CINCINNATI — Something important is missing from the Cincinnati Bengals' offense.
No, not just the touchdowns. There's something more to it. They've got more options than they've had for years, but they're not quite sure how to make them fit together.
Simply put, they lack an identity.
A 17-6 loss in Cleveland on Sunday left Cincinnati (2-2) with some X-and-O soul-searching. The Bengals have to figure out what they want to be as an offense.
"The problem is right now, we aren't doing anything exceptionally well," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "We are not throwing the ball exceptionally well. We aren't running the ball exceptionally well.
"We've got to do something good. We are a jack of all trades, master of none right now. We have to master something."
And they have to do it fast. On Sunday, they host the New England Patriots (4-0), who are known for taking apart teams that are unsure of themselves.
"Any time you play a New England football team, if you're up and down about who you are and what your style is, you're going to get your tail whipped," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "So you've got to know what you're good at and you've got to go in and do it.
"That's the only way you beat New England. And that's the truth. If you're wishy-washy on what you want to do or what kind of team you want to be, you're in trouble."
In a sense, the Bengals are still trying to figure out what they can do with some newcomers.
They reached the playoffs last season behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis' straight-ahead running and a passing game built around All-Pro receiver A.J. Green. They added rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard to give quarterback Andy Dalton more options in the passing game, but it hasn't fit together very well so far.
> The Bengals rank 22nd on offense — 22nd in running, 15th in passing.
> Dalton ranks 21st in passer rating at 83.2.
> Bernard ranks 32nd in the league in rushing, Green-Ellis 33rd.
> Green is tied for 10th in catches and tied for 20th in yards.
> So far, they've run it 99 times, thrown it 148 times and had seven sacks.
In some games, they've gone heavily one way and then the other. In the first half of a 20-10 victory over Pittsburgh, they threw it 32 times and ran only 10 times. In the second half, they pulled away by throwing it only 13 times and running it 24 times.
"I think the biggest thing is that we can be a balanced offense, run and pass," Green said. "We continue to have all the weapons to be a great offense, but haven't shown it."
Coach Marvin Lewis would like to stick with the running game a little more when it's not working rather than switching to the pass so readily. He senses that the offense is starting to figure things out.
"I think we're carving an identity," Lewis said. "Unless you're sitting here with perfection, you're not sitting here with a particular identity. We're taking strides toward an identity very quickly."
Whitworth thinks they need to decide what they want to be and stick with it instead of trying to get everyone involved in the offense every game.
"And the key is that we're going to have to get stubborn and either stick with the run game or throw it more," Whitworth said. "We're going to have to develop an identity. And I don't really know of a successful offense that doesn't have one."
Notes: Safety Reggie Nelson, who sat out the loss at Cleveland with a hamstring injury, returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Cornerbacks Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick, who also were sidelined in Cleveland with hamstring injuries, did not practice. ... Defensive end Michael Johnson was held out of practice because of concussion symptoms, which he reported after the game on Sunday. ... LB Michael Boley, who was signed as a free agent on Tuesday, practiced with the team