In Cincinnati, The Password Is Balance


That’s what Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is preaching in the days after the Bengals signed Terrell Owens, giving them a Hall of Fame wide receiver to go with the team’s all-time receiver in Chad Ochocinco, and a former franchise player with two 1,000-yard seasons in Antonio Bryant.

But Bratkowski knows that Cedric Benson and a running game that finished ninth in the league in rushing was at the top of the food chain last year. It shortened the wins in Pittsburgh and both wins over Baltimore to take the game of attrition. It kept the Bengals close enough to survive meager offensive outputs at home by the 26th-ranked passing offense against the lowly Browns and Chiefs. It almost pulled out the playoff game.

And Bratkowski knows that in order to win a playoff game, his ecosystem of formations and the evolution of his playcalling must be balanced.

"If we get in the top 10 in both running and passing," Bratkowski said, "then we’ve got something. I’d like to see how many teams have done that and how they ended up."

It doesn’t happen every day. Elias Sports Bureau says three teams have done it in the last three seasons. Last year the Cowboys and Saints did it. Before that, it was the Eagles in 2007. The Saints won it all. The Cowboys won their first playoff game in more than a decade. That Eagles team finished last in the NFC East at 8-8.

It doesn’t guarantee anything, but most of the time it has meant big things in Bengals history, too. Since the 1970 merger, the Bengals have finished in the top 10 in both running and passing four times. They only made the playoffs once (1973), but their one losing season with it was that aberration called the 1987 strike. The ’86 team won 10 games but missed the playoffs and the ’89 team went 8-8 and missed the playoffs on the last day.

Bratkowski will say that a lot of three wide-receiver sets isn’t the best thing for the running game.

"You can’t have a steady diet of it, but it’s going to be a part of what we do. It’s always been a part of what we do. Some years more than others and we’ve done quite a bit of it," Bratkowski said. "Yet in the run game, when you’re committed to the run, very few of the top running teams are one back, three wides. You don’t see that very often. We’ll still do our fair share."

Fantasy Impact: 

Cincinnati's offense has become quite compelling to fantasy owners. Right now, we have Carson Palmer as a top-15 quarterback, Cedric Benson as a top-20 running back, and Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens as top-20 receivers. There's young talent in Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley, and certainly Antonio Bryant can make a difference if he's healthy enough to take the field. It's going to be a fun ride in the Queen City.

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