Assuming the inevitable, what exactly does it mean that the status quo will return on offense next season?
Let's take a gander at some stats from the last two years. In 2008, the Bengals were 32nd in the NFL on offense (based upon official NFL statistics. Football Outsiders had them at 28th. Anecdotally, this seems fair. No Carson Palmer meant lots of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Lots of Crazy Legs is good for comedy but bad for offensive production. The offense was painful to watch. No spark, no creativity, nothing. Some (everyone within the organization) would place 100% of the blame at Palmer's elbow. I don't feel like that's an accurate portrayal of how it went down, however. The offense was terrible the first two games of 2008 (against good defenses) mustering 3 and 7 points on offense, against the Ravens and Titans. An overtime defeat to the Giants and a loss in Dallas were decent games offensively, but certainly they didn't look like world beaters even with Carson.
This year, all excuses were gone. Carson was back and claimed to be 100% healthy. Housh was gone, but was replaced with Coles. The running game would be better. The offensive line greatly outperformed expectations. So the old Bengals offense was back, right? Maybe not the old Bengals, but at least a version of the Bengals offense that didn't suck. Well, we got a mediocre offense back. The unit ranked 24th by official NFL stats, 19th by Football Outsiders. Is that terrible? No, it was good enough to win 10 games. Considering that the organization feels Carson is a top-flight quarterback? It's terrible.
The most disturbing part of this all is the decline of Carson Palmer. Football Outsiders rates him as the 15th best quarterback by DYAR (total value) and 19th best quarterback by DVOA (per play value) for 2009. Is that acceptable? Sure, if your name is Trent Edwards. Can you win games with a quarterback playing at that level? Obviously. Can you win a championship? In 2010, I'm not sure that you can.
To me, bringing back everyone, especially the offensive coordinator, tells me that the Bengals feel all of this is OK. It's fine that the top paid quarterback in the league is playing like a mid-level starter. It's fine that the offense will continue to produce 17 points a game. It's fine if you don't strive for great, merely for good.
I mean, look at some of Carson's games. The first Cleveland game (23-44/230 yds/2 TD/1 INT/73.1 rat). The win in Pittsburgh (18-30/178/0/0/76.8). The loss in Minnesota (15-25/94/1/0/81.1). The record setting day in the Meadowlands (1-11/0/0/1/1.7). Hell, just look at the stats from his last 8 regular season games combined. During that stretch, Carson was 122 for 206 (59.2%) for 1,262 yards (157.75 a game) with 7 TDs and 6 INTs, for a QB rating of 76.15. This is the highest paid quarterback in the league!
Also, let us not forget that the Bengals offense is trending further and further back to the 1970s as the game evolves into more and more of a passers league. Of the 8 teams remaining in the playoffs, the Saints, Colts, Chargers, and Cardinals are all either pass heavy or much more effective passing than running. The Vikings, despite Adrian Peterson, threw it a lot better than they ran it this year. The Cowboys were effective both running and passing. Only the Ravens and Jets are run first teams, and both are expected to fall this weekend.
Honestly, given this, there seems to be two options. Cut bait with the quarterback (no) or find someone else to coordinate the offense (yes). Naysayers will ask how this helps the offense get better. Wouldn't changing the system make the offense even worse? For the very short term, possibly. For the long term, it couldn't possibly be a detriment, provided of course that the new playcaller be someone who is remotely competent.
The Bengals have a quarterback being paid elite-quarterback money playing at an average level. The question is not, "Is there a problem?" but rather, "How can we solve this problem?"