It might not be pretty, but the Cincinnati Bengals are starting to roll together a feasible offense.
With 388 total yards against the Bills, the Bengals reached their highest amount of total offense to date in the 2017 season. This is for multiple reasons. The most obvious one is the change in offensive coordinator from Ken Zampese to Bill Lazor, who has breathed some new life into a unit that seemed dead in their tracks to start the year. I think the second, and the more understated reason, is that as the season progresses, this offensive line continues to gel.
Make no mistake; this is not a super-talented group at Cincinnati’s front. But, offensive lines are at their best when they have time to mesh and learn to play together. Offensive line is the only position where a unit all has to play as one.
All preseason and into 2017, the unit was preparing to have Trey Hopkins as the right guard all season, and unfortunately, he fell into an injury. Then the team added a tackle rotation which took a few weeks to get used to. There are still lots of mistakes, but Lazor is doing his best to cover the team’s weakness as much as possible, while the linemen themselves are in fact performing better (at least marginally) with every game.
Putting the action in play action
The Bengals did a great job on the long A.J. Green touchdown pass by fooling the safeties with play action. Cincinnati doesn’t have a very potent rushing attack this year, but they’re able to do enough to keep defenses honest and, as long as you can throw the ball, that’s really all you need in the NFL these days.
Jordan Poyer gets frozen for just an ever so slight moment that allows Green to slip behind him, effectively turning it into one on one coverage. That, of course, favors Green 100 percent of the time, even more so when you factor in the fact that the corner believes he has help. Dalton has a penchant for missing on more of these open balls this year than in the past, but this one is perfect and catches A.J. in stride. A perfect play if there ever was one.
Glimpses of potential
Joe Mixon has a dismal per-carry average of just 2.8 yards per carry right now. That may seem disappointing, but anyone watching the games knows this is largely due to Mixon getting a six-yard carry, then immediately being hit three yards in the backfield on the next carry. So his line isn’t doing him a ton of favors right now. That said, when they do their job you can see just how good Mixon, and this rushing attack overall, can be.
Mixon does a great job of not wasting time and finding his hole on this play. His jump cut immediately after the hand off puts him in a great lane to read Jake Fisher’s block and find open space. He gained a dozen yards on this carry, and I think it was the most impressive rushing play of the day. As the year goes on, I think it’s fair to expect more and more of these carries. Mixon is a guy who you really just need to give a chance and let his skills have an opportunity.
Even when the rookie doesn’t receive a completely open hole, he’s still capable of making plays, which is why he’s the back of the future and Jeremy Hill is not.
From the snap, it appears the Bengals are trying to run this inside, but the hole is quickly closed by Shaq Lawson crashing down off the edge. With a defensive back free on the outside Mixon bounces the play and is able to use his quickness to get to the corner and find the endzone. It’s not really how you draw these plays up, but it’s the best play to make as the running back if the initial hole isn’t there. We’ll take touchdowns any way the team can find them.
This was a pretty solid outing in my opinion against a respectable Bills defense. The rushing numbers regarding yardage and per-carry average are still low, but the entire process is getting better. The Bengals obviously are blessed with a multitude of talented running backs, so as long as things improve at the current pace things will improve to the point that the Bengals need to. The end goal is true offensive balance, since this team is very obviously still more of an effective passing offense - I think they get there by the end of the season.