It was no secret the Bengals couldn’t run the ball effectively last season. The team only rushed for an average of 85.4 yards per game, which ranked 31st overall in the NFL. It was a historically bad season running the ball for the team.
Why were they so bad though?
Well, the most obvious answer is personnel. The Bengals’ offensive line was a mess for a majority of the season, which made it a hassle for whoever was running the ball. Often times, the ball carrier was forced to make defenders miss in the backfield.
There was also the issue of using the wrong running back. Jeremy Hill carried the ball 37 times over the first seven games. It was more when he got the carries that hurt the running game too.
The easiest example was the Bengals’ game against the Steelers during Week 7. Joe Mixon was well on his way to having his best game as a pro. He ran the ball seven times for 48 yards with an additional 20 yards receiving.
However, the Bengals opened up the second half with Hill taking the carries, which led to a three-and-out. That allowed the Steelers to build on their lead, and Mixon didn’t touch the ball again for the rest of the game.
The problem wasn’t as simple as the wrong back carrying the ball though. It was also a matter of using Mixon wrong. The Bengals failed to realize they didn’t have to treat Mixon like Hill. He didn’t require a fullback to run behind. In fact at Oklahoma, Mixon ran almost exclusively out of the shotgun.
Once the Bengals finally started figuring this out Mixon and the offense became more productive. Of course mixing up the offensive line also helped. In the final games of the season, the team’s offensive line changed and the running game improved.
What sort of improvements are Marvin Lewis and Bill Lazor planning on making to the offense, though?
Lewis gave some hints to Geoff Hobson of the Bengals official website:
“You want to make things where the players understand it and it’s easy to present and teach the players,” Lewis told Hobson. “We have a focus from within on how we do things in the running game. So that will be a positive revision for us. Internally it will be just as much (change) as (when Gruden came in). It’s a positive from that standpoint.”
It seems learning how to best use the personnel is a huge part of this process. It also doesn’t hurt that the Bengals brought on Frank Pollack from the Cowboys as the new offensive line coach. It seems like he is eager to teach these guys the new run blocking scheme.
Lazor’s experience with different offenses is also huge. He has worked under more traditional running schemes as well as spread based.
If I had to put money on it, then I’d expect to see the Bengals leaning closer toward a spread based offense. Pollack ran some of that the past few seasons in Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott.
It also fits the Bengals players and running backs better. Andy Dalton is more of a threat in the passing game when he is back there, and both Mixon and Giovani Bernard run well from that formation. Not to mention it is easier for them to get out in pass patterns. It also opens up the possibility of having them both on the field at the same time.
The changes we should see from the Bengals aren’t going to revolutionize the NFL, but they should help the Bengals run out the clock better next season.