The Cincinnati Bengals offense had some questions to answer coming into Week 3 of the preseason. How is the new offensive line going to hold up? In what way will the Bengals use John Ross this year? Will Joe Mixon be heavily integrated in the backfield? All of these were valid concerns heading into the game against Washington, and while not all of them were answered, we’ve at least seen some inclinations that can help us predict one with some confidence.
A Classic Cincinnati Combo
Aside from cheddar cheese and Skyline chili, I don’t think there’s a more iconic Cincinnati combination than Andy Dalton to A.J. Green. That’s why it was good to see the two connecting early and often (almost too often) this week.
We can see that Josh Norman is picking up where he left off last season at being completely incapable of covering Green, as the Bengals wideout fought through contact to convert a third and long. Green provided the bulk of the offensive production on the opening drive so it’s good to know the team’s best playmaker is ready to pick things up where he left off in 2016 come Week 1.
Mixon It Up
Everyone knew Joe Mixon was going to be a dominant running back in the NFL coming into this year’s draft. That much was almost assured. Any doubters of the former Sooner’s talent have certainly been silenced through the preseason, as he’s looked nothing short of stellar so far.
For a running back who’s hovering around 230 pounds Mixon is obscenely agile, enough so that he can pull off a Madden-like juke that leaves Josh Norman looking like a fool. Combine that with enough balance to keep himself upright mid-stride and it’s easy to see just how special of a talent he is. That said, he’s still a rookie, and rookies have bumps along the way.
On the Bengals’ next position, following the terrific opening drive, Mixon performed a cardinal sin of running backs. While taking the handoff from Dalton, Mixon didn’t look the ball in and he just flat out fumbled it. Dalton did everything he could do for Mixon, but the running back just closed his arms before he even had the football. There’s no way to describe that besides impatience.
Run Ross, Run
To the surprise of no one, John Ross was brought on slowly for his first preseason game as a Bengal. What was insightful however, was the persistence of using his speed as a decoy as well as a weapon.
Cincinnati used this look out of 12 personnel a few different times on the day, with Ross almost consistently in the slot and running this across formation motion. On this particular play they use his sprinter speed and some nice blocking from Tyler Kroft and Ryan Hewitt to get around the edge for eight yards. It might not sound like much, but knowing you have that speed threat on the edge can be a huge pain for defenses. The Bengals also ran a dive to the running back while faking the jet to Ross. With defenses needing to spread out to respect Ross’ speed, it can leave huge holes in the middle for back’s to run through. Ross’ speed is just as much of a threat when he doesn’t get the ball as when he does.
Here, early in the third quarter, AJ McCarron is able to hit Alex Erickson on a crossing route for a gain of about 30 yards. The massive play is opened up because Ross starts the play at the top of the screen as the X receiver. Ross runs a deep post which draws attention from the safety on that side of the field. It leaves Erickson able to fit into space underneath and pick up the huge gain.
We don’t have all of our questions about this team resolved going into Week 1, but the truth is, we were never going to. With so many new pieces in this offense, it’s likely going to be Week 3 or Week 4 until any of us truly know what the identity of this attack is. Thankfully, one of the Bengals’ biggest issues is that they have so many playmakers it’s hard to know exactly who is going to play a big role in this offense outside of Green and Tyler Eifert. That’s a pretty good problem to have, and it bodes well for the team going forward. The number one goal of this group should just be to stay healthy. If they can do that, I like their chances going forward.