The Bengals’ two biggest issues last season were at the offensive line and wide receiver positions.
This offseason they parlayed their top draft pick into two new starters on the offensive line and brought in a new coach for the unit. They had some talented young wide receivers already in place who are now getting a chance to flourish as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor fully implements his system.
In the Bengals’ first preseason game Andy Dalton was on the field for 9 passing plays. We’re going to breakdown each one from the protection up front to the quality of the play.
In the clip below, Dalton hits wide receiver A.J. Green on a drag across the formation from the slot. Dalton seems relatively comfortable in the pocket, but if the play had not developed so quickly he would have had problems as both left tackle Cordy Glenn and right guard Trey Hopkins struggle with their blocks.
Dalton throws a good ball, but it is a touch behind Green. If he put the ball in front of him it would make for a quicker transition up the field. Green however is able to turn the ball up field and gain 22 yards on the short pass.
On the team’s second passing play Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd works an inside pass rush move on Bengals’ right tackle Bobby Hart who fails to post step and secure the block. This forces Dalton to escape the pocket and with Floyd no longer their to contain the edge, Dalton is runs for a short gain and picks up the first down.
The Bears rush five against the Bengals’ empty backfield set and the offensive line goes five for five winning their blocks. Dalton is comfortable in the pocket and able to throw a good ball to running back Joe Mixon. The ball is placed behind Mixon and two the inside, which is exactly where it should be on a hitch route. Mixon shows his elusiveness and turns this play into a touchdown.
On the first play of the next drive the Bengals throw another hitch to the same location on the field. This is a questionable call as the cornerback was likely primed to defend that route after giving up a touchdown on it the last time he was on the field.
Wide receiver John Ross slips out of his break at the top of the route, and Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller jumps in front of the pass for a pick-six. This was a physical error by Ross and not a mental error by Dalton.
The route is based on timing and Ross being where Dalton expected him to be when he begins his release. The offensive line looks good on this play. The only issue with the protection is tight end Tyler Kroft giving up the inside move to Floyd.
The Bengals bounce back the best way they know how: by getting the ball in Green’s hands.
The protection looks good and Dalton has a clean pocket to throw out of. Green is being covered tightly, and wide receiver Tyler Boyd’s over route may have been a wiser throw. Dalton however puts the ball on Green’s outside shoulder where only he can make the catch.
The defender goes for the interception and misses and Green is able to turn it into a 26-yard gain.
The very next play, the Bengals opt to target the play side again. The protection looks pretty good here with the exception of rookie center Billy Price. Bears defensive tackle John Jenkins has him on skates, bull rushing him into the backfield. Fortunately, this is a quick timing route designed for Dalton to release it at the top of his three-step drop-back.
He doesn’t step into his throw and places the ball a little behind wide receiver Josh Malone. In Dalton’s defense, there was not enough field to lead Malone as he neared the sideline. Malone is able to get just enough for the first down.
Two plays later, Dalton has a clean pocket to throw from here and this time puts the hitch on Ross’ outside shoulder. Most of the time hitches are thrown to the inside shoulder, which appears to be what Ross is expecting.
This is likely not an inaccurate throw, but Dalton throwing away from the defender, particularly as he was picked off on this route previously. Ross, like Mixon before him, puts a slick move on the defender and turns this quick hitch into a big play gaining 20 yards on the play.
Ross’s burst upfield is something to behold.
With all of the large human beings playing wide receiver for the Bengals, throwing a goal line fade to the 5’11” Ross seems like questionable play calling by Lazor. The offensive line does a good job of protecting Dalton who throws up a ball that doesn’t give Ross much of a chance.
After failing to convert with the fade to Ross, the offense goes for a more higher percentage play call. Once again, the protection is sound with the exception of Kroft who seems to be trying to mirror the pass rusher rather than block him. Dalton’s pass is right on target to Boyd for the touchdown off the slant route.
In Dalton’s time on the field in the Bengals’ first preseason game, he completed 6/8 pass attempts for 103 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was generally not affected by the pass rush and had good placement on most of his balls allowing his receivers to gain yards after the catch.
His one interception was the result of Ross slipping rather than a poor throw or decision from him. He targeted Ross 3 times (completing 1/3), Green twice (completing both), and Mixon, Malone, and Boyd once each (completing passes to all 3).
This glimpse into the the Lazor/Dalton showed quick and accurate passes that created opportunities for athletes to make plays in space and took pressure off of the offensive line. It did not show the deep passing game that head coach Marvin Lewis has been talking about.
That will challenge this offensive line a lot more, and the team may be waiting until they feel more comfortable with the offensive line to showcase it.