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Film Room: Bengals’ offense not to blame for Cowboys debacle

Despite much criticism of Ken Zampese and the offense, the unit was actually efficient against Dallas.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With Dallas getting off to a mind-blowing 28-0 lead on Sunday, it seemed like nothing could go right for Cincinnati in any aspect of the game. I was very much among the party that believed the sky was falling on the Bengals’ 2016 season, and was sure that this week’s film room post would be nothing but negatives. However, when I went back to the tape I received a bit of an eye opener: this team was fairly effective on offense on Sunday. Not perfect, sure, but they were efficient and were at least gaining field position. There were things I’d like to see tweaked, but if it weren’t for a complete defensive meltdown, the Bengals would have likely kept it competitive and possibly won by sticking to their game plan.

Also for this week, I’ve tried trimming down the screen space on the GIFs in order to try to reduce file size so they load faster. Let me know if you’re seeing improved load times! I know the old GIFs were nice to look at, but no one wants to wait five minutes for the entire article to load.

Gio Stands Out

Jeremy Hill didn’t start the game in Dallas, potentially due to a lingering sore shoulder that limited his snap count and was aggravated in Dallas. In relief, Giovani Bernard made the most of his opportunities, starting with his first carry of the game.

The Bengals run power right out of the shotgun and the Cowboys defense crashes in to stuff the line of scrimmage. The linebackers quickly fill their gaps, but Bernard spots a cutback lane and finds open field for 14. Bernard’s insanely quick feet allow him to change direction on a dime, and when he sees the designed play just isn’t there, he improvises beautifully.

With that first defensive over-pursuit, Dallas showed their hand in that they were intent on stopping the run. Zampese would dial up the perfect play to take advantage of that.

Lining up in a broken I formation (with the terminology I’m used to, I’d call this a King-I since the fullback is to the strong side of the offense) Dallas is already keying run. At the snap they blitz a linebacker and bring five, with Cover 1 coverage (you can’t see the high safety in the GIF). Dalton reads the coverage well and throws the swing to Bernard. Since the middle backer is responsible for him, this is a complete mismatch and a great gain of 11 yards.

Finally, Bernard makes another great play this time running the counter trey that I think I bring up pretty much every week. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it right? Take a look.

What a great job by Andrew Whitworth on this play. He blocks not one, but two linebackers on the same play, using his inside arm to seal off Sean Lee from making a play, and then getting a nice piece of Anthony Hitchens. Bernard isn’t touched until he’s about nine yards down field. There’s shades of 2015 to be found in this unit up front, it’s just the inconsistency across the board that’s so disturbing.

Not A.J.’s Best Night

A.J. Green had 4 catches for 50 yards against the Cowboys, who did as best they could to double team the Bengals’ star receiver and make him a non-factor on Sunday. They mostly accomplished that, as Green had fairly pedestrian stats this week, but he was still able to make some nice plays against a pretty good Cowboys set of corners in Brandon Carr and an improved Morris Claiborne. His nicest play of the day came on this 22 yard reception.

The Cowboys love to run a lot of man-to-man Cover 2, but this is a play where we see them choose a zone based Cover 2. The great play fake from Andy Dalton to Bernard successfully draws up the Dallas linebackers for an instant, putting them out of position. Green cuts out of his route at around 15 yards, settling into a gap in the zone underneath the safety. Dalton puts a well placed ball on Green and it results in a pretty easy 22 yard gain.

LaFell Quietly Productive

While he just scored his first touchdowns as a Bengal this week, doing so twice, Brandon LaFell hasn’t been given the credit he deserves so far. He’s done a nice job filling in the number 2 spot for Cincinnati, looking a lot more like the effective 2014 LaFell rather than the timid, injury-plagued 2015 version. I think the hate he’s receiving comes for multiple reasons, none of which are his own fault. First, Marvin Jones is straight up killing it in Detroit. As the NFL’s leader in receiving yards through five weeks, a lot of Bengals fans are unfairly going to compare LaFell to Jones. Jones is getting a high number of targets in a pass heavy vertical offense, where LaFell just doesn’t get the same opportunities. LaFell is also being held as a scapegoat for the horrible gadget plays Zampese likes to run with him. Those plays haven’t worked yet, and every time they fail more fans are going to say “LaFell sucks” even though he has no business being put in those situations.

Instead, he’s much more effective being used as an actual number two, as a change of pace, such as on screen plays.

LaFell gives the team the exact same production out of these rocket screens as Jones did, and it’s an aspect of the offense that the team needs. Between that and the 276 yards he’s put up to date for the Bengals, he’s been more than worth what the team is paying him. I just wish he were used a little bit more to his strengths.

All in all I have a lot of hope for this Bengals offense. I don’t think the unit will be as good or as dangerous as last year, but if and when Eifert returns, he’ll provide a much needed spark. I’d like to see some more running back and tight end screens to take some pressure off the line, because most pass rushers have been able to pin their ears back so far. The first order of business is just finding a way to fix the line issues, starting with pass protection. Either by simplifying things, making adjustments, or calling more quick plays. Once that happens I think the rest of the offense has a chance to build off of that. The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, and while the Bengals have stumbled out of the gate, they still have time to fix what’s broken.