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Offensive film room: Bengals falter without A.J. Green

After losing A.J. Green early, the Bengals offense just never quite got it together.

Buffalo Bills v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

The Bengals lost A.J. Green just a few plays into the opening drive of their loss to the Bills. Straining his hamstring while being tangled up with Stephon Gilmore. There’s hope the injury won’t keep Green out for the rest of the 2016 season, but the short term effects of the injury were obvious. Without the NFL’s premier receiver drawing attention away from the rest of the offense, Andy Dalton and the Bengals would only muster a measly 12 points in this contest. Buffalo’s defensive line, particularly veteran Kyle Williams, manhandled the Bengals all day. There were some nice plays on the day however — particularly from rookie receiver Tyler Boyd — though it wasn’t enough to get a win. I’m going to be brutally honest this week, but only because I don’t think sugar coating things at this point of the season is going to help anyone.

The Game is Decided at the Line of Scrimmage

Kyle Williams was a beast on Sunday. In my opinion he’s the most underappreciated defensive lineman in the entire NFL. The guy is so humble, and so quiet, yet he absolutely kills people on a weekly basis. Clint Boling learned that fairly quickly on Sunday, on the first running play to be exact.

I’m not shy in my disdain for what Ken Zampese has shown as offensive coordinator. He loves these “cute” plays that look really cool and are probably fun to draw up and practice, but you aren’t fooling anyone in a game. Here’s an unbalanced line with Jake Fisher as a wing, where he’ll move across the formation to line up as a pseudo-tackle. Up front we have zone blocking to the right, meaning that everyone is blocking a man down to the right. Unfortunately for Boling, that leaves him with a 1-technique Kyle Williams on an angle. That block is near impossible for even the best guard to make, and Boling is not a bad guard, but the fact that you would even try that against Kyle Williams is stupid. He blasts right into the backfield, because the look gives Boling an awful angle to work with, and blows up the play four yards back. You have to at least give Williams a chip if you’re Russell Bodine, because your guard is going to need that split second to get positioning. Instead he just leaves and whiffs on the linebacker anyway.

Second Half Struggles

I had to go back and do some research to make sure I had my numbers right, but from 9:53 remaining in the third quarter to 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bengals offense had zero first downs. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. That’s absolutely horrendous. There’s no excuse for that regardless of who you have on the field, how long you’ve been an offensive coordinator, or who you’re playing. You still have some really talented players, and you can’t move the ball 30 feet once in more than 20 minutes.

That said, for once this season I was finally able to see a legitimate game plan coming from the offense. One where you knew what they were trying to achieve. It was clear that the goal for the Bengals offense was going to be to spread things out, minimize the effect the Buffalo defensive front can have, and attack a suspect secondary. That’s the smart bet, too. If Buffalo’s defense has a weak point it’s certainly their defensive backs. The problem though, and this was impacted largely by Green’s injury, is they didn’t win that matchup. Without anyone to command double coverage, the Bills secondary was allowed to play the way they wanted to and Gilmore took advantage of some suspect Andy Dalton passes.

This isn’t a turnover play, but it’s one that shows the impact of not having A.J. Green. The Bengals are sticking to the gameplan, spreading out their offense in hopes of finding guys in space. However, without Green to command special attention, the Bills are able to play a base Cover 2. Without anything developing, Dalton forces a throw over the middle that isn’t there. Usually a good decision maker, it seemed like Dalton was taking more chances and forcing balls, in an effort to try and make more plays happen. With one touchdown and two interceptions on the day it wasn’t a successful mission.

An Admirable Backup

I’m going to throw my one compliment of the article right here as a shout out to James Wright. The guy doesn’t see a whole lot of playing time, especially when he backs up the best receiver in the NFL, but he did a really nice job of trying to fill Green’s role on Sunday. You can’t expect similar production, because Green is a freak and a lot of what he does is pure athleticism, but with Wright you have a nice route runner who knows the playbook.

Despite only being a 15 yard reception it was sadly one of the best offensive plays of the day for Cincinnati. But I really love the route Wright (on the bottom of the GIF) gave here. I’ve never really seen this route before, so I’m going to guess that this was an option to break out based on the coverage. It looks like a dig route the entire time, which would help Gilmore since he’s working inside coverage, and Wright’s initial break on the dig makes the safety hesitate for just a moment, allowing the separation on the out cut for the reception. Dalton had some great timing here too, putting the ball right where it needed to be while Wright was still breaking inward. Sometimes it’s the little things that give me a glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately moving forward I don’t expect things to get better. With Giovani Bernard out with a torn ACL, the Bengals are missing their best receiving back as well as their best blocking back. Rex Burkhead can provide relief in the passing game, but unless Jeremy Hill is working overtime on pass pro drills, I expect Dalton to get hit even more, if you can believe that. Maybe they’ll slap a 44 on Jake Fisher again and put him in the backfield. At this point in the season, the Bengals really don’t have anything to lose.