Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is reflecting.
Three weeks after being eliminated from the 2012 postseason, Lewis, while in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, touches on improvements that the Bengals must make heading into the 2013 season. One of them becomes a renewed focus on the rushing offense.
"I have to do a better job of getting us to be able to run the football better. You have to flat out run the ball effectively," he said.
When Cincinnati won this season, the rushing offense averaged 113.4 yards rushing per game with a 4.1 yard/rush average and eight touchdowns. During their seven losses, including the Wild Card loss in early January, the Bengals averaged 97.4 yards rushing per game, a 4.6 yard/rush average and three touchdowns.
And during the four-game winning streak that put Cincinnati back into the thick of postseason discussions, the offense averaged 151.2 yards rushing per game, a 4.6 yard/rush average and four touchdowns.
"That's how we turned our season around," Lewis said. "That's how we were effective in 2011 after the lockout. We just have to be able to continue on those things."
First the Bengals needs to adjust the roster and starting lineup. Along with solidifying Clint Boling as the regular starting left guard, perhaps Trevor Robinson would be given a fighting chance to win the starting center job. Of the three starting centers in 2012 (Jeff Faine and Kyle Cook included), Robinson scored the only positive run blocking score according to Pro Football Focus.
Robinson started against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, helping the Bengals generate 303 yards rushing in both games combined. After that Cincinnati failed to reach 50 yards rushing or more in two of their final three games.
It should be worth noting however that while Robinson started against teams like the Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers and Cowboys, Cook started the final three games against the Steelers, Ravens and Texans.
Obviously there's the gaps in the running back position with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Daniel Herron being the only running backs signed entering 2013. Our own Joe Goodberry is setting up a series of posts for the best backs in the 2013 NFL draft.
Establishing a strong rushing offense will go a long way for Andy Dalton, who is being criticized for performances while under pressure; either in a national game, against one of the league's top teams or through the threat of a pass rush that leaves the panic-stricken quarterback into an unnecessary scramble. Because Dalton (and most quarterbacks) in third and short have a much higher percentage than they do on third and long.