Bengals in search of offensive identity

CINCINNATI -- The questions were innocent and simple, but they required an honest and thoughtful answer.

After all, they were queries most Cincinnati Bengals fans had in the hours after the offensive scuffling that led the team to score two field goals in Sunday afternoon's 17-6 loss at the Cleveland Browns.

What is your identity on offense? Do you feel like you have one?

Without pause, Jay Gruden, the team's offensive coordinator, went straight into a reply. He hears you, Bengals fans. And he agrees with a lot of what many of you are saying.

"That's probably our biggest fault right now is that we're still trying to get one," Gruden said.

Bengals fans are most likely reading this and thanking Gruden for admitting what they consider the obvious. But they're also admonishing him for the fact that their team is lacking an offense four weeks into the season.

To them, Gruden says, take it easy. That identity is coming, and it'll be seen soon enough.

"We're working towards that," Gruden said. "We have to be balanced in what we do. I don't know if there is any team in the NFL that can just be a running team. Teams are throwing it a lot more. We have to do both effectively. We have to come up with a running game we can feel comfortable with and keep working with it."

One of Cincinnati's issues on offense this season -- the Bengals enter Sunday's Week 5 contest against New England ranking 22nd in total yards and 19th on scoring -- is inconsistent production from both its running and passing games. During the Week 2 win over Pittsburgh, the Bengals had their most complete and balanced offensive performance, rushing for 127 yards and passing for 280. They also had their greatest time of possession total in that game, holding onto the ball for 35:34. They haven't had the ball for more than 29 minutes in the other three games.

The Bengals' rushing inconsistencies are largely the product of playing with a deficit. Consistently down and consistently forced into long-yardage situations like they were Sunday, the Bengals have been forced into passing. As we have already discussed many times in recent weeks, quarterback Andy Dalton and his receivers have not been on the same page. When they are -- as Dalton's 277-yard, two-touchdown performance and A.J. Green's nine-catch, two-score effort in the Week 1 loss at Chicago indicated -- they actually look pretty good.

"We know we can play better," Gruden said. "I still feel like we have a great offensive group in my room. They're talented."

Head coach Marvin Lewis remains confident his identity-less offense will be correct and build toward the balance that Gruden seeks.

"After four games, there have been times we've played brilliantly and then we've hurt ourselves," Lewis said. "We have to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds that we get. ... If we can eliminate our errors and continue to win one-on-ones as we do most of the time, we'll be in good shape."

The way Gruden sees it, at this point, it all comes down to simple execution.

"The problem is right now, we aren't doing anything exceptionally well," he said. "We are not throwing the ball exceptionally well, we aren't running the ball exceptionally well. People say 'run the ball,' well, we will run the ball more when we get more than three yards.

"We got to do something good. We are a jack of all trades, master of none right now. We have to master something. We are good enough to be good and solid in the running game, and we are good enough to be very good in the passing game. We just have to go out and do it."