For the past six months I’ve been torturing everyone I know by asking them the same three questions every day; how do Matthew McConaughey movies always make money, why is Keeping Up With the Kardashians still on television, and who decided it was a good idea to keep Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski?
McConaughey hit his peak in 1993 with Dazed and Confused, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is the lowest form of entertainment that television has ever produced (this includes all reality shows, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper and anything that ever starred David Hasselhoff) and finally, but most importantly, there is first grade reading material that is more complicated than the Bengals' playbook. But it hasn't always been that way.
In 2003, Bratkowski’s first season with the team, the Bengals had the 13th best scoring offense in the league. Considering Jon Kitna was the Bengals' quarterback, this showing was a minor miracle.
In 2004, with Carson Palmer starting for the first time, Bratkowski was able to open up the playbook and start looking downfield, something he couldn’t do with Kitna, who had the arm strength of a fourth-string high school sophomore. All of a sudden, the Bengals' scoring offense was a top 10 unit at No. 10.
In 2005, the Bengals' offense hit the NFL like a category five hurricane. Bratkowski threw out a variety of offensive sets that kept every defense on their toes.
If the Bengals weren’t running a three-receiver set, then they were going double tights, if they weren’t doing that, then they were in an I-formation. Out of the I, they could use two tights or go with two receivers.
The Bengals' offense was like a 12 colored rubik's cube that no defensive coordinator could figure out.
The 2005 unit finished fourth in the league in scoring and the Bengals made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Alright, now that I’ve served up the appetizer for you, let’s get to the meat of this piece. In 2006, the Bengals dropped to eighth in scoring offense, in 2007, they dropped to 11th, and last year they dropped to dead last. Ron Jeremy scored more often than the Bengals did last year.
In 2008, with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bengals' playbook was more or less limited to the first two pages. Because of his arm strength, the Bengals couldn’t go deep and as defenses knew that, they stuffed the run.
The point here is this; between personnel and playcalling, it’s time for Bratkowski to make some big changes. And believe it or not, he might be doing it. The Bengals' offseason exit list reads like a who’s who of incredibly bad offensive players.
Gone are Levi Jones, Chris Perry, and Fitzpatrick. The Bengals needed those guys as much as my cat needs feline AIDS. Perry fumbled more often than Fitzpatrick threw incomplete passes and I’m only slightly exaggerating.
So where are the biggest changes in the Bengals' playbook going to be? The popular answer is that the play-action pass is going to make its triumphant return to Cincinnati (as most Bengals remember, "Boomer" Esiason perfected the play-action in the late 1980’s). Bratkowski is on record saying that the Bengals must re-establish the running game.
This means Cedric Benson has to have a career year and that shouldn’t be difficult since the 747 yards he gained in 12 games last season was his career year.
With the addition of fullback Brian Leonard, the Bengals' I-formation plays should actually go for positive yardage this season, unlike last year when every running play (and most plays in general) seemed to go for around negative two yards.
If Benson—running veers, traps, and iso’s—can get opposing defenses to commit to the run, then the Bengals can unveil the fun and gun passing game that every fan has clamored for since 2005.
If chicks dig the long ball, then every Bengals player should have a hot girlfriend by the end of 2009. With Chris Henry, Chad Ochocinco, and Laveranues Coles, the Bengals will be able to run the three receiver sets that Bratkowski loves.
Coles will run the 7-10 yard slant, button, and hook routes that TJ Houshmandzadeh made famous, Chad will do whatever he wants (as usual), and Henry will go long.
Most teams zone up on the Bengals in Cover 2 which generally means no going deep. Think about it, how many plays over 50 yards did the Bengals have last year? You can count the answer on your fist.
With two healthy tight ends (Reggie Kelly, Ben Utecht) to keep opposing safeties and linebackers honest, someone in the Bengals' passing game is going to have a big year, my guess is his name is Carson Palmer.
Even better, the Bengals can sporadically run four and five receiver sets, formations that have given the Steelers' D trouble for the last five years. Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell will make this possible.
The return of Palmer opens a Pandora’s Box for opposing defenses. Kind of like Chad, Henry, and Coles, the Bengals playbook will be wide open in 2009.
Oh and there's one big difference between 2005 and 2009; the Bengals are going to have a defense that actually defends people this year. That should help the offense too.