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Bengals Weekly Lineman: How QB Lamar Jackson and RB Gus Edwards ran through the Bengals’ front four

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After weeks of looking foolish, the Ravens finally found success with their first-round quarterback against the Bengals’ helpless defense.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

An option-based rushing attack would never work in the NFL. Nope. Not in my dad’s league. And not in his dad’s league before that. Not a chance. That’s high school stuff. This is the big leagues.

The Ravens didn’t care about what you think wouldn’t work against the Bengals. They went out against one of the worst defenses in the league and ran all over them with the ideal personnel to work with.

They had a quarterback in Lamar Jackson who is not just explosive and quick as a runner, but who could also decide both pre-snap which option would be best based on defensive alignment and at the mesh point based on how the defense reacted. Along side him, they had a near 240-pound running back in Gus Edwards who could brawl through contact and create yards on his own going downhill.

In front of both of them were a pair of tight ends in Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst who could target and drive defenders out of the point of attack and an offensive line that was aggressive and took advantage of a soft front four, which the Bengals certainly appeared to be on Sunday. Let’s break down how two rookies were able to rush for 265 yards on 44 attempts.

A quarterback draw in an empty set against man coverage is the perfect call to make when you just need four yards, no matter how fast the quarterback is. When the front four is running double twists to no positive effect, they’re just begging the quarterback to take off with the ball.

Jackson reads the Bengals’ linebackers turn away due to their man coverage responsibilities and the Bengals pass rush combines with the worst two twists I’ve ever seen run on the same play. The result is the first third down conversion of many on the day.

Carlos Dunlap didn’t play an awful game, but he was just as exposed as anyone on the Bengals defensive line when defending the read option. Here, he loses all edge integrity and allows Jackson to make another easy read at the mesh point and get eight yards by beating everyone around the edge.

When the Bengals failed to set an edge, they paid the price. When they successfully set an edge, well:

This time it was Andrew Billings who guessed wrong against a pistol wishbone wrinkle from the Ravens’ offense. Thinking Jackson was going to turn to his left to either hand the ball off or take off on his own, he clears himself out of the play and subsequently, leaves the point of attack all alone. Dunlap maintains the edge but Jackson knows he needs to hand the ball off and let Edwards work downhill. The play is nearly saved by Vontaze Burfict, but it ends in yet another missed tackle from the linebacker.

On a simple inside zone run, of which Jackson had zero intention of keeping it himself, the Bengals decided to loop their play-side defensive tackle in Billings around Geno Atkins no matter the play call. The result is the point of attack again being wide open with no alley players to adequately fill the gap.

The Ravens were clearly in the heads of Marvin Lewis’ defense, but the harassment didn’t yield there.

There’s no other explanation other than the Bengals thought the Ravens couldn’t do more than one thing out of each individual pistol formation. We just saw Jackson hand the ball off to Edwards out of the pistol wishbone, so the Bengals think that exact play is going to happen here. Why else on God’s green earth would they have TWO nose tackles in this front?

Jackson clearly sees this and decides to keep it himself instead of allowing his running back to run into that mess inside. Another first down off of a high school play. How is this happening?

Mercy. Mercy please.

Jordan Willis proved that he’s not only failed to improve as a pass rusher in his second season in the league, he’s mightily regressed as a run defender. A weak block from the tight end is all that it takes to completely incapacitate him and he gets ran over by Edwards. Josh Tupou, who is playing for Atkins at 3-technique gets escorted out of his gap by right guard Marshal Yanda. Edwards remains untouched in the second level because Hardy Nickerson can’t get around right tackle Orlando Brown.

The Bengals lost by just three points in this game, and they could’ve easily sent it to overtime or even win at the end of regulation. But either of those outcomes wouldn’t be able to hide the fact that their run defense was utterly demolished by a “dumbed down” offense. Did Jackson do much as a passer? Not really, but he didn’t have to.

The Bengals defensive line looked completely helpless in Marvin Lewis’ first game as the de facto defensive coordinator, and it appears he is for a rough final stretch of the season.