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Analyzing the Bengals’ second down decision making against the Ravens

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Are the Bengals really running the ball too much on second down? We took a look at each Week 11 second down play by the Bengals to find out.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

After the Bengals’ loss to the Ravens, there was a lot to complain about. But Bengals Twitter seemed to be particularly mad about the team’s offensive decision making on second down.

“Why are the Bengals running the ball every time it’s second-and-10?”

That was a question I saw all Sunday afternoon and then continued to see people infuriated with all night. So I went through every second down play the Bengals offense ran on Sunday against the Ravens. Honestly, there weren’t that many plays on offense as the Bengals ran just 54 plays compared to 75 for the Ravens offense.

Here’s a breakdown of the key information:

  • The Bengals ran 17 second down plays. For comparison, the Ravens ran 26 second down plays.
  • Nine of the Bengals’ second down plays came in the first half and eight came in the second half.
  • 10 of the 17 plays were runs, though one of those was Andy Dalton scrambling for a nine-yard gain.
  • Seven of the plays were pass plays, though one didn’t actually count due to defensive holding.
  • Dalton completed just one of his seven throws on second down and was sacked once too. The one completion came on second-and-nine to C.J. Uzomah, who gained 16 yards on the play. (Note: GET UZOMAH MORE INVOLVED, PLEASE! The team’s No. 1 tight end caught three of his five targets for 41 yards on Sunday.)
  • Not including Dalton’s scramble, the Bengals netted nine yards on the nine run plays involving running backs. Mixon totaled four yards on seven plays while Bernard totaled five yards on two plays.

Here’s a look at the gamebook, which shows each of the Bengals’ second down plays:

Second-and-two: J.Mixon left guard to CIN 28 for -4 yards (P.Onwuasor).

2-4: J.Mixon left guard to CIN 27 for 4 yards (C.Mosley; M.Pierce).

2-10: A.Dalton pass incomplete short middle to T.Boyd (Z.Smith).

2-10: J.Mixon up the middle to CIN 48 for 3 yards (P.Onwuasor; Z.Smith).

2-7: A.Dalton pass incomplete short middle to J.Ross (M.Pierce).

2-2: A.Dalton pass incomplete short left. PENALTY on BLT-J.Smith, Defensive Holding, 1 yard, enforced at BLT 2 - No Play.

2-8: G.Bernard right guard to CIN 13 for 2 yards (C.Mosley).

2-10: G.Bernard left guard to CIN 28 for 3 yards (A.Levine Sr.).

2-10: A.Dalton sacked at CIN 44 for -4 yards (sack split by M.Judon and T.Bowser).

2-9: A.Dalton pass short left to C.Uzomah pushed ob at BLT 04 for 16 yards (J.Smith).

2-5: J.Mixon up the middle to BLT 39 for 1 yard (C.Wormley).

2-10: ) A.Dalton scrambles up the middle to BLT 25 for 9 yards.

2-10: J.Mixon right guard to CIN 23 for -2 yards (T.Suggs).

2-5: J.Mixon left tackle to CIN 30 for no gain (T.Jefferson; M.Judon).

2-7: ) (Shotgun) A.Dalton pass incomplete short left.

2-10: J.Fisher reported in as eligible. J.Mixon right guard to BLT 33 for 2 yards (K.Young).

2-3: A.Dalton pass incomplete deep left to J.Ross (J.Smith).

What it all means

Whether running or passing, the Bengals offense was completely underwhelming on second down. Let’s throw away the play that was negated due to a defensive holding penalty. 16 second down plays resulted in a total of 18 rushing yards, 16 receiving yards, and one sack that cost the team four years. That’s a total of 30 net yards for an average of 1.875 yards per play. Whether the team is passing or running on second down, everything needs to improve.

When the Bengals had second-and-10, those six plays resulted in an incompletion, a three yard run, another three yard run, a sack, Dalton scrambling for nine yards, Mixon losing two yards, and Mixon gaining two yards. So more often than not, the Bengals are running on second-and-10, which quickly becomes predictable. But it’s not like the second down passing plays were effective either. Dalton can’t complete one of six passes on second down and think that’s OK. (I’m sure he doesn’t think that’s OK, for the record.)

The best way avoid a three and out is to not have to worry about converting on third down. Everyone made excuses for Bill Lazor last year when he took over as offensive coordinator in Week 3. There’s no more time for excuses with the Bengals’ season on the line. Lazor had time to prepare all offseason, to get creative and to surprise us. Instead, the Bengals offense is lacking any element of surprise, so much so that the second down plays the team ran against the Ravens failed far more often than they succeeded. That could be said of the game as a whole, too.

The Bengals offense failed more than it succeeded.

The team ran 54 offensive plays and average 4.7 yards per play. The Ravens — with a rookie quarterback starting his first game — ran 75 plays and averaged 5.4 yards per play. The Bengals had 15 total first downs. The Ravens had 23 total first downs. The Bengals converted 43 percent of third downs. The Ravens converted 50 percent (FIFTY!) of their third downs. The only time when the Bengals offense really looks good was in the red zone, where they converted both opportunities into touchdowns and continued to be one of the NFL’s best red zone teams. If you’re looking for a positive on offense, it’s that last point.

Of 16 second down plays, the Bengals got a first down only TWICE! Once on second-and-four with a Mixon four-yard run and once on second-and-nine with a Uzomah 16-yard catch. That’s not going to cut it.

The Bengals have a lot of work to do if they want to work their way back into the playoff picture and this seems like one clear area that needs to be fixed up; fast. Stop being so predictable on second down, and whether running the ball or passing the ball, come up with more productive ways to get a first down.