To say that the Cincinnati Bengals' offense has been inconsistent this season would be an understatement. One minute they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL, boasting a four-game winning streak. Yet, when you blinked, the team hit a 1-2 skid with quarterback Andy Dalton having nine turnovers to his name in those last three games.
The talent is there--the consistency isn't. In fairness, this still is a very young unit with most of the key components ranging from rookie to only in their second or third years. Even so, frustration is building amongst the fanbase because of lofty expectations for the club this year, and for most of it, the offense hasn't reached those expectations yet.
The running game has been anemic with few big plays, as evidenced by Cincinnati's No.20 team ranking in rushing offense. With the "Thunder and Lightning" that the Bengals employ with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, along with the amount of high draft picks spent on the present offensive line, they should be getting more than 108 yards per game. Yet, they just aren't doing it.
Fingers can be pointed everywhere--the aforementioned cast members on the line, Dalton's turnovers forcing them to become pass-happy, Jay Gruden's recent obsession with making Dalton throw the ball 40-plus times per game, etc. So what would prompt the Bengals to shift their offensive philosophy to more of a running attack with five games left and why would any of us expect it to work?
Dalton's Recent Struggles:
As I said earlier, Dalton hasn't played well the past three weeks--five touchdowns, eight interceptions--and it has had a direct effect on the team's outcome in those games. To his credit, the running game hasn't been the best of crutches to lean on since he arrived in 2011, be it with Cedric Benson leading the way, or Green-Ellis. If the Bengals can shore this attack up, Dalton won't be asked to throw the ball 40-50 times (131 attempts the past three games) and can manage the offense more effectively.
If the Bengals can commit to the run and do it well, they can control the game and minimize mistakes with forced throws by Dalton. Running the football will open up the passing game for Dalton as well, be it via play-action or those quick-hitting routes that he loves. Dalton isn't the best in the league at going through multiple progressions on routes, so a capable rushing attack could allow him to throw those one or two-read quick routes to get chunk yardage and minimize opportunities for interceptions.
The Impending Return Of Fullback Chris Pressley:
As this week going into the Chargers matchup commenced, reports said that the Bengals truest fullback on their roster finally returned to practice after being out all season. Pressley, a great story from the team's first stint on HBO's "Hard Knocks in 2009", said he's ready to get out on the field as soon as the coaches give him the green light. It could be a huge boost for a team that hasn't had a traditional player at that position all season long.
Unfortunately, the Orson Charles experiment has seemed to fail. The lack of confidence in Charles from the coaching staff is staggering, as they've opted to put a combination of Alex Smith, Tyler Eifert and Domata Peko ahead of him in a lot of formations. Though Pressley isn't the best fullback in the league, he is pretty solid and can move defensive bodies effectively in running plays. It would be very interesting to see what Bernard could do in the running game with a bruiser fullback in front him like Pressley.
The Forthcoming Climate Change:
Though it isn't necessarily a reason for why switching to this philosophy would be successful, it's a truth that every NFL team has to face in December. The weather will be getting ugly, particularly in AFC North cities. The Bengals have three remaining home games and Ohio weather around the holidays can get ugly. Rain, sleet, snow, wind and/or rain are all possible along with extreme cold, so the ability to run the ball will be at a premium.
They also play in Pittsburgh in three weeks, so one could likely count that both the weather and field conditions will be lousy. The only break that Cincinnati is getting with the weather is likely to be this upcoming Sunday against the Chargers in beautiful Southern California.
If the staff takes these into account, employs a gameplan around them and fully commits to it, we could see an improvement in Cincinnati's run game. With a two-game lead in the division an interesting end to their schedule, running the football, minimizing the mistakes and relying on the stout defense could be the formula the rest of the way. You can't abandon the pass completely, but using the run to set up more plays through the air is a good West Coast Offense principle and can ensure the success of your quarterback into and through the postseason.