While it's tempting to focus in one one scapegoat for the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive problems through three games, it wouldn't accurately describe what's been wrong up to this point for the 1-2 Bengals. There are two stark realities facing the team after their first three contests: On the positive side, they've found a good young quarterback who will in the long run alleviate any concerns over Carson Palmer's abrupt "retirement." But the more negative reality is that this team is one Cleveland Browns mental lapse from being 0-3 and living down to the predictions made about them in the preseason. What's behind these two polar realities? Several things.
First, it's about schemes. This offense and its coordinator, Jay Gruden are brand new to each other and are learning on the job without benefit of off season workouts. To expect that there wouldn't be any growing pains as they learn each other would be ludicrous. Football is the ultimate team game. You don't just plug in new players who can produce right away like in baseball or basketball. No sport values continuity like football, and the Bengals with their offensive overhaul this past off season are short on that. We'll continue to see that as Gruden learns more about what his personnel can and can't do and while Andy Dalton adjusts to playing in the NFL.
Second, it's about execution, particularly on the offensive line, more specifically the guards. The Bengals drafted Clint Boling and signed the since departed Max Jean-Gilles and tried to sign Deuce Litui before he failed a physical because they weren't satisfied with their guard play. Then veteran Bobbie Williams got suspended. When you've got second and goal from the two and can't punch it in, losing yardage with Cedric Benson on second down, like yesterday, it's about one thing: interior line play. The Bengals simply aren't getting any surge from the interior line in short yardage situations. That's a major part of their third down conversion woes thus far.
The final part is simply the play of their opponents. Denver was banged up when they played the Bengals, but still have one of the better linebacking corps in the NFL. San Francisco is better. The Bengals have struggled the last two weeks in finding tight end Jermaine Gresham and getting beyond the second level in their run game because they've been playing against very good linebacking units. That won't change when the Steelers and Ravens come to town, so either the Bengals are going to have to adjust their play calling or get better at guard. Bobbie Williams return might help some with that, but using Benson on off-tackle runs instead of belly runs and incorporating more Bernard Scott on the edge would be an immediate help.
The Bengals are getting better. But it's going to be a slow process filled with growing pains along the way. Jay Gruden and Andy Dalton have shown progress together thus far, and hopefully Mike Zimmer's defense can continue to keep them in games while they work out the kinks.
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