Since the 2006 season, the Cincinnati Bengals offense has not been a force to be reckoned with. Even though Cincinnati won the AFC North crown in 2009 and swept their division for the first time in franchise history, they relied mainly on the running game and their stout defense.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer led the defense to a sixth overall ranking in scoring defense as the Bengals gave up an average of 18.2 points per game. The offense, led by coordinator Bob Bratkowski, was primarily used to put up just enough points to win as they only scored more than thirty points twice that season.
Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer was not the player he once was in the middle years of the 2000s after a knee and elbow injury seemingly slowed him down. He put up very average numbers in 2009 when he threw for a 60.5 completion percentage, 3,094 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
After an abysmal 2010 campaign, the Bengals let go of Bratkowski and brought in Jay Gruden as their new offensive coordinator. Gruden brought a hybrid West Coast system to Cincinnati when he joined the team in 2011 and molded his schemes around developing rookies, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green.
The Bengals went on to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth; both Dalton and Green were selected to the Pro Bowl along with second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Gruden, in his sophomore season with Cincinnati, is now more experienced with his players as the Bengals have finally started to regain their offensive prominence. Gruden has been very savvy with the way he has used his personnel on the field thus far.
The key for Gruden has been his ability to move his players around in order to create mismatches against defenders.
Andy Dalton is now fully accustomed to Gruden’s system and has been given the keys to the offense, so to speak. Dalton is now able to read defenses and adjust his teammates at the line of scrimmage to allow for more successful chances at positive gains.
The short to intermediate timing routes that are being run in this offense allow Dalton to throw to a particular spot on the field, and as long as his intended target is precise with his route, it leads to very high completion percentages.
We are much more simple (compared to pre-2011) in our scheme for the quarterback. We are not reinventing the wheel against every new defense we face. Jay sees the offense through the quarterback’s eyes, and it’s a case of building from week to week, rather than starting over. The quarterback has a lot of leeway in the things he can call, and Jay recognized that Andy was the type of player who could use those options effectively.
Another big piece of the puzzle for this offensive system is moving receiver A.J. Green around the field to multiple locations in attempt to gain a favorable matchup. Green has played the X, Y and Z positions (both outside spots and also the slot) in each game this year. This has allowed him to become more versatile on the field and a more effective weapon for Dalton.
Another move that has made this offense more explosive is the emergence of slot receiver Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins is deadly in open space and Gruden is exploiting defenses with Hawkins’ elusiveness and vision.
In weeks two and three, Hawkins turned short-yardage routes into gains of over 50 yards for a touchdown. That kind of big-play ability has not been seen in the Bengals’ offensive system for the past six seasons.
Finally, the ability to have a more reliable second receiver has been crucial to the revival of the Bengals’ passing attack. In 2011, Jerome Simpson was second on the Bengals’ depth chart at wide receiver behind Green.
The problem, however, was Simpson's inconsistency and lack of skillful route running. So far in 2012, the Bengals seem to have found an answer in former University of Cincinnati product Armon Binns.
Binns spent all of 2011 on the practice squad where he learned the playbook inside and out. This has allowed him to couple his knowledge of the Bengals’ offensive playbook with his precise route running to become a very reliable target for Dalton.
After putting up 30+ points in consecutive games for the first time since 2005, and Andy Dalton throwing for over 300 yards in consecutive games for the first time in his career, this offense looks poised to explode for the duration of the 2012 season.
With all of the pieces of the puzzle seemingly put together, the Bengals’ offense could once again be very relevant in the coming years.
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