It’s no secret that Andy Dalton and the Bengals passing game has leaned heavily on A.J. Green over the last two seasons.
Green has been one of the best in the league since his rookie season, and with Tyler Eifert’s injuries and the departure of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr., it is understandable that Dalton would heavily target his classmate from the 2011 NFL Draft.
However, this was a big problem for the Bengals offense as a whole. Defenses would focus on taking away Green and at times Dalton forces the ball to Green risking an interception. The lack of talent around Green would also lead to stale route combinations and a general absence of quick separation from Dalton’s targets.
That is no longer a problem in 2018 with Eifert’s health and the emergence of Tyler Boyd. This was demonstrated all throughout their Week 3 matchup with the Carolina Panthers.
Here Eifert is split out wide to the bottom of the screen and is running a slant to the backside of the run action. This is a run-pass option (RPO) that has become a staple of the Bengals offense and Eifert’s role within it. This shows that they trust Eifert to make tough catches in situations where he is going to take a hit.
Eifert shakes off the first would-be tackler, showing that he still has his strength to gain yards after the catch.
They love Eifert on the RPO back slant pic.twitter.com/aQqfNGLfFB— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 24, 2018
This is a mesh concept with Eifert running a drag route from the top of the screen and Green running one from the bottom. Both read the zone coverage deployed by Carolina, and settle into a void within the zone.
Check down for a first down pic.twitter.com/lQI9Q3mc6D— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 24, 2018
On the 3rd-and-5 play, Dalton trusts Eifert who is just shy of the first down to make the catch and be physical enough to get the first down. His confidence is rewarded as Eifert shakes off the first defender and stumbles for a few additional yards and the first down.
This is the same drive that Boyd will later keep alive with his long reception on third down that we’ll get to later. Without both plays, C.J. Uzomah’s game-tying touchdown never happens.
This is yet another extremely impressive play by Eifert. He is running up the seam with a defender right on his hip, and Dalton whips a risky pass high giving Eifert an opportunity to make a play.
Eifert comes up with contested catch despite the fact that Carolina safety Colin Jones plays the ball pretty well and gets his arm between Eifert’s arms. Although this play occurs around the 50-yard-line, it demonstrates why Eifert is such a red zone threat. His contested catch ability is incredible. Having him as a complement to Green gives this passing game great versatility.
On the first play of the game, the Bengals called Boyd’s number. As Green runs and settles into the short middle zone, he draws the attention of the defense. Meanwhile, Boyd runs a deeper crossing route. Green is always going to warrant the most attention, and stacking the two as the Bengals do here with motion causes brings the defenses eyes to Green and helps create this opportunity for Boyd to move the chains.
On this 3rd-and-10 play in the second quarter, Dalton finds Boyd on a deep out pattern for a 23-yard gain. This is a huge play that keeps the drive alive and leads to a game-tying touchdown. Dalton and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor show that they trust Boyd by going to him in this key situation.
Dalton is pressured and forced out of the pocket here but keeps his eyes down field. The only receiver who realizes that Dalton is scrambling and works his way back into his line of sight is Boyd. He is repaid for his efforts with a 27-yard touchdown reception on an impressive play for both players.
That touchdown wasn’t a fluke either. On this next play, Dalton once again feels the pressure and scrambles to his left. He again finds Boyd in a void in the Panthers defense. This demonstrates that Boyd has an understanding of how to react when Dalton scrambles and that Dalton trusts him to be where he is supposed to be.
Although the Bengals lost, Boyd and Eifert stepped up and showed they can be counted on as part of a prolific passing attack. The pair was tied for the team lead in receptions on the day with six. Boyd had 132 yards and a touchdown and Eifert had 74 yards. Green was just behind them with 5five receptions for 58 yards, but he also left the game early in the second half due to injury.
This trio will need to keep performing at their highest level in order for the Bengals to make a playoff run in 2018.