The Bengals offense didn’t solve all of it’s problems against a weak Miami Dolphins defense. They did what they needed to do to win, but it was largely a defensive show for Cincinnati in Week 4. Aside from A.J. Green and Andy Dalton there weren’t a ton of positive takeaways on offense. Run blocking suffered once again, with Jeremy Hill averaging just over three yards per carry and Giovani Bernard under two yards per carry. But Ken Zampese was able to get his star receiver in space and his quarterback was able to make some nice plays. We’ll see just how everything was set up, and then we’ll take a look at the horrendous option play that I’m still having nightmares about.
I want to start with this first drive pass to Brandon LaFell. I really love the scheme design used to set it up by Zampese. The Dolphins know the Bengals want to run the ball and that they don’t stop the run well. This results with them selling out big time on play action early.
What we have here is a play action pass out of the counter trey look that I broke down for you just last week. Brandon LaFell motions in and pretends to (but does not) engage the defensive end. By pretending to get a piece of the end the defender covering him sells on run, allowing LaFell to get into space on his route. Tyler Kroft surprisingly is also uncovered but the throw to LaFell is the easy play Dalton makes, and it lets Tyler get him a block downfield. This is a great example of exploiting your opponent by using your own tendencies against them.
The Dolphins again make the crucial mistake of overselling on the run a few drives later. This time, though, it would be a much larger gain.
If you have watched the Bengals the last couple of years, you’ve likely come to notice that the team likes to employ moving blockers in the run game pre-snap. They use that concept here with Ryan Hewitt coming across formation. Miami, in an aggressive blitz package probably thinks they have the play shut down by overloading the weak side, but the Bengals pick it up nicely. After the fake, Dalton steps up in the pocket and rolls to his outside. The lone deep safety picks up the crossing route by LaFell and leaves A.J. Green in single coverage deep. Going on five years now, we all understand what happens next. It’s a 50 yard reception for Green.
The above play happened in a Cover 3 look. After this the Dolphins tried to use some Cover 1 and 2 man with safety help to cloud over Green. No matter how good you are as a receiver, it’s tough to attack deep in man to man with safety help. Zampese does a nice job working around that by isolating Green in space with pick/rub routes as you’ll see here. This is great way to beat man coverage.
Coming out of a bunch to the top of the screen, Uzomah is going to run the pick against the man covering him. Now technically running a pick route is considered offensive pass interference, but in a situation like this it’s rarely called. As long as Uzomah keeps moving and running a route, there’s really nothing a referee can see to definitively decide that he’s not actually trying to get open. Meanwhile, Green comes on a crossing route underneath, and the pick forces his defender out of position and to trail him. It’s an easy way to get the ball into the hands of your best player.
The next quarter, the Bengals set up a similar look once again utilizing a pick to get Green open underneath. Though this time, it’s not so much of an actual pick as it is using the vertical route to open the underneath.
This one isn’t quite as successful as the first, but the fact that Green’s man has to work over top of Uzomah and his defender essentially gives the Bengals a first down by being out of position. Typically, a good cornerback will read that slant and fly up to meet him. Because of the congestion, he’s unable to do so, instead, resorting to a good pursuit angle to mitigate the gained yardage. By the time he catches up, Green is already in space and he’s able to make a juke to pick up another five yards. Scheme goes a long way in the NFL and if a team keeps giving you a look this easy there’s no reason to not abuse it.
Finally we’ll take a quick look at a play that had me scratching my head. The Bengals were hit or miss in the run game for most of the day. Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill are doing the best they can with what they’re being given, but the line just isn’t giving them much to work with right now. In a combination of bad blocking and questionable play calling I give you the infamous speed option on third-and-one.
It should be noted that the Bengals have run speed option looks before and have done it well, so that’s not so much my gripe. My issue is that with one yard to go and a pounder like Hill, this just seems much too flashy for my taste. Add into the mix that Clint Boling is out on this play and Jake Fisher is subbing at guard and it’s a mess. Dalton loads up the strong side of the line to shift Miami’s priority that way, with the intent of the play to isolate the weak side and set up the option, reading the defensive end. Inside, the only real goal is to not allow inside pressure. They allowed inside pressure. Right behind Jake Fisher (who probably didn’t run this play at all in practice) comes Andre Branch and faster than you can blink he swats the ball out of Dalton’s hands. Luckily, Dalton was able to fall on it, and if there was no pressure, the play would have actually worked well, but that didn’t happen. Option runs are the riskiest plays in the book, but inside pressure should be the least of your worries.
So I’ll just leave my two cents to end this. The Bengals passing game did a nice job this week, but the team cannot be one dimensional. The run game is inept at this point, but Hill and Bernard are not the ones to be blamed. It’s the group in coach Paul Alexander’s room that isn’t up to par at the moment. Hill can be the back he was in 2014 if he isn’t being hit at the line of scrimmage on every play. Bernard can burn by everyone if he gets put in a position to attack the edge on outside runs. But for that to happen, the line needs to be cohesive, and I don’t see that cohesion. I don’t know if Andre Smith really meant that much to this team, or if there’s some other issues. Because it isn’t just Ogbuehi playing poorly. He’s a young and growing player so he won’t be an all star out of the gate, but the rest of the line looks lost at times too. Cincinnati can win some games on the backbone of Green and Dalton alone, but they won’t be playing deep into January if they can’t rely on a run game, too.