The end of the Carson Palmer era was an ugly one, and Gruden has had to rely on rookies and journeyman to even field a starting 11. That, coupled with the lockout in 2011, which occurred after he’d accepted the OC job, Gruden has had to overcome a lot just to make this offense even respectable.
Dating back to the 2008 season, the Bengals offense has finished five straight seasons ranked 20th or worse. But Gruden does deserve some blame for the offense failing to improve, as it dropped from 20th in total offense in 2011 to 22nd in 2012.
Gruden has shown flashes of play-calling brilliance ver the past two seasons, and his offenses have typically gotten off to hot starts early in the season. But late in the year, when the importance of each game escalates and playoff positioning is at stake, his offense has faltered.
In 2011, the Bengals mustered only 10 touchdowns in their last 26 trips to the red zone. In 2012, Cincinnati’s offense mustered just seven touchdowns in their last six games.
Making matters worse was that they were tied for 24th in third down conversions, and were 17th in red zone touchdown percentage at 53.5 percent.
Even with an elite defense, Cincinnati can’t ascend into the upper echelon of the AFC without some consistency on offense. In two seasons under Gruden, the Bengals are 18-4 when they score 20 or more points. They are 1-9 when they score less than 20. The only time the Bengals won when held under 20 points was a Week 16 13-10 victory at Pittsburgh.
Simply put, Gruden can no longer claim that he doesn’t have the right players, or that they’re young and still developing. He must find a way to improve this offense so that the defense isn’t forced to hold every opponent to under 20 points in a league that is favoring offenses more and more every year.
Sean O’Donnell had a similar analysis in that Gruden has the weapons to make this offense elite:
He has the quarterback that can get it done. He has the weapons at the wide receiver position. He has a two-headed monster in the backfield. He has the necessary personnel to run an effective two-tight end set. What more could he ask for?
The play book must expand this season and his hybrid West Coast offense will need to take the form that was originally expected back in his inaugural season with the team in 2011.
Simply put, if Gruden can create the dynamic plays using the proper personnel groups, we could see a top-10 unit from the Bengals this season.
Mark it down: If the Bengals offense ranks fails to make improvement from last year and rank somewhere in the high teens or even top-10, the ceiling for this team will once again be one-and-done in the postseason.
But if Gruden is able to improve this offense to the point they can move the ball effectively against even the NFL’s elite defense, then we may be in for a special year.