I’m typically fairly calm after both wins and losses, but I’m going to go on a bit of a rant this week. So here’s my disclaimer: I am not an NFL coach. I will never claim to be an expert or a definitive source on anything. I’m a former high school coach who worked with the offensive line and the run game. My expertise ends there so take my critique with a grain of salt. That said, I do think I have enough experience with this stuff to be entitled to having at least an educated opinion. I’m going to get all the negatives out of the way now and end this on a positive note. Let’s do this.
Let’s start with some numbers: One. That’s how many carries Jeremy Hill received with a leading fullback last week. Hill is a north/south runner who does best with a lead blocker. Most bigger backs that are in his frame and skill set are. I can only give a limited set of examples due to the nature of these articles, but take a look at this I formation run from last year against the Rams.
You can see eight, possibly nine in the box if you count that corner who’s a bit deep. But that’s a look that you really shouldn’t be able to run against, but the Bengals are able to because Hewitt does his job well. Hill is able to follow Hewitt to the hole and not have any wasted motion. He gets up to speed quickly and his momentum gets him three or four more yards after contact. All in all, this was good for 15 yards. Now let’s take a look at the first offensive play from Sunday:
Ignoring the fact that Russell Bodine had his lunch handed to him here, just take a look at what Hill has to do. By not having a true lead blocker (I say this because Uzomah technically does lead on this play at the top of the screen) Hill wastes so much movement going laterally. He spends so much time going side to side to find a hole that isn’t going to open, rather than giving him a lead blocker and trying to create one. That kills any hope of Hill being able to use his unique blend of speed and power. It’s better, but still not great out of the shotgun.
Here, Hill is at least able to gain some yardage, but again Bodine is garbage. There’s hardly anyone in the box and we should be able to run on this all day, but Bodine inexplicably lets his man shed him and he works right into Hill. That said, mistakes can happen in the run game, but Ken Zampese isn’t willing to keep trying. He simply runs when he has to for the sake of keeping the defense honest. Runs are far less “bursty” than pass plays, so you have to commit to it. It’s like Novocaine in the sense that it takes time to work, but it’s effective. With 35 rushing attempts through two games (only Washington and Chicago have fewer) Zampese is not giving his backs a chance.
When you lack a run game, and you let the opposing defense drop back and play the pass, you’re bound to get yourself into rough situations. That’s a fair estimation as to why the Bengals spent most of the second quarter inside their own 20 yard line. It’s inexplicable why a team on offense inside their own five is lining up in the shotgun to throw against a team only rushing four players.
Pittsburgh is almost inviting the Bengals to run the football, but they won’t. They leave the middle of the offensive line essentially wide open but the Bengals still choose to try to air it out. I think Andy Dalton is a tremendous quarterback, but you have to help him out by trying to run the ball more. He takes great care of the football, but if there’s no threat of a run it’s hard to get guys open. This teams needs a balanced identity to succeed - it’s what made Hue teams so successful. He had the flashy plays and trick formations, but he tried to build everything off the ground and that’s what made the team successful. At this point the team motto of “Pound the Rock” is just ironic.
But the Bengals did do some things well on offense so we’ll end on some high notes. For one, the Bengals only allowed one sack this week. That sack wasn’t even on the offensive line as it was a long play and Andy tucked it but got taken down about 6 inches from the line of scrimmage. The team also did a nice job of utilizing Giovani Bernard in the passing game with nine receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers spent a lot of the game in this soft zone. It’s actually what they used a lot the week before against Washington. That’s to the credit of their defensive coordinator Keith Butler for masking the poor corner talent he currently has. With no run threat and the lead, he’s willing to give up the short passes in order to prevent the big play. Bernard is able to do what he does best here, utilizing his elusiveness to get away from Artie Burns and race up the sideline for a touchdown. For as good of a runner as Bernard can be, I really think this is where his main role remains. He’s a major threat in the passing game and is a really great third down back.
Coming into Week 3, the Bengals will be facing a banged up Broncos team that lost a few key contributors last week in their contest with the Colts. Even before the loss of DeMarcus Ware, this is a team that is giving up an average of 4.5 yards per carry on the ground. With a pair of great veteran corners in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., the Bengals must get their run game situated if they want to come out on top. I believe the team certainly has the talent to do so, but they can’t shy away early like they’ve done every time they see a zero to two yard gain.
See you next week for the home opener. Who Dey!