I want to give Bob Bratkowski fair judgment. Trust me, I really do want to. Unfortunately, other than Bob being a good offensive coordinator when just about everything goes right, I can't quite understand what the Bengals gained in bringing him back for another year following last year's debacle.
In 2005, Cincinnati's offense peaked, finishing fifth in offensive DVOA, which led to the only playoff berth of Mike Brown's tenure as owner/GM/redeemer/competitor/themes-knocker-downer. Bratkowski had the ideal tools to work with in the prototypical passing offense: a strong-armed quarterback who stayed in the pocket (Carson Palmer), an explosive receiver (Chad Johnson) along with a possession one (TJ Houshmandzadeh) and a slot receiver (Chris Henry) with both the speed and size to help in the redzone, a power running back (Rudi Johnson) and a dominant offensive line. Quite frankly, a coordinator would have a hard time bringing a unit with so much talent down.
Even though the offense dimmed slightly in 2006 and '07, it remained the strength of the team. While the offensive line also decreased in effectiveness and was no longer a top-five line, Bratkowski still had the same basic package of players to work with, and did a fine job with them.
That's why the 2008 season was so telling. After facing very little scrutiny or chaos in his previous years, Bob Bratkowski was truly challenged with his franchise quarterback out on the sidelines, his line in disarray, his running backs led by a certain ex-Michigan Wolverine who gained very little yards with the hands of Kramer handeling a junior mint and his star wide receiver checked out in hopes of a trade. It certainly was not the easy-sailing offense of the past, which had remained largely the samefrom 2005-'07. Bratkowski was forced to take action and implement a new plan, a new way of putting points on the board; for the first time, Brat faced a definite challenge.
And how did he do?
Well, he failed, miserably in fact, so much that his job should have been lost but, of course, was not.
For starters, using the numbers found in the new Football Outsiders Almanac (again, this a great book which I highly recommend purchasing), let's begin with a very basic measurement: how did Bratkowski's unti do in the second half of games compared to the first half? In the first thirty minutes, the Bengals posted an offensive DVOA of -4.1%; in the third and fourth quarters, a -24.4% DVOA (ugh) was "gained". While one could argue that a portion of this huge loss in DVOA in the second half was because of Ryan Fitzpatrick needing to complete long passes in order to stage a comeback (and I do believe this is an explanation for some of the putrid number), there is no denying that Bob simply failed to make proper adjustments to make his offense suck less.
Another indicator I like to look at is how an offensive coordinator's team did on second down, as it's a wild-card in terms of playcalling; do you want to take your chances and run, potentially setting up a third-and-long, attempt a short pass to give yourself a manageable third down, or go for the long pass? The Bengals DVOA got progressively worse going from first to third down, with a -15.4% DVOA (compared to -6.7% on first) compiled on second down. The pathetic effort on second down may have been a result of the Bengals running 41% on second-and-long, tenth most in the league. It made sense to run after gaining little to no yardage on first down with a no-gain rushing attack and an offense that could not complete long passes, setting up a situation where the latter needed to be done in order to get a new set of downs on the next play (Just kidding, it doesn't).
But Bratkowski would certainly be forced to change his offensive scheme a little bit considering he had a noodle-armed but fast quarterback in Fitzpatrick and few vertical threats, wouldn't he? (If you can't tell by now, this man literally did the opposite of what simple football logical was telling him to do). Cincinnati ranked sixth in three-wide receiver sets at 63% despite the formation only really working when given a competent quarterback and enough dangerous targets for him. In other words, using a three-wide set is fine with Carson Palmer behind center, but not with Fitzpatrick. Bob apparently failed to realize this.
With such a mess, Bratkowski could have attempted something new, like an offense more geared towards a West-Coast system (admittedly, this would be a disaster, but at least it's something) or some trick plays such as the ones the Baltimore Ravens ran in an offensive development year. But no, as it only took watching a few games to see Bratkowski attempting the same crap again and again and again. It isn't like he didn't have the players to conduct some unusual attacks; Fitzpatrick's only real strength was the ability to run past defenders (he gained over 5 yards an attempt), and although they barely played, rookies Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell could have been used in some short passes and/or screens which even Fitzpatrick could complete. The Bengals were dead last in yards after the catch because of Brat's refusal to stop making his passer throw hopeless long balls, but they didn't have to be if those two were used.
For the final statistical example of how unimaginative Brat was in a situation that required creativeness and new thinking, the Bengals were the only team to not attempt one draw play on third down, and ran the third fewest screens on the same down (again, why would he not try to utilize those players who could get yards after the catch?). Yes, that's right. Despite having a team poor at running the ball straight up the middle and going long in the passing game, Bob Bratkowski simply refused to try two very logical ways to get a third down. Even if they didn't work, why not at least try them when nothing else was really working? Don't ask me, because I simply don't have a clue.
Lastly, it also might have helped if Bratkowski kept the respect of Chad Johnson last season, as his lackluster performance helped to bring the offense down. I'm going to assume that Chad didn't exactly listen to everything his offensive coordinator said considering the scolding he took for not listening to Brat before the game against Pittsburgh.
All of this may seem like a list of negatives towards Bob, and I guess it is. But here's the thing: besides excusing his unit because of the injuries suffered, I'm having trouble finding one aspect Bratkowski did well in. This may be because of a predetermined bias I had coming into this post from believing that Brat needed to be replaced and knowing how poorly the Bengals' offense played in '08. Maybe a positive would be that he allowed Fitzpatrick to roll out of the pocket instead of staying in it like Carson, but I would place the credit for this squarely on Ryan's shoulders, as he did it in an offense that wasn't built for rolling out. If anyone can find a shred of evidence that supports Bob Bratkowski's performance last season, I would appreciate seeing it.
Look, I was not expecting him to make lemonade akin to what we were used to in '05, '06 and '07 with all of the rotten lemons Brat was dealt. I did, however, expect the coach to try to make the best lemonade possible using new methods, certainly not as good as the past ones, but at least something different, something that at least had a chance of improving perhaps the worst offense in the league. By not doing so, Brat basically gave up, making the game substantially easier for the opposing defense. Using any metrics or evidence or even opinions (I'm not sure if anyone has expressed their satisfaction of Brat staying in Cincy for this season), Bob Bratkowski failed to do his job last season, and should have been replaced by now.
As a closing thought, what should be expected out of him this season? Once again this offense will not be as easy to coach as it was previously, and certain innovations and adjustments will be necessary to get past the unit's weaknesses.
Does Bob Bratkowski seem like the coach fit to do this? The answer based on all of the above is a definite no.