10/10/2013 12:18 AM
This time last week, it was all Jay Gruden's and Andy Dalton's faults. Both needed to be run out of town, banished from the city limits forever.
Still licking their wounds from a truly unconscionable 17-6 loss at Cleveland that was powered -- or, more accurately, wasn't -- by a punchless offense, Cincinnati Bengals fans made it known that they weren't happy with their offensive coordinator and his quarterback. They wanted replacements for both.
Yes, seven days ago, that was the talk all over southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky. There are still some who are concerned about the offense's apparent inconsistency, but with a win Sunday and the sight of the more balanced offensive attack that they had been hoping to see, most of last week's critics are keeping quiet this week.
Funny how that works, right? Then again, this is the National Football League; nothing stays the same from week-to-week.
Gruden, the Bengals assistant who admitted last week that his unit was still finding its identity, told reporters after Sunday's 13-6 win over the New England Patriots that while he's glad to celebrate a victory, there were still many improvements for his offense to make. Much like he did for the seven days when many wanted to see him lose his job, Gruden maintained his optimism, saying that "brighter days are ahead."
"The Patriots are a good defense and we're obviously pleased to get the win, but we also know that we have a long way to go before we reach our potential," Gruden said. "But we can get there quickly."
Cincinnati relied more heavily than it has all season on the quickness of running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard in Sunday's win. With a season-high 39 carries, the Bengals rushed for another season-high 162 yards as they compiled their most statistically balanced performance of the season. Only 17 yards separated the number of rushing yards from passing yards (179).
"With a guy like Benny [Green-Ellis], Benny gets better with the more carries he gets," Gruden said.
Green-Ellis' 19 carries were the second-most he's had this season, behind the 22 he put up against Pittsburgh in Week 2. Most of those touches came on the final two drives of the game as the Bengals were grinding out clock-eating drives to preserve their first victory of the season. Sunday's effort against the Patriots, though, may have been a better overall performance. One reason why: because it came right after the Bengals' Week 4 meltdown which saw them gain just 63 yards as a team on the ground.
Among the complaints about Gruden's offense last week was the fact that he seemed tentative to call rushing plays. Granted, the Bengals were trailing much of their game at Cleveland and were trying to get back into it with passes, but the air attack never really seemed in sync. Dalton's throws either overshot his receivers, undershot them or went into spaces they weren't even occupying. The passing game was out of rhythm, and they didn't know why.
Yet Gruden kept going to it. Specifically, he kept going to receiver A.J. Green. On 15 targets, the wideout only caught seven passes for 51 yards.
The offensive coordinator now realizes he can't do that. He knows he has a tendency to get pass-heavy with his play selection, but with players like Green-Ellis and the elusive Bernard in his backfield, he knows he has to blend his game plans more often.
"[Green-Ellis] wears down a defense and sometimes I don't have the patience for that," Gruden admitted. "I have A.J., I have [Jermaine] Gresham and [Tyler] Eifert and Mo [Mohamed Sanu] and Marv [Marvin Jones] and sometimes I'll throw it a little bit more. [Sunday] was a great example of how effective he can be if given more opportunities."
Calls for more rushing opportunities weren't just coming from fans and media. They were coming from within Gruden's own locker room.
Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth was among the players who both publicly and privately said he felt there needed to be a stronger ground game presence.
"That isn't coming from me," Whitworth said. "That comes from the fact that our line wanted that, the young guys on this offense want that. I'm never scared to stand up and say, 'Hey, this is what guys are whining to me about or saying to me or what they want the opportunity to show.'"
His message was apparently received loudly and clearly.
So were complaints from those outside the locker room who pleaded for more better balance to showcase the abundance of weapons the Bengals have. After going to Green on 35.7 percent of his throws against the Browns, Dalton only went his direction 29.6 percent of the time Sunday. In fact, of the 27 passes Dalton threw against New England, 15 went to his tight ends and running backs. The other 12 went to his receivers. Green was targeted on eight of those.
Among the biggest Week 5 takeaways for Gruden and his offense was the fact that it has to have more than one touchdown in a game, even against defenses that are as good as the Patriots'. A red zone interception, the first of Dalton's career from inside the 20, halted one potential scoring drive.
"I'm going to be hard to satisfy. The talent that we have on offense, we've got to do a lot better," Gruden said. "But we've just got to keep working. We've got a good unit, a good, talented group. We haven't come close to our standards yet, but brighter days are ahead."