The Bengals came up short once again this weekend and head coach Zac Taylor is still searching for his first win. While the team definitely still has some major issues, they have made improvements in some key areas.
Here is a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from Week 5’s loss to the Cardinals.
After a tough loss we could all use some good news, so here goes. The Bengals actually ran the ball well and did a good job of protecting the passer. Running back Joe Mixon had by far his best day of the season rushing 19 times for 93 yards. The offensive line managed to hold the Cardinals to 1 sack, and even that was on a shovel pass and resulted in a loss of 0 yards (not really sure how that qualifies as a sack, but there you go).
This third-and-short conversion may not seem like much, but it was a very well designed play. The Bengals have not used scheme to get players open nearly enough and without A.J. Green or John Ross III, they really need to be doing it more.
In the clip above, Tyler Boyd comes in motion and runs directly into the flat. This makes it hard for the defender to cover him man-to-man as do the releases of the two receivers already on that side of the formation.
It’s a simple thing, but effective, and it helps them convert this third down and keep the drive alive.
The clip above shows an RPO (run/pass option) on the goal line. The Bengals have had a tough time scoring in the red zone, but plays like this that put pressure on the defense could help with that.
The threat of run, sucks the linebackers in. Because of this, when wide receiver Auden Tate is able to get a good inside release on his slant route, he is wide open for the score. This is a good goal line play call.
Finally, this team didn’t fold. They made an excellent attempt at a comeback. This attempt of course came up short, which brings us to...
The Bengals had all of the momentum after tying up the game, but two plays on the Cardinals two-minute drive gave the visiting team the win.
Those two plays accounted for 48 of the 62 yards the Cardinals gained on their final drive and both came out of the empty formation. Empty is tough because it puts the defense in a bind. Regardless of the coverage, when five receivers are split out wide, a defense needs to matchup with five defenders. Generally speaking, teams want to rush at least four players, so that accounts for nine of 11 defenders.
What do you do with the other two? The Bengals tried a couple of things, and got burned on both.
In this clip, the Cardinals motion running back David Johnson out of the backfield. The Bengals are in Man-Free or Cover 1 on defense. Four defenders are rushing the passer, five defenders are playing man to man. Of the final two defenders, one is the deep safety in the middle of the field and the other is helping underneath in the middle.
After the motion, linebacker Nick Vigil matches up with Johnson. Advantage Cardinals. On the release, Vigil pushes Johnson which actually helps him get some separation. The Cardinals are able to complete this pass for a 24-yard gain.
The Cardinals created and took advantage of a favorable matchup on this play. With four players rushing the passer and five in man coverage, the Bengals only had freedom to move around two additional defenders. Because they deployed these players to the inside, there was no help for Vigil on this deep outside pass. The only way to help him would have been to use two deep safeties, but that comes with its own problem as the next clip demonstrates.
Empty formation + Mobile QB = Defensive Bind pic.twitter.com/tIrJpx86zC— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 7, 2019
Only needing a short distance to get into field goal range, the Cardinals once again came out in empty. This time, the Bengals had two high safeties in what appeared be a Cover-2-Man.
With two high safeties, four pass rushers, and five defenders focused on their man there is nobody left to account for the quarterback running the ball, and when that quarterback is Kyler Murray that is a big problem. Murray escapes the pass rush and picks up 24 yards with his legs. This moves the Cardinals deep into field goal range and seals the Bengals’ fate.
Empty formations put a defense in a bind and the Cardinals were able to take advantage of that in two different ways on the final drive.
That was bad, but some plays were just plain ugly.
Rookie offensive guard Michael Jordan jumping offsides in a goal-to-go situation and the Bengals kicking a field goal from the five a few plays later comes to mind. True, he is a rookie, but these are the little things that keep happening with this team and are the difference between winning and losing. They come down to discipline and coaching.
But here are the two plays that had me most...I don’t know is there a word that simultaneously means confused, angry, and discussed?
If there is...that.
This first clip is actually a pretty well designed play, but the execution leaves much to be desired.
They motion Mixon out wide to the left. This gets the defense to shift both their alignment and their focus in that direction.
On the snap, quarterback Andy Dalton drops back and looks to the left, meanwhile the left guard pulls to the right and Boyd comes inside following the guard behind the line of scrimmage. Dalton ends up keeping the ball, but this was intended to be a shovel pass rather than a quarterback run.
The biggest problem is that Trey Hopkins allows penetration by the defensive tackle who he is down-blocking. This forces Boyd a bit deeper in the backfield and is why Dalton decides to keep the ball.
It is not however the defensive tackle who makes the play, it is defensive end Chandler Jones. Rookie tight end Drew Sample is responsible for Jones. While this may seem like a mismatch, it is an influence block. An influence block takes advantage of Jones’ natural inclination to rush the passer rather than play the run (particularly when there is no back in the backfield). Sample’s job is to pass set and allow Jones to get up the field, but keep him outside. He did enough, that if the shovel pass had been thrown, Jones would have never gotten there, but since Dalton was a little farther back and a little slower Jones was able to get a hand on him.
This was the one “sack” that the Bengals allowed on the day.
The pulling guard, Jordan, ends up whiffing on his block, so there were a lot of things preventing this from being a successful play. It was well designed but likely wasn’t practiced enough.
Finally, the fourth-and-one.
I am an old school guy. So my natural inclination on fourth-and-one is to run a quarterback sneak. Even if that is not the called play, I believe the quarterback should always walk up to the center and have the option of running the sneak on his own if he knows he can get it.
Having said that, they have the middle of the formation clogged up pretty well here so I understand not wanting to run the sneak. The problem is that the defense’s edges are pretty strong as well. I am frequently complaining about the Bengals’ defensive alignments, so I have got to give it to Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph on this one.
They end up running what looks like a zone read, but they aren’t reading anything. Tight end C.J. Uzomah swipes across the formation to block the player who they would have been reading on a zone read. This is really just a quarterback zone. Again, the middle looks pretty clogged. If it had been a zone read that put Dalton on a wider path he might have had a chance on the outside, but running to the inside was a mistake here.
There are a couple of better options.
First is the speed option. This could work in either direction, but because the wide receiver is so tight to the right it might be better to put Mixon back on the left and run it that way.
The tight end and H-back would block down leaving only Budda Baker unblocked on the edge. Dalton would run straight at him forcing him to commit, then pitch the ball out to Mixon. The receiver on that side would release and take the cornerback with him. The pursuit would catch up with Mixon eventually, but it would be easy for him to gain a yard.
They also could have thrown the ball. The combination of a slant by the receiver on that side and a flat route by the h-back could have created a pick and opened one of them up for the first down reception. They could also run an RPO with the tight end releasing in the seam or replacing the linebackers. Either way, the play call was not right for what the defense gave them.
Taylor was hired as a head coach who could be innovative on offense. As a minimum he needs to scheme to win these situations offensively.