The Bengals won in a shootout against the Falcons this weekend 37-36, and the most impressive aspect of the win was how the team stepped up in the game’s biggest moments.
The defense had its struggles, but stepped up, holding the Falcons to a field goal on their final drive. Andy Dalton then led the Bengals on the game-winning drive, and while the drive wasn’t perfect, it was well called and well executed. The Bengals faced some challenges, but made crucial plays on third and fourth down and eventually came out on top.
Following a Matt Bryant field goal that extended the Falcons’ lead to five points, the Bengals got the ball back with 4:15 left in the game. They opened up the drive with a 4-yard run by Giovani Bernard. This was a great way to start the drive, as it slowed down the Falcons’ pass rushers who were surely fired up to get after Dalton in this situation. As they broke the huddle, the broadcast commented about their lack of urgency, but with more than four minutes to play, their tempo was appropriate.
On second down Dalton attempted a pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd, but with cornerback Desmond Trufant draped all over him, he could not make the play.
Then came the first real clutch situation of the series. In the clip below it is third-and-six the Bengals are lined up in a trips formation with three receivers to one side, and one to the other. Wide receiver A.J. Green commands the most attention. He is the single receiver to the top of the screen and has one Falcons defender pressed on him with the safety lined up almost directly over the top of him. Boyd is lined up as the second receiver on the bottom of the screen, with tight end C.J. Uzomah lined up as the third receiver just inside of him. Uzomah releases vertically, and Boyd releases inside, underneath Uzomah’s route.
This is excellent play design as the alignment of these two receivers along with the route combination creates a natural pick and gets Boyd open. Boyd catches the drag just shy of the first down, but turns it up field to move the chains.
The Bengals start off the next series of downs with another Bernard run, which picks up three yards. In the next clip, it is second-and-seven, and the Bengals are in their no huddle offense. Dalton drops back to pass and has good protection, but seeing no one open he escapes the pocket to the left and ducks out of bounds after picking up the first down. This is a great job by Dalton of understanding he had nowhere to throw the ball, making a play with his legs, and stopping the clock.
Just Andy Dalton being a dude and scrambling for the 1st down pic.twitter.com/idwu2NLwuu— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 30, 2018
On the next play (as seen in the clip below), The Bengals go back to trips formation, and the same route concept that helped them convert on third down earlier in the drive. Once again, Uzomah is the farthest receiver to the inside and releases vertically. Boyd is the second receiver and is lined up just outside of Uzomah. Boyd releases to the inside, underneath Uzomah’s route, which opens him up on the drag route. He catches the ball and turns it up field gaining 11 yards and a first down. This takes the game to the two-minute warning.
Boyd moving the sticks again pic.twitter.com/PSm9hMpZGO— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 30, 2018
It is at this point that things seem to take a bad turn for the Bengals. On first down, Falcons defense end Vic Beasley gets the better of Bengals left tackle Cordy Glenn and reaches his hand out trying to get the ball from Dalton. Dalton is able to tuck the ball and gains two yards on the play, but Beasley isn’t done yet. On second down, Beasley again comes screaming off the edge and hits Dalton’s arm as he is in his throwing motion. This causes a fumble which Dalton recovers for a loss.
The Bengals wisely take a timeout here. With the added time, the replay officials decide to review the play, and it is determined that Dalton was in his throwing motion and it was an incomplete pass rather than a fumble. This gave the Bengals back time, yardage, and their final timeout.
The next clip is the ensuing third down. Boyd is again lined up as the number two receiver in the trips formation. He takes a hard step to the outside on his release, then runs vertically, bending toward the center of the field. Dalton throws the ball toward Boyd, but Trufant has undercut his route and the ball goes right to him. By some miracle, Trufant is not able to make the interception, and the Bengals retain possession.
That brings up the fourth down play shown here. This time Boyd is the third receiver, lined up closest to the offensive line. He jab steps to the outside, getting Trufant to open his hips then releases up field. When he gets to the first down marker he turns around and Dalton hits him with great timing—another big time play for Boyd and Dalton.
Obviously fourth down on the game-winning drive is already a huge situation, but it is even bigger considering the adversity the Bengals faced on this set of downs. The Bengals nearly turned the ball over on all three of the previous plays, but they maintained composure and took the momentum back.
On first down, seeing no one open Dalton throws the ball away. Glenn is called for illegal hands to the face and it becomes first-and-20. On the next play the Bengals run a quick screen to wide receiver Alex Erickson, gaining eight yards and putting them in a much better second down situation.
The next clip is second down. The Bengals line up in a two-by-two formation with two receivers split out to each side. Uzomah is lined up in the slot on the bottom of the screen. He runs a quick out and gets out of bounds. This is a classic route in two-minute drill situations. It allows the team to improve their down and distance situation while conserving time on the clock. Here it has gone from second-and-12 to third-and-six. This gives the Bengals more options on third down.
In the clip below it is third down and the Bengals are in a two-by-two formation with Green lined up as the number one receiver on the top of the screen. All four receivers release vertically, and Green is able to create space. Unfortunately, Dalton does not give him a ball that he can make a play on and it becomes fourth down.
My heart skipped a beat on this one pic.twitter.com/Oa12Q7deSd— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 30, 2018
On fourth-and-six the Bengals come out in another two-by-two formation. Boyd is lined up in the slot on the bottom of the screen. He jab steps to the outside as he has throughout the game when trying to get inside the receiver, then takes three steps to the inside making it look like a slant, before cutting back to the outside. This is what’s known as a whip route, and Boyd runs it beautifully. Dalton throws a perfectly placed ball just in front of Boyd at about two yards depth, which allows him to keep running and turn up field for the first down.
4th down... Who else would the ball go to pic.twitter.com/XH7GOYUIzb— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 30, 2018
Dalton attempts to get the ball to Erickson in the end zone on the next play, but the coverage by Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver is better than Erickson’s route and a completion becomes nearly impossible.
Now with 12 seconds left in the game the Bengals line up in a three-by-one formation with Green as the lone receiver on the bottom of the field. He releases inside the cornerback then bends back outside the safety, finding the soft spot in the Falcons’ Cover 2, where Dalton throws him the game winning pass.
Dalton and the Bengals' offense stepped up on the game’s last drive and showed they can win in high-pressure situations. The play calling, passing, and ability of Boyd to get open when the Bengals needed a conversion all stood out as key components of the drive. If the Bengals are going to break their playoff drought, they will need to be able to perform at this level offensively.