Since the ushering in of the "post-Carson Palmer era", the Bengals have had minimal setbacks in their rebuilding period. What looked to be another "Dark Ages" similar to the 1990s instead became a feat-breaking couple of seasons, led by a number of young stars.
In the two seasons since Andy Dalton took over the offense back in 2011, the unit has had its moments of greatness, but has, for the most part, done just enough to keep this team afloat. Because the quarterback gets most of the praise and scrutiny, Dalton has shouldered a lot of the blame for the offenses' inadequacies. The truth is that there is plenty of blame to pass around, from play-calling, to Dalton's errant throws on deep passes, or to players disappearing for stretches at a time.
The biggest though, seems to be the lack of a formidable running game. For all of the criticism that Dalton has been receiving, lost in the insults is the fact that the young quarterback hasn't had much of a crutch to lean on in the running game. He has had two north-south runners in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Benson in his two seasons, and neither of those backs are game-breakers. And, in truth, there hasn't been much production behind those two backs in the stable, either.
Marvin Lewis and Jay Gruden recognized the need to overhaul the position and drafted Giovani Bernard and Rex Burkhead, along with re-signing Cedric Peerman and Bernard Scott to the group. Scott hasn't been able to participate in this year's camp because he is rehabbing a knee injury from last year and we expect him to land on the PUP List. However, the other three, have all been flashing some good things in the preseason, including the recently released Dan Herron who may return to Cincinnati's practice squad.
As I mentioned in a previous post on the nuances of the West Coast Offense, one of the needed elements to run a good system is a quality play-action pass game. Under Dalton in his two seasons, the Bengals haven't been able to employ this with much success because the running game hasn't threatened opposing defenses much, and as a result they end up keying in on A.J. Green. The hope is that that will change this season because of some of these new faces.
A major key is the rookie Giovani Bernard. So far in the preseason, the Bengals have been leaning on him a lot, not only as a runner but as a receiver. If Bernard can find a way to run the ball effectively this season, not only will it assist the pounding style that Green-Ellis doles out, but it will give Dalton the ability to truly sell the play-action fake. And, in doing so, that will create less double and triple-teams on Green to open up more big plays. The addition of Bernard and his skill set should improve the team's ability to use the play-action.
Bernard's and Green-Ellis' contributions to the play-action are obvious, but there are other players that will assist in this area as well. The group of tight ends/H-Back should open this up further as well. The addition of first round pick, Tyler Eifert gives the Bengals a huge, athletic pass catcher. And, though he isn't the best blocker, Eifert has shown early flashes of being adequate in that aspect.
So what do the tight ends have to do with selling the play-action?
The Bengals can line up in a total power formation and still pass the ball. Say, that the team brings in a two tight end set, with a fullback/H-Back, one running back and only one wide receiver. The two tight ends are Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, the running back is Bernard or Green-Ellis, the wideout is Green and the fullback/H-back is Charles. They can give the opposing defense the impression that they are going to run it right up the gut with their back, given their formation, but have anywhere from three to five excellent pass-catchers, depending on the play.
If the defense stacks the box with linebackers, it is a total mismatch in the favor of guys like Bernard, Eifert and Gresham. If they play it somewhat safe with a couple of safeties and corners out there, Green, Eifert and Bernard all could still make plays. The Bengals first two picks this year gives them the ability to adapt to what defenses throw at them--particularly in play action scenarios.
To temper expectations, I must add the fine print that these projections are still in their theory-based stage. Still, the drafting of Eifert and Bernard makes this offense more dynamic and gives them the ability to disguise what they are doing on offense. And the elements of disguise and surprise, are what make up a successful play-action pass.