Football is a pretty simple game. In the modern NFL, you don’t win by kicking field goals, you win by scoring touchdowns. The Bengals’ offense has been frustrating in many ways, but their lack of production in the red zone has been damning.
The offense has struggled to keep drives alive throughout the season, but even when they do put together a sustained drive it often stalls in the red zone.
These teams have been the best at finishing their red zone trips with TDs so far this season. #Titans #GoBills #GoPackGo #Seahawks #WeAreTexans #RavensFlock #Skol #FlyEaglesFly #GoBucs #Bears100 #KeepPounding @gregcosell | @MattBowen41 pic.twitter.com/adfrd8ZcHq— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) November 12, 2019
Not only have they been bad in the red zone, they have been the worst in the league through 10 weeks of the 2019 NFL season.
Generally, people see the red zone as inside the 20-yard line. I see the red zone starting at the 25 and dividing into three zones. The red zone (25-13), the tight red zone (12-4), and goal line (3-GL). This article will focus on the red zone and goal line.
There are two important things to consider when calling plays in different field zones. First is obviously space. As you get closer to the goal line, the defense will get closer to you. The second is how the defense changes their calls in different field zones.
Let’s take a look at some plays that the Bengals could have success running in the red zone and goal line against the Oakland Raiders.
It is important for an offensive play caller to distinguish between the red zone and the tight red zone, because as the offense gets closer to the goal line, they are no longer able to run deeper pass concepts. Which gives us the perfect segway to talking about four verticals.
In the picture above, the Raiders are in a one-high defense and the Texans are in a 2x2 formation, with two wide receivers on one side and a wide receiver and an H-back on the other.
In the past, the Bengals were very good in the red zone and one of the big reasons was tight end Tyler Eifert. The Bengals could line Eifert up at H-back and make him the primary receiver with Tyler Boyd in the slot opposite him. Quarterback Ryan Finley would read the safety and throw away from his leverage.
If the Raiders came out in a two-high look, Eifert would bend his route between the safeties. If the opposite safety jumps his route, the ball goes to Boyd. If the safety near Eifert chases, the ball would go to the outside receiver or the checkdown.
In either case, Finley could also take a shot to any one of the receivers if he thought they had a favorable matchup.
In the clip above, the Texans are essentially in a bunch formation, but instead of three receivers bunched up, they get the same effect from an H-back, a tight wide receiver, and an off-set running back.
The tight end releases into the flat and the receiver releases on an inside vertical route. The running back releases vertically and runs a corner route. The defense is in two-man. The routes of the receiver and H-back make it difficult for the Mike linebacker to get to the running back’s route. The receiver pressing into the seam keeps the safety on the hash. As a result, the running back is wide open, but Deshaun Watson does not have enough time to get the ball off.
Duke Johnson scored a touchdown on this play earlier in the game when the Texans were in Cover 1.
In the above clip, the Chargers came out in a trips formation and threw a swing to the running back. Concurrently all three receivers on that side ran vertically, with the No. 3 receiver bending across the safety’s face.
Note how when the ball is thrown to the back, the defenders lined up over the No. 2 and No. 3 receiver react and run up to make the tackle. As a result, the No. 2 WR is wide open running down the seam.
The Bengals could run the same play, but with one key difference: they would make sure that Finley’s pass to Mixon was in fact a lateral. When the defenders run up to tackle him, he can throw the ball to the wide open receiver in the seam.
Think he can’t do it? Look below.
Joe Mixon throws a TD at Oklahoma pic.twitter.com/GHuaQKojN3— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 14, 2019
When you get into the goal line, you have to be able to score. Now you are literally a few feet away from the end zone. Successful teams win in these situations.
The Bengals have scored twice on the pass above. It is designed to get Mixon open in the flat, and it is effective, but after running it twice, they need to add a wrinkle have another play that works off of it.
Of course, the most obvious play would be a jet sweep to the motioning receiver. That is a good play, but based on the way the Raiders have lined up to this type of formation, I do not think it would be effective. But something similar could work.
I have diagrammed my idea above.
Mixon and Dalton would carry out the same motion, but Dalton would give the ball to the motioning receiver, but he wouldn’t simply run and try to get to the edge. The motion man would get the ball deeper in the backfield. The best way to do this would be to run the play out of the shotgun, but a higher “orbit” motion would work as well.
The Raiders are in man, which is common for them on the goal line and against bunch in general.
First the offensive line would all reach to the right and it is of the utmost importance that they at least stalemate their opponents.
The inside receiver would release outside of the defender lined up on him and hitch up about four yards deep into the end zone. This will do two things. It will prevent his defender from chasing the ball carrier and it will block the defender who is covering the ball carrier in man from running him down.
The outside receiver will release wide outside staying on the line of scrimmage before stuttering his feet in front of the defender and releasing to the back pylon.
If the defender runs with him, there will be no more defenders on the edge and the ball carrier can run in for a touchdown. If the defender lets him go and steps up to tackle the jet sweep, the ball carrier will pop the ball right over his head, throwing a touchdown pass to the receiver.
It doesn’t even have to be a good pass. It just has to be in bounds.
As mentioned above, the Raiders play a lot of man coverage on the goal line. With that in mind, the Bengals could run a pick play with the inside receiver going out and the outside receiver going in. That’s what the Chargers did in the clip above and the Bengals ran a similar play on Eifert’s touchdown against the Ravens last week. They can also stack receivers in order to create picks.
Knowing that the Raiders are likely to be in man coverage, they could isolate a receiver on one side of the formation. For example, they could get a big receiver like Auden Tate all by himself and look to throw a fade or fade stop.
Now I know what you are thinking:
Why are you talking so much about passing the ball on the goal line?
Although I am a big fan of Pete Carroll, you make a good point. They should really run the ball.
The Raiders have seen a good amount of bunch and the picture above gives an example of their typical defensive alignment to it.
Toss is a great play out of the bunch formation.I have been outspoken about my hatred of running toss out of the shotgun. Also, in this picture the back is on the wrong side to run the toss out of shotgun. So I drew it up as a handoff and a wide sweep, but it could certainly be a toss from under center.
The No. 1 and No. 2 receivers would both block down, No. 1 on the defensive end, No. 2 on the linebacker. That would leave two players on the edge.
The No. 3 receiver would block out on the 1st and the left guard would pull around and lead up on the other. The left tackle would block down on the 3-technique to facilitate this.
The center would shoot up to the middle linebacker and the right guard would scoop out the nose tackle while the right tackle blocks pursuit.
This play would get Mixon on the edge and allow him to read off those blocks which is something he is very good at.
The closest distance between two points is a straight line, so why not run right at the defense?
The picture above shows the Raiders defending an I-formation with two tight ends and an H-back. I’d call it “I Wing.” Last year the Bengals used Sam Hubbard as a full back. They could do that again here and run Power.
The H-back and right tight end would each block out. The full back would make sure the right tackle had not given up penetration on his block, then work up to the second level (#42).
The right tackle and right guard would double-team the 3-technique and work up to the middle linebacker. The left guard would pull around and block #59. The left tackle and left tight end would step down and block the most dangerous players.
Switching to gap-based schemes like this has helped the Bengals in recent weeks. They could have success running Power on the goal line.
The Bengals have the worst red zone offense in the NFL, but there is no reason that needs to be the case. Their offensive staff needs to put an emphasis on game-planning for the red zone and goal line. They need to look specifically at the defenses that the Raiders run against specific formations in these field zones and figure out what plays they can run successfully.
There is no excuse for not fixing this major problem.