The Cincinnati Bengals offense got hit with a major obstacle this past weekend, after confirmation that they would be playing the year without starting left guard Travelle Wharton.
On Saturday afternoon, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed the news that most thought would be the case.
Saturday afternoon, Lewis indicated Wharton is lost for the season after injuring his right knee on the team’s third offensive play.
This is most definitely an unfortunate circumstance for Wharton, who had dealt with injuries before. As for the Bengals, the offense has the talent and experience to overcome this, but the running game just got a lot more difficult, especially because of the AFC North.
Ahead, let's see how this affects Cincy's offense for the 2012 NFL season.
On the Bright Side...
The only gleam of light from Wharton's injury is that the Bengals still have three preseason games remaining. Therefore, the team has roughly one month to quickly find a replacement and get him battle tested.
While Cincinnati has many options to play with, making a decision sooner would be better. Whether it's playing one of the backups like Clint Boling or Otis Hudson or dipping back into free agency, chemistry is needed to keep the offensive balance intact.
Boling appears like the best route right now, as he did take the field for Wharton against the Jets on Friday—not to mention he has experience from 2011, although it was only five games. Nevertheless, he's been with the offense and knows the system, so he certainly deserves a chance.
The Bengals have to at least give him an opportunity through the next preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons aren't the most dominant presence in the front seven, so it's a great opportunity for Boling to build some confidence.
Be on the Attack From the Get-Go
And not just in the beginnings of games, but the beginning of the season.
The offensive line is the most important unit of players of any offense, and when a starter like Wharton goes down, the unit becomes vulnerable. In that case, Cincy can—with better reason—anticipate more aggression from defenses early on.
So, to turn the tides, Cincinnati's offense must attack back. If complacency sets in from a potentially weakened pass protection and the running game is too heavily relied on, opponents will virtually blitz at will. This, in turn, disrupts the timing and, ultimately, the Bengals' balanced approach.
With games against solid defenses like Baltimore, Cleveland and Jacksonville in September, Cincy can't afford to put all the pressure on its defense. The offense has star-power courtesy of A.J. Green and Co., so let the talent take over to set up the ground game later.
Forcing a defense on its heels as much as possible with a vulnerable offensive line prevents that exploitation. Even with limited time in the pocket, fades to Green and quick pop-passes to tight end Jermaine Gresham will make a defense think twice about blitzing.
How to Effectively Attack
What's the best way for Cincinnati to attack without Wharton from the opening kickoff?
As previously mentioned, the Bengals can reasonably anticipate more blitzing from defenses. Well, aside from the quick-hit plays needed to counter the limited time in the pocket, play-action can be a viable tool.
For one, the Bengals allowed just 25 sacks in 2011, which ranked No. 4 in the league for least number allowed. Although the ground game wasn't overly dominant, Cincinnati knew how to be effective.
Now, though, defenses won't be expecting Cincinnati to run inside nearly as much from opening kickoff. Play-action, however, forces that aggression to briefly freeze, which widens the passing lanes for Andy Dalton.
It's not so much running the ball as it is making the defense think about stopping the run. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a solid ball-carrier to rely on, and his size alone suits well for the interior anyway.
Success may come far and few between with the team being in the AFC North and with Wharton out. Still, attacking hard to set up play-action—instead of the running game—on the first few possessions, hits a defense right where they least expect it.
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