Friday, December 14, 2001

Bengals' offense remains stagnant

Despite personnel changes, not much has changed

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the offseason, the Bengals changed offensive coordinators, brought in three starting free agents and spent two of their top three draft picks on pass receivers to try to improve the NFL's 29th-ranked offense.

        But 75 percent of the way through the schedule, the Bengals don't appear to have received a very high yield on their investment.

        The 2001 offense ranks just slightly ahead of final 2000 statistics in yards gained, points, possession average and passing yards.

        If the offensive production under coordinator Bob Bratkowski is better than that of former coach Bruce Coslet and coordinator Ken Anderson, it's barely better. And given the infusion of talent and the decline of the running game, it's worse in some ways.

        And the offense is getting worse instead of better. With the Bengals defense ranked 10th in the NFL, the offense clearly shoulders most of the blame for the skid that dropped the team out of playoff contention.

        Rewind six weeks to Oct.28 at Detroit. The Bengals scored their single-game high of 31 points to defeat the Lions and move to 4-3. The offense, while not akin to the Rams, was averaging 17.1 points.

        The Bengals are averaging 8.6 since.

        “I wish I could tell you why we're going through a drought in the scoring column,” coach Dick LeBeau said. “I don't have the answer.”

        Bengals fullback Lorenzo Neal, a Pro Bowl fullback last year for Tennessee, has an idea what's wrong and how to fix it.

        “You make the tough throw, the tough catch, you hold onto the ball, break a tackle, finish a block,” said Neal, who joined quarterback Jon Kitna and left tackle Richmond Webb as new veteran starters. “We know the answers, but we're not doing it.”

        Because of an injury to Kitna, the Bengals could be going back to their future Sunday when former No. 1 draft pick Akili Smith.

        Smith lost the starting job after 10 games last season, and he has taken the practice snaps the past two days with Kitna out because of a ligament sprain in the middle finger of his throwing hand.

        “Oh yeah, a lot more tools, a lot more explosion in the offense,” Smith said of the 2001 offense.

        So far, though, no fireworks.


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