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Film Room: Questionable play-calling plays part in Bengals’ loss vs. Bills

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Some questionable coaching decisions hurt the Bengals in Week 3.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A whole lot of things looked ugly for the Bengals in Week 3. Bad quarterback play? check. A fatigued defensive line? Check.

The play-calling on both sides of the ball? CHECK.

We’re learning a lot about head coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. Their respective units have been very hot-and-cold to begin the season, and the lack of consistency is ultimately why the team stands near the bottom of the power rankings at 0-3.

These coaching decisions had a major influence on why the Bengals remain winless through three weeks of football.

An ill-advidsed screen

Before the clip above starts, John Ross III is lined up in a bunch to the left with Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate. The Bills have two defenders playing tight to the line of scrimmage. As Ross goes in motion, the defense doesn’t move.

One of the two remaining Bengals has to catch the screen so with two defenders playing close to the line and only one Bengal remaining to block, one of the defenders is going to come free.

It would be different if one was playing loose. Then Boyd could try and make a move on him in space. As it is, the Bengals ran a play that they could not block.

They should have either checked out of the play entirely, or motioned Ross back to that side of the formation. Ross could have blocked the other defender and the play most likely would have gone for positive yards. As it is, they lost 3 yards on the play.

Toss out of shotgun

This is a long-running pet peeve of mine. The point of running toss is to get to the edge fast. The play can of course cut back, but the more the running back can threaten the defense with his speed on the edge, the better the opportunity to cut back.

Watch the clip above followed by the clip below.

What is the difference?

It is the same play, blocked essentially the same way. The difference is that Mixon is much faster to the edge in the clip below than he is in the clip above. Why?

Because when the quarterback tosses the ball from the shotgun (above) he tosses it behind the running back, so Joe Mixon has to turn back to catch the ball. This slows him down.

From under center, the quarterback tosses the ball in front of the running back. The running back can keep working to the edge to pressure the defense. It is a much faster and more effective play. This is not an Andy Dalton problem, it is a geometry problem.

It is no coincidence that Mixon gained three yards on the play above and 12 yards on the play below.

No play action passes or deep shots to Ross in most of the first half

Despite the success the Bengals have had in the early part of the season with play action passes, they did not run a play action in the first half. No video clip here, because they didn’t do it.

They also did not throw a deep ball to Ross until after the two-minute warning. Deep shots to Ross led to three touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season.

Why would they get away from what has worked for them so far this season?

Five-Man front, two-man rush

People were immediately in an uproar following this play, and for good reason. The Bengals rushed two players against a mobile quarterback.

It’s much worse though when you consider the personnel. It was second-and-13 and the Bengals had five defensive linemen on the field. This sounds pretty bad, but it was to match the Bills’ 21 personnel.

The problem is, they didn’t line up with two backs and one tight end, they lined up in empty.

So the Bengals were caught. Okay, fair, it happens sometimes. Their response to empty however was an odd one.

They lined up in a 5-2 defense and dropped both defensive ends and (wait for it...) nose tackle Andrew Billings into coverage. That left two pass rushers and neither Renell Wren nor Geno Atkins were really in a good position to contain quarterback Josh Allen. He escapes the pocket and Atkins loops around three offensive linemen (who are most likely dumbfounded by the absurdity of this defense) to get to him.

This is already an incredible play for Atkins, but unfortunately he misses the sack and the elusive quarterback throws for a first down.

There is a chance this could have been a mistake. Maybe Billings or Andrew Brown (more likely in my opinion) was supposed to rush. Of course, if players don’t know what they are doing that is a coaching issue too.

12 men on the field... twice

Similarly, this is not a coaching decision, but it is a coaching problem none the less. The Bengals got burned on it twice.

First, they had 12 men on the field for the PAT attempt following the Bills’ first score. The ensuing penalty led the Bills successfully attempt a 2-point conversion. This one-point difference was important because at the end of the game the Bills led by four. If they had a mere three-point lead, the Bengals would have only needed a field goal to take the game in to overtime on their final drive. Obviously they would have tried to score a touchdown, but it may have changed their approach.

It also happened on defense in the third quarter. The Bengals called a timeout to avoid the penalty. This meant they had one less time out for the above mentioned final drive. If they had an extra timeout, they would not have had to spike the ball after Giovani Bernard’s reception. They would have conserved both time and a down.

The ensuing play would have been second-and-five from the 28-yard line. They would have had roughly 30 seconds and a timeout. Instead it was third-and-five with 20 seconds and a timeout. The former is a much better scenario than the later.