Going into Sunday's key interconference game at Minnesota, the Bengals are ranked 18th in total offense, which is tied for the lowest ranking when Carson Palmer has started. They are also 21st in the passing game, which is the lowest of Palmer's seven-year career.
While the running game continues to flourish with three 100-yard games by three different running backs, the Bengals have failed to convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns and the passing game continues to look out of sync.
"You expect to score every possession and never come off the field or never punt," Palmer said. "There have been games where we're running the ball play after play after play and we're in our own stadium getting booed for that. But that's what gets a win. The last three weeks, we've had almost plus-30 minutes time of possession, which has enabled us to win games by keeping the defense fresh and fast and wearing down the opposing defense by running the ball play after play after play."
After eight weeks, the Bengals led the league in red-zone touchdown percentage, converting 16 of 23 for 69.6 percent. Over the past five games, they are 5 of 16 and have fallen to 11th (53.8 percent). With the success of the run game, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski admitted after last Sunday's 23-13 win over Detroit that he might've been a little too conservative in the red zone.
"We have to get more efficient there," Bratkowski said. "Maybe I've gotten a little too hard-headed running it on the first two downs. I need to take a look at what we're doing there."
Even worse has been the performance of the passing game. Carson Palmer has gone 16 games without throwing for 300 yards and the Bengals as a team have not gone over 300 since the 2007 finale at Miami, a span of 28 games.
With Chris Henry out for the rest of the season after breaking his arm against Baltimore, the Bengals are also sorely lacking a downfield threat. While Chad Ochocinco is within 90 yards of having his seventh 1,000-yard season, Andre Caldwell and Laveranues Coles continue to be inconsistent. Caldwell was held without a catch last week while Coles has appeared a couple of steps too slow all season.
Sunday's game against the Vikings could tell a lot about whether the offense is able to persevere if the running game does falter. Minnesota's defense comes into the game ranked third against the run.
"At some point we're going to have to play better football on the offensive side of the ball, especially next week. We're playing against teams that are extremely explosive on offense and talented on defense," Ochocinco said.
They will also have to play a mistake-free game. Over the past three weeks, the offense has been called for 18 of the Bengals' 27 penalties and Palmer had two interceptions and a fumble last week.
Over the first 12 games, 47 of the Bengals' 81 penalties have been on offense.
"At this point we should be over those things," said running back Cedric Benson, who is 31 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season. "Carson should go a full game without getting touched and we should not be committing the same mistakes. We have to be held to a higher standard."
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Series tied 5-5. Minnesota marks the last city for the Bengals to complete their once every eight years visit under the NFL scheduling system, which was revamped for the 2002 season. Cincinnati's last trip to the Metrodome was in 1998 when the Vikings won 24-3.
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 — Number of consecutive games the Bengals have not allowed 100 yards rushing, which is a franchise record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not sure where I can find the Viking guy at but hopefully if I hit the end zone, I mean when I hit the end zone, I'll be sure to snatch it from him. I hear he's pretty chiseled. I might have to tussle with him a little bit." — WR Chad Ochocinco, on what end zone celebration he has planned in Minnesota.
Shaun Smith is back for his second stint with the team. The sixth-year defensive tackle had a tryout on Tuesday and was signed on Wednesday. Smith was with the Bengals for more than two seasons (late 2004-06) before signing with Cleveland as a restricted free agent. Smith also has experience with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer from being on Dallas' practice squad in 2003.
Smith was waived by Cleveland during the preseason and signed with Detroit before being one of the last cuts. He played two games for Las Vegas of the UFL, which helped him get back into some football shape.
"I was training in Arizona every day but there's nothing like conditioning with pads on and playing the game," Smith said. "You can do all the running you want but if you don't have the physical contact and working on your pass rush it's different. I never thought my career was over, just a matter of opportunity. If I get thrown right in, I know the defense so far and just take advantage of every opportunity."
One reason why Smith is here is because Domata Peko is out after having arthroscopic knee surgery Monday on his right knee. Peko said on Wednesday that he hopes to be back for the Jan. 3 regular-season finale against the Jets.
"I'll be fine. I'm feeling good," Peko said. "I wish I could have played these two games (against the Vikings and Chargers). These are big games, with the big running backs they have."
Running back Bernard Scott (turf toe) has also been ruled out of Sunday's game; Quan Cosby and Andre Caldwell will return kicks.