The primary goal for any offense is to score touchdowns. Sounds obvious enough, but it seems that the deeper football theory becomes, we lose sight of what matters the most. In football, and in so many other things in life, there exists a spectrum of opinion that ranges from conservative to liberal, or perhaps, from safe to risky. The safe crowd would rather protect the ball at all costs, sacrificing the primary goal of scoring touchdowns in order to decrease their chance of a turnover. The risky folk would counter that more aggressive shots at large chunks of yardage would ultimately produce enough points to render any turnovers suffered in the process obsolete.
An observer of the man may initially feel that Marvin Lewis falls heavily on the conservative end of the discussion, but there are various ways to look at the issue. In the Bob Bratkowski era, particularly in the early Carson Palmer years, the deep threat became the Bengals' best weapon and propelled a struggling franchise to a vital foothold of respectability. Once that momentum crested, however, Brat persisted with the deep-ball system for years after, reaching the point of blatant predictability, only to watch it collapse altogether in the epic failure of 2010. Marvin would consistently raise the point of what he called explosive plays, which he defined as plays of 20 or more yards, when asked of his offensive priorities. This kind of evidence suggests that perhaps the head coach is not as fuddy-duddy as we may first imagine him to be.
On the other hand, Marvin has also talked at great length—and perhaps in a more passionate tone—about avoiding turnovers. Comparing the emphasis he puts on this priority to that of gaining big-yardage plays and scoring touchdowns rather than field goals, leads me to believe that our first instinct is probably closer to home by assuming he, generally speaking, would rather play it safe.
What helps balance this approach, as far as the Bengals are concerned, is their current play-caller, Jay Gruden. As a former quarterback in the Arena Football League and a member of a celebrated offensive family (thanks primarily to his brother, Jon), our instinct this time lean us toward thinking that Jay is a bit more of a gambler than Marv. That being said, Gruden's offense does not require a multitude of deep-ball attempts like Palmer's did. He runs the short-passing game, relieving the pressure from what many unfairly consider a rather pedestrian quarterback, while increasing it onto a growing stockpile of potent offensive weaponry.
Andy Dalton will still take some shots down field, but the evidence thus far suggests that throwing long is not his greatest skill and should not be overdone—lest the team forgets its lessons from the past. What has been promising this preseason has been the quick delivery of the pass when Dalton drops back and the variety of his targets. Using the middle of the field will be paramount this season with the expected increase of two-tight end sets and the emergence of Giovanni Bernard as an exciting dump-off play-maker. Mohammed Sanu is a tough player who does not mind contact, and, according to his scouting report and the limited glimpses of what we've seen this preseason, rookie Cobi Hamilton is yet another viable candidate on shallow crossing routes to maximize YAC and utilize the areas between the hash-marks. Then, when the safeties finally and begrudgingly take that extra step toward the middle, tired of all the cheap first downs they have given up to tight ends and running backs, A.J. Green has then acquired all the room he needs to make a difference in the game.
While scoring touchdowns is the goal for all offenses, getting the ball to Green, and doing whatever it takes to make that mission easier, is the overall thesis for Bengals specifically. Tyler Eifert gashing defenses on seams routes down the middle, Jermaine Gresham bruising his way over tacklers, Bernard slicing through the line with those crazy-quick feet, Sanu playing as an overgrown receiver who tires out his opponents, and Marvin Jones hoping someone forgets about him in coverage, and even BenJarvus Green-Ellis simply performing the dirty work of short-yardage and goal-line plays, are all there to compliment Green. Underneath his youth and seemingly tenuous knees is a mustard-colored jacket destined just for him. Not the prop that the mohawked Ochocinco trotted out after a touchdown, but the real thing. It is wrapped around his football essence and one can see it shine through multiple times a game. His talent cranks the hype machine and is the primary reason anyone would pick the Bengals to win the Super Bowl this season.
That isn't to say that he should be forced the ball; nothing on offense should be forced. His greatness makes for better complimentary players because he alone draws so much defensive attention. Using him as a decoy makes a lot of sense, but too much mental trickery of this kind can lead to outsmarting one's self, similar to what Gruden fell victim to last season in the Wild-Card loss. If his statistics lessen this season but the others do more than just carry their weight, enough touchdowns would then be scored to firmly establish a playoff spot. He doesn't have to lead the league in anything except demonstrating the impact that leads to wins.
Despite his arm-strength or accuracy or anything else, Dalton will try to stretch the field—more than what we saw last year—by sending Mr. Green deep. Green is good enough to compensate for poorly thrown deep-balls and his red-zone presence is positively terrifying. To not do so would be squandering not only A.J. Green's potential, but also the chances to fulfill offensive rule number-one: scoring touchdowns.
So while Gruden will not be a free-wheeling gambler the entire season, he will also not likely resort to the mundane or predictable in his approach. Marvin Lewis has tremendous influence over everyone in that building, but he also unassumingly trusts Gruden to be a professional and hopefully resists the temptations of meddling too much in his offensive coordinator's system and style. I expect the Bengals to emphasize to the supporting cast the importance of achieving yards-after-catch, particularly when catching the ball in the middle of the field. Again, success in this area would then force the defense away from Green in order to stop it and that's when you use the All-Pro as a back-breaker. The philosophy and the theory are there, now it's up to the humans involved to execute it.
Mojokong—the microbial masterpiece.