There is no debate as to the focus of the Bengals’ draft strategy in 2017. The Bengals spent just as many picks on defense as they did on offense, but both their first and second round picks were used on top offensive talents. John Ross and Joe Mixon were brought in by the team to restore an element of excitement to a Bengals’ offense that was missing big-play thrills last year.
“There’s no way that can’t benefit your offense,” Clint Boling told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com of the additions of Ross and Mixon. “I think we got better as a team after this weekend and that’s all you can really ask for.”
In 2016, the Bengals’ offensive scheme was a fairly simple one. Rookie offensive coordinator Ken Zampese ran an offense that was centered around Andy Dalton’s skill set as a short-to-intermediate passer. Possession receivers like Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd were brought in to encourage that element in the offseason.
That said, the scheme didn’t work perfectly. The Bengals’ focused passing attack was excellent at generating passing yards, putting up 4,206 on the season. It was the second-most passing yards the Bengals have generated during Dalton’s tenure. The problem was, the offense was so one-dimensional, the ability to move down the field didn’t translate to scoring. The Bengals ranked 24th in the league in terms of total touchdowns (35), despite what seemed like an effective passing game.
That’s why bringing in a top speed threat like Ross could make such a huge difference. Dalton is used to primarily focusing on short-to-intermediate passes as his bread and butter on offense. But, a speedy, home-run threat like Ross could allow him to branch out and keep defenses on their toes.
“You think about (speed) all the time,” Vinny Rey said of Ross. “Last year playing against Baltimore with Mike Wallace over there, you’re always thinking about it. Sometimes when you’re a linebacker and you see him in the slot, you kind of take a step back. I bet that’s how our defensive backs think sometimes, too, when they know how fast a guy runs. That’s what other teams will be thinking, so I’m glad.”
In addition to what Ross brings to the offense, opposing defenses are likely to be kept guessing every time Mixon steps on the field. He is a dual-threat running back who can hurt you in multiple ways on the ground, as well as through the air.
“It will be tougher to double-team A.J. (Green) and stack the box with a guy who can run like him,” Jeremy Hill said. “We're excited to get him in here and get him going. Obviously adding Joe to the mix is going to be a big piece for our offense. We've got a lot of talent; it's just getting them out there every day and getting that chemistry with ourselves.”
Mixon’s presence will encourage opposing teams to re-tool their entire defensive strategy against the Bengals. With more openings and opportunities to make plays, the Bengals will be ready to pounce and come up with a plethora of ways to take advantage of the conservative looks that will be necessary to have any hope of slowing the Bengals’ offense down.
“Probably going to be a lot less eight-man boxes, so very excited about that,” Hill said. “Hopefully we can see a lot more seven-man boxes and get some runs going.
The Bengals already had plenty of offensive weapons for opposing defenses to worry about. Unfortunately, the offensive scheme in 2016 didn’t see production that lived up to those expectations. Part of that was because the team was so one-dimensional, but another cause was Green and Tyler Eifert’s injuries, which forced them to be on the field at the same time in only a few games. In 2017, expect to see a much more dynamic Bengals offense, led by a number of exciting weapons who can strike fear into opposing defensive coordinators.
“They’re all weapons,” Darqueze Dennard said. “You have A.J., clearly the best receiver in the game. Eifert is one of the top tight ends in the game. Boyd had a really good season last year. A really good player. I really like him. Then you have John Ross, probably the fastest man in the NFL who runs good routes and has good hands and can separate. You’ve got Jeremy Hill running the ball and you still have Gio who is danger in the backfield. We’re loaded on offense. It will be pretty fun to see.”