With or without the Red Rifle Andy Dalton at quarterback, the Bengals have struggled in the red zone in 2019. In weeks prior, they seemed to lack schemes to get receivers open in this area and the run game is often stuffed.
In their win over the New York Jets, they looked much better.
1st Red Zone Appearance
The Bengals crossed the 20-yard line for the first time on their second drive of the game. This cued CBS to put up a graphic demonstrating how poorly the Bengals have performed in the red zone this season. They had to take it down quickly, however, as Dalton faked a handoff and quickly zipped a touchdown pass in to Tyler Boyd.
This was a great ball from Dalton. The Jets were in Cover 2, so he had to put the ball behind Boyd to avoid the safety, but the throw was even more difficult because both the middle and outside linebacker dropped underneath the route.
This was an excellent completion on a tight window throw.
Looking at the end zone view via NFL Next Gen, I still have no idea how this turned into a completion, much less a TD. pic.twitter.com/i8EBRccB3m— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 2, 2019
2nd Red Zone Appearance
Getting the ball in Mixon’s hands pic.twitter.com/D1pmyexwEX— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 2, 2019
The Bengals got back into the red zone on their very next drive. On first-and-10 from the 14-yard line, they came out two receivers and a tight end to the left and one receiver spread out to the right. The receivers and tight end ran quick hitches and Dalton threw a swing pass to running back Joe Mixon on the weak side of the formation. The defense quickly rallied to the ball and Mixon was tackled for a gain of a yard.
Interestingly enough, the Bengals went right back to this play. Well, sort of.
On second-and-nine, they came out in a trips formation. It was essentially the same formation they were in on the previous play, but the tight end was lined up as a receiver in a two-point stance. This time instead of hitching up, the receivers released vertically taking the defense with them,
This gave Mixon some room to work once he got the ball in his hands and allowed him to turn it into a seven-yard gain. This was a great in-game adjustment by the offense that they did not have to wait for half time or even a change of possession to execute.
That brought up third-and-two on the six-yard line. Once again, the Bengals looked to pass. They came out in 12 personnel with one running back and two tight ends.
Tyler Boyd was originally split out to the left, but motioned across the formation leaving only tight end Tyler Eifert to that side. C.J. Uzomah lined up at tight end on the other side of the formation, with Auden Tate in a square stance (like an h-back) just behind and outside of him.
Eifert ran across the formation at about five yards meshing with Tate, who ran his route just underneath Eifert. While defenders instantly matched up with each of these players, nobody covered Uzomah as he crossed the formation at about two yards.
Two contributing factors in this were the motion and the backfield action. The motion by Boyd caused confusion in the secondary. You can see them trying to communicate as the ball was snapped and in the end two players ran with Boyd.
Meanwhile the backfield action is making the defense think run. There was not a true play action fake, but Mixon attacked the line of scrimmage to Uzomah’s side. Uzomah engages on the line of scrimmage with Jamal Adams. The safety disengaged with Uzomah and looked more concerned with the run than his coverage responsibilities. You can see Adams turn and realize that he has left Uzomah to run freely across the field.
This was an excellent play design that effectively got Uzomah open. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t haul it in and the Bengals were forced to settle for a field goal on the drive. *Price is Right incorrect answer tone*
3rd Red Zone Appearance
The Bengals got the ball back late in the second quarter and effectively drove down the field. A pass interference call gave them first-and-goal on the five-yard line with just under two minutes left in the half.
On first down, Dalton tried again to zip a pass in high over the middle. Eifert however was unable to make the catch. This type of high and hard pass is not an easy catch, but Dalton gave Eifert an opportunity to make a play while keeping the ball out of the defense’s reach.
The Bengals were able to score on the next play. Dalton lined up in the shotgun with Mixon beside him and handed the ball to the running back on a zone play.
Seeing the front side movement by the offensive line, Mixon looked to cut back. The backside was sealed off by blocks from Uzomah and Stanley Morgan. Mixon is super patient (haha take that Le’Veon Bell) and gets really skinny as he sneaks behind Bobby Hart’s block and in front of Uzomah.
The offensive line gets a great initial push. Although center Trey Hopkins eventually allows his defender to cross his face, dominating blocks from Hart and John Miller wash the defense out.
The Bengals were two-for-three in the red zone this week and a dropped pass away from being perfect.
Both the play calling and execution were impressive overall. The first touchdown came off of a great throw by Dalton.
On the second red zone appearance, the Bengals learned from their mistakes and made an instant adjustment that was successful. They had a great scheme on third down, but a dropped pass kept them out of the end zone.
On their final red zone appearance the Bengals were able to win at the line of scrimmage and run the ball in for a touchdown.
After weeks of looking lost in the red zone, the Bengals seemed to have a plan every time they were down there against the Jets. This is a sign of improvement and something that this Bengals offense can grow on.