records doing it.
Now, all of that said, it shouldn't be as big a problem as it is. The o-line may not be great, but it's serviceable. It can run block decently and pass protect at least long enough to allow a short-to-medium-ranged passing game, especially with some misdirection and play-action (like we saw on the drive that ended in Cedric Benson's first TD pass last Sunday) mixed in.
However -- and here's where we get to that aforementioned "largely" -- there's one guy who doesn't get that 2005 is over. And he's the one guy who's in position to allow that illusion to do maximum damage to the team's chances this year. That man is Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
"I think they can; we‘ve got to get better," Bratkowski said. "I think we’re a little more balanced in throwing it this year. And we’ve got to do a better job in the protection, where last year there was a heavy focus on the run. And less exposed in protection.
"They’re exposed more. They’ve got to get used to that element where it’s not all play-action and it’s a little more attempting to get the ball downfield to our skill guys."
Somebody at PBS has to stage an intervention. Bob, buddy, pal, they aren't going to suddenly get better. Tinkerbell is not going to fly down and sprinkle them with magic pixie dust and make them the 2005 o-line. They are what they are, and if you use what they are, you can succeed. But if you keep trying to force this pet Air Coryell-inspired vertical passing game on this team, it will fail. You can get your precious "chunks" but it's going to be more situational. You can still dictate, but "patience" is the watchword. Work the underneath routes and the flat. Use the run to set up the play action and the pass. You have your own version of Wes Welker and Wayne Chrebet in Jordan Shipley, and a stud-in-the-making TE in Jermaine Gresham. Use them. And when Chad and T.O. come crying, point them at the scoreboard, because there will be more W's than L's on it.