A well-oiled machine, the Bengals offense was not last season. They were 22nd in Football Outsider’s offensive DVOA metric, and focusing specifically on passing and rushing offense, they ranked 21st and 20th respectively.
Diving deeper in their metrics, their offensive line was 24th in adjusted line yards in run blocking and 20th in adjusted sack rate. Looking at Setting the Edge’s adjusted statistics, they were a bottom 10 unit in yards per rush, turnover %, yards per play, and 1st down %.
The lack of production from the unit as a whole was subpar, and this was due to a scarcity of execution and proper personnel, not a misguided vision or an improper plan, per say.
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor being brought back after his 14 game stretch last season was not met with resounding optimism from fans and media alike, because of the rankings you see above regarding the Bengals offense. Accountability has always been a questionable trait within the walls of Paul Brown Stadium in general.
But in fairness, Lazor, being just the quarterbacks coach for the previous season and two weeks before his unexpected promotion, had little influence on the construction and design of the offense he was handed last September.
Lazor’s install was extremely abrupt and involved a lot of what Zampese had put into place. More importantly, for what Lazor was accustomed to doing as a play caller, he did not have the personnel to freely operate his own schemes and concepts.
The additions the offense has brought in on the offensive line along with getting back a couple of names like Tyler Eifert and John Ross for hopefully most of the season will contribute to the offense regressing back to the mean.
The personnel in place is setup well for the Chip Kelly disciple Lazor to spread things out and attack horizontally, fitting scheme with the specific talents of his quarterback Andy Dalton. Health is going to be the biggest obstacle the passing game has to overcome to improve.
On the ground, it’s important for Lazor to continue evolving the running game, matching the passing game to mesh both together. Inside zone and run-pass-options from the shotgun out of 11 and 12 personnel should continue to be the focal point and base of the rushing attack. With the offense the Bengals have built, they are better suited to operate both phases in similar spread formations and personnel packages.
This reality exists because of the direction that the Bengals decided to go in last offseason. In May of last year, I wrote what the Bengals 2017 draft class says about their offensive line and offense in general.
The gist of it was with the selections of John Ross, Joe Mixon and Josh Malone, the Bengals plan on offense was to spread the field out and win with speed and getting playmakers in space, along with getting the ball out of Dalton’s hands quicker and giving Mixon light boxes to run through.
With the inevitable mess that was the offensive line looming prior to the season, this offense on paper was setup to counter the incompetence up front as best as it could. On paper, the offensive line improved and we should expect that to manifest unquestionably. But the plan should remain the same.
If anything, it should be reinforced more.
The evolution of the standard NFL offense has fully caught up to the innovations the college game first seen on a macro level in the early and mid-2000’s. The most predominant personnel grouping is three receivers and one tight end, and since 2013, its average usage eclipsed 50% for every team.
How did the Eagles put up 41 points on Bill Belichick’s defense in the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback?
They simply continued to operate what some refer to as a “high school” offense because it fit the strengths of their personnel.
The Bengals’ strengths do not involve running the ball down the throat of the defense behind a fullback with seven blockers up against seven and eight-man boxes. Despite the upgrades up front, this should not be the new focus. That NFL has been gone for some time now, and as of right now, it has not returned.
Fortunately, I don’t expect the offense, at least to start, to deviate from its strengths. If injuries continue to plague the unit like in years past, adjustments should be made to account for them. But Lazor knows the personnel they have, and he should know how to maximize it now.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Trust the process.