They say the eye in the sky never lies. If that’s true, then having four eyes should yield four times as much truth.
The Bengals returned to the practice field on Wednesday after their first day off of training camp, and I was accompanied in the bleachers by Cincy Jungle alumnus Joe Goodberry, who now writes for The Athletic. Joe
stole all my notes and is planning on passing them as his own and I conferred over our notes and came away with similar observations on an eventful day of practice.
The offense owns the red zone once again
During the first-half of practice, we got an up-close view of just the offense running through numerous red zone packages and route concepts. Most were recognizable as staples in the Bengals offense near the goal-line, while some had slight variations to their normal looks.
One route combo that stood out involved A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd coming from the split-end and slot alignment respectively from the 10-yard line. Green ran a post route, which quarterback Andy Dalton has had much success with Green over the years, and Boyd started running a flat route. Once Boyd was within a few yards of the boundary, he turned his head up-field and started breaking towards the back corner of the end zone. Dalton lobbed a perfect pass to him and Boyd got both feet down.
Another twist on a traditional play call involved a post and five-yard in route from the slot. Green was once again on the boundary, and Tyler Eifert in the slot this time. Green ran the post again, and Eifert reached the top of the stem of his route and sold his break inside, then immediately whipped his head around and broke towards the sideline, effectively running a whip/jerk route.
The Bengals have thrived off corner routes and posts in the red zone, and typically they’ve had a receiver on that side of the field there to make zone defenders commit to one route and create space for the primary read. With plays like this, there’s an increase in variability that gives Dalton more options, and makes defenders pay for committing too early on what would seem to be the primary read in the pre-snap phase.
This is a dynamic that’s been needed in the Bengals offense, because with bland and predictable route concepts, defenders can sit on routes and separation becomes harder for receivers. This has lead to the infamous and far too frequent broken plays where Dalton breaks from the pocket almost instantly because no one is open.
If offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is implementing more complex routes for his receivers to run, and they’re timing with Dalton is on point, the only thing left needed is for the offensive line to protect long enough for the play to develop.
The king of the red zone thus far has been fan-favorite rookie wide receiver Auden Tate, who unfortunately left practice early due to an apparent head injury. Despite his absence in the 11-11 red zone sessions, the Bengals receivers still made light work of the secondary, including this snag from receiver Tyler Boyd over cornerback Darqueze Dennard:
tyler boyd continues his great camp pic.twitter.com/ui4fdzstdc— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 1, 2018
Boyd, fellow receivers John Ross and Alex Erickson, and tight end Tyler Eifert all had there moments in red-zone action. Eifert, who just started practicing on Monday after being on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list beforehand, was still limited in 11-11 action, but he looked nimble and spry once again.
Defensive line shifts and standouts
The offensive line has been getting a lot of buzz this camp for the heavy rotation the right side of the line has been going through, but it was the defensive front that got the better of that group on Wednesday.
For starters, nose tackle Andrew Billings has been consistently working with the first team and looks like the player that the Bengals envisioned when they drafted him in the fourth-round back in 2016. Billings is listed at 325 pounds per Bengals.com, and he appears to be every big as that weight, but his lateral quickness looks like the better part of his 2017 tape. He got in the backfield a few times against outside zone runs with running back Joe Mixon working behind the first-team offensive line.
The star of the group and the defense as a whole was edge rusher Carl Lawson, who got by left tackles Cordy Glenn and Cedric Ogbuehi twice in a four-play span.
carl lawson would be sack over cordy glenn pic.twitter.com/vOEif2BmrN— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 1, 2018
If there’s still any fear of Lawson being used off the line of scrimmage, that can be laid to rest. Lawson was taking reps at right defensive end exclusively when the defense was in nickel, as he’s not been getting first-team base defense reps over Michael Johnson. Johnson himself was the first-team nickel defensive tackle when he wasn’t on the edge.
What caught Joe’s eyes before mine was how much the defensive line switched their edge defenders from the right edge to the left after nearly every play. Carlos Dunlap saw just as many reps at right defensive end as he did from his traditional left defensive end spot, and vice versa with Johnson. Lawson, Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard also equal opportunity from both edges as well. Typically, you would see certain edge defenders align themselves with the strong side and weak side of the offensive, but this appeared to be unrelated to that.
Special teams tidbits
After a rough Monday session for kicker Jonathan Brown, the third-year fútbol-turned-football player nailed everyone of his field goal attempts with plenty of leg under each of them. Randy Bullock matched him every kick of the way.
On the injury report was special teams ace Clayton Fejedelem, so in his place were Brandon Wilson and Trayvon Henderson as the first and second-team upbacks in kick offs. The Bengals defense could end up carrying five safeties, with the fifth one being instrumental in special teams, and either one has a case to make and shouldn’t be counted out of any roster predictions.
It was also notable that before his injury, Auden Tate was also working on the first-team kickoff unit. Not only if Tate were to make the team, but to also be active on game days, he would almost certainly be required to make contributions in special teams. To see him rotate in with the first unit was an encouraging sign.
The Bengals will be practicing today once again at their regular start time of 3:00 with the gates to the fields opening at 2:30, and I will once again be present to keep you all posted.