For seven years the Bengals’ defense lagged behind and subsequently became each off-season’s point of emphasis. It appears that the team’s preoccupation of stopping the run and allowing big plays, led them to lose track of the offense and as a result, it rusted in the rain. Now, with the defense upright and sturdy, the front office, Marvin Lewis & his staff, all wander over to the antiquated, dilapidated offense with tools in hand and began hammering on the weatherbeaten machine. What new form the offense takes, with all of its shiny new parts and renewed focus, will determine how competitive the Bengals can be this season.
During this era, only one man, Bob Bratkowski, has been at the wheel of the offense, perhaps asleep at times. He quickly rose to fame behind the big arm of Carson Palmer and the gold teeth of Chad Johnson, but quietly benefitted most from an elite offensive line. His vertical-passing offense caught the league by surprise and climaxed in the 2005 playoff season, earning the Bengals a reputation for demonstrating an explosive passing attack. Satisfied with his acclaimed game plan, Bratkowski went on to call the same plays for the next three seasons. The results were never as effective, and it became obvious that his recipe was no longer a secret when defenses feasted on the sputtering Bengals during last season’s first four games; a stretch when Palmer was still playing.
This time, Brat says he’s finally changing the play-book, and for good reason. There will be 40 new players arriving in Georgetown, Kentucky this season, and most of those are on offense. Gone are three ineffective offensive linemen, a top receiver, a squirrely backup quarterback, a fumbling runner and one overweight fullback. The replacements to those positions suggest that the Bengals have committed to the run – a slogan the team has historically discussed but never enacted.
First-rounder Andre Smith is the proverbial mauler; a run-blocker who regularly smashes opponents into the ground. Assuming Smith becomes the right tackle – a move that would keep Anthony Collins on the left and seems to make the most sense – he would have the immense Bobby Williams mauling beside him. Such a behemoth right side should immediately provide Brat with a preferred spot to run behind. As for center, Luigs, though disconcertingly labeled as finesse, is an improvement over Ghaicuic because, frankly, you couldn’t possibly do much worse than that. Along those lines, seventh-round draft pick, Fui Vakapuna, can only improve a fullback position that hasn’t recovered from Jeremi Johnson’s eating binges.
All of this is terrific news for Cedric Benson. The former first-rounder and Bears’ castaway, has harbored together all of the intense emotion that drives him and formed it into an angry running style; one that produced good numbers in a comical Bengals offense last season. When it comes time to pulverize the opponent into submission this year, that big and powerful right side, coupled with Benson’s large, square head can hopefully hold their own against the villainous defenses of the AFC North.
The power-running game is a second-half weapon and is instrumental to closing out games. Bratkowski once had something similar in his heyday with Rudi Johnson & Gang, but he quickly overused it and the play-calling became predictable. Fortunately for Brat, he also has a left side of the line which is quick and athletic, and to go with it: the coveted change-of-pace back in the dazzling form of the tiny DeDe Dorsey. Yes, DeDe is an exciting jitterbug with the ball and can be potent on screenplays and halfback tosses, but an unfortunate side-effect to all of that has been his propensity to fumble and become injured. The new addition of Bernard Scott, taken in the sixth round, could add a little competition for DeDe as the established third-down back.
Scott is apparently explosive both on the field and off it; after experiencing multiple run-ins with the law, most teams shied away from the reportedly talented back. Another new running back that adds both depth and grit to the team, is Brian Leonard, acquired in a trade from the Rams for defensive lineman, Orien Harris. Thanks to his ability to block and run, Leonard can play fullback too, and could be effective in pass-protection by picking up outside blitzes.
Hopefully, the Bengals passing attack has been humbled. No longer should these players assume that they can simply throw the ball high into the air, and points will rain down with the completed passes. Things don’t look quite as rosy these days: they’ve lost their leader, pass-protection remains a mystery and the league has solved Brat’s play-calling formula.
Alas, all is not lost. The brand-named Housh has been replaced with the next-best-thing, Laverneus Coles. Chris Henry is said to have finally exorcized the crazy and is primed to be the deep-threat, third-option receiver we knew from the days of yore. We have a pair of interesting second-year receivers; Andre Caldwell showed us good hands and a dash of punt-return ability, Jerome Simpson showed us nothing. And then there’s still that traveling salesman, that laughing hyena, that clown, Chad Ocho Cinco. That makes five receivers who all have a chance to call dibs on the top bunk within Brat’s new and improved play-book (and third-round tight end, Chase Coffman, promises to catch some passes too).
It could be a rebirth this season for Bob Bratkowski. His slate is clean, his new pieces are in place. The blueprints of his new machine all check out and seem to make a lot of sense. This could once again take him to the top. But will it all work? Will theory become reality? The responsibility rests with the man behind the wheel.
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