In their opening preseason game against the Buccaneers, the Bengals ran the ball a total of 36 times, despite only throwing the ball 22 times.
Granted, they won by more than a touchdown, so it is difficult to find much to criticize in their offensive strategy on that particular day. After all, the Bengals saw some great performances out of players like Jeff Driskel, Tra Carson, and Joe Mixon on the ground. Ultimately, the Bengals got the end result they wanted.
But, in the preseason, winning comes secondary to preparation for the season. Yes, seeing great ground performances from key players was both important and exciting. However, with the lack of emphasis on the passing game, pass-catchers like Cody Core, Tyler Boyd, and Cethan Carter, in addition to backfield receiving threats like Joe Mixon, barely got a chance to stretch their legs in the air. Only Alex Erickson was targeted more than twice.
Granted, it wasn’t a particularly great debut for the Bengals’ first and second string quarterbacks. Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron combined for a measly nine completions on 13 attempts for 87 yards and an interception.
It wasn’t until Jeff Driskel came in at that we saw a decent performance at the position. Driskel finished with a stellar 148.6 quarterback rating, while McCarron finished with an uninspiring 79.7 and Dalton finished with a paltry 58.8.
Those numbers don’t exactly spark confidence in the passing game, especially considering both Dalton and McCarron were rarely pressured in the pocket and weren’t sacked a single time. But, that is exactly why the Bengals should emphasize the passing game more in the preseason.
Sure, not having guys like John Ross and C.J. Uzomah available limited the Bengals’ passing options. But, they are still loaded with talent in the passing game and could have been more creative in their ability to find ways to test it out.
It’s understandable why the Bengals would want to ride the running game when Joe Mixon was averaging 5.2 yards per carry and four different players recorded individual runs of nine or more yards.
The performance of the running game was truly the story of the day. But, as previously mentioned, the actual results of the game are not as important in preseason games, so that’s no excuse for seemingly giving up on the passing game for much of the night.
If anything, the Bengals’ struggles in the passing game against the Buccaneers should signal their need to utilize it more, at least through the rest of the preseason. The Bengals’ passing game is never going to improve if they are only throwing 22 passes a game.
How can Dalton and McCarron enhance chemistry with their new targets if they are rarely given opportunities to develop that chemistry on the field before the season starts?
They can’t, and likely won’t. The Bengals invested so much into the passing game this offseason, in addition to bringing in a running back in Joe Mixon who is known for his ability to contribute across the board, so the Bengals have every reason to try to jump start the passing attack. If they don’t, things could very easily become stagnant.
Clearly, if the running game is vastly out performing the passing game during the season, the Bengals should follow the strategy they feel gives them the best chance to win. But, while they take part in meaningless preseason games, they might as well test out whatever they can in the passing game to try to put things on track when the season rolls around.
After all, a one-dimensional offense is never a good strategy for putting together a successful season.