The Bengals offense, specifically the running game, looked noticeably more consistent in its final two games of the season.
Last week, they inserted Christian Westerman at left guard, and rotated him with Alex Redmond in at the change of every quarter, and moved Clint Boling to left tackle as a result of injuries to both Cedric Ogbuehi and Andre Smith. The initial results of these changes were positive against the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve, but the Ravens defensive front is a much more physical unit.
Westerman, Redmond, Russell Bodine and Trey Hopkins all answered the bell and each had their moments, some more than others. Let’s look at some of the more pivotal examples in the season finale:
My favorite part of re-watching this game was the battle between the Bengals interior offensive line and the Ravens interior defensive line. On the first play of the game, the battle began.
The point of attack on this play is the going right behind Bodine towards that right side A-gap. Nose tackle Brandon Williams is essentially acting as a two-gap player as he reads and reacts to running back Joe Mixon’s eyes and movement behind the line of scrimmage.
Williams initially wins off the snap by getting out in front of Bodine in the A-gap, but it’s Mixon whose manipulation helps Bodine. He knows Williams will close the gap if he just runs straight into it, but if he takes a split second to get Williams moving back inside, he can create more space for himself, and that’s exactly what happened. Williams takes the bait and is at the mercy of Bodine who finishes him off and Mixon bursts through the hole.
A few plays later, Bodine and Westerman take on Williams in a combo block in an RPO that optioned to the handoff. Williams gets taken back about 3 yards off the line of scrimmage, and running back Giovani Bernard follows behind for about four yards before contact.
Bodine’s effort got Westerman started on driving Williams out, but Williams does a nice job of keeping his hips square to the formation and anchoring his feet to get in position to make the eventual stop. I’d like to see Westerman get his hands lower here and continue to leverage Williams further outside, as he has the advantage right off the snap.
You can also see Bodine doesn’t manage to get his hands on linebacker Patrick Onwuasor who fills his run fit and shoves Bodine behind the play.
On this drive, right tackle Eric Winston got his ankle caught under a Ravens defender and had to limp off the field to be taped up. This forced undrafted free agent tackle Kent Perkins to play six emergency snaps, and this was the only rep of his that I had an issue with.
They’re going to pull Perkins and Trey Hopkins, the backside tackle and guard around the formation to take out the primary force and fill defenders in the box. Hopkins attacks the inside shoulder of the force defender Matt Judon and seals him off from Bernard.
It’s up to Perkins to remove the fill defender Tony Jefferson from the gap to give Bernard the space he needs to get upfield. Jefferson dips under Perkins and takes on the block beautifully, as Perkins almost misses all of Jefferson and fails to move him.
Bernard ends up with a gain of about six as he fought through contact on his way down, but you want to see Perkins, or whoever it is at tackle there, get through the hole quicker and not give the fill defender a chance to take it on like Jefferson does.
Running behind an H-back is good, sometimes. Williams obviously recognized the inside zone towards the weak side of the formation pre-snap and didn’t bother entertaining with Bodine’s reach block. Bodine is left empty-handed and Williams has a chance to get himself a tackle for loss. It’s Tyler Kroft, lined up in Ryan Hewitt’s H-back spot, who immediately picks up Williams and gives Mixon a chance to make it out of the backfield. Perkins is still in the game at right tackle and drives Onwuasor out of the play.
Upon initial viewing I marked this as false movement from Hopkins, as Winston and Bodine are driving off their right foots like they’re entering their respective zones in a zone-schemed run. But both Hopkins and Westerman are covered lineman who’re reading the movement of the defensive tackles. The inside zone is designed to go behind Hopkins, and both Hopkins and Westerman see the defensive tackles are slanting towards their left shoulders. Once they see this, they try to target their left shoulders and get them outside the play direction.
I slowed down the play to visually emphasize the difference in execution between Westerman and Hopkins. Hopkins is completely bent over at the neck and shoulders, which takes away his ability to attack Williams effectively. Westerman maintains his pad level and keeps it square to defensive tackle Michael Pierce. He gets inside and early hands, and Pierce is powerless. Meanwhile, Williams waltzes into the backfield and meets Bernard for a tackle for loss.
Finally, let’s contextualize a conceived pressure allowed by left guard Alex Redmond. The Bengals, like last week, rotated Westerman and Redmond by quarter, regardless if the offense was in the middle of a drive. This led to multiple issues by both players when they came into the game. This play was a glaring example of that.
The offensive line calls for slide protection to the strong side of the formation, leaving left tackle Clint Boling alone in a true one-on-one which he handles decently well. This leaves the the remaining four lineman to block the 1-tech, the 3-tech and the 6-tech, which according to simple math shouldn’t be hard. But Redmond has the most difficult block to make.
The 1-tech, Williams in this case, is shaded just over Bodine’s left shoulder. He’s acting as a 1-gap penetrator, so he’s coming straight downhill. Bodine should know this and help out Redmond, but instead focuses on the 3-tech shaded over Hopkins. Redmond fails to get out in front of Williams and ends up following him all the way to Dalton, who has to slide to his left and get the ball out of his hand. Redmond could’ve done a better job of getting more horizontal movement out of his stance, but this is tough assignment in slide protection to handle one-on-one.
Stayed tuned for my year-in-review of the Bengals offensive line as a whole.