Welcome to the dawning of a new era!
This Sunday we finally get to see Joe Burrow in live game action wearing orange and black.
So what will that look like?
The Bengals went through some growing pains last season as they looked for an identity offensively. Now, they will look to incorporate some of Burrow’s favorite plays as they look to develop and expand this offense.
Here are five plays to look for from the Bengals this Sunday and all season long.
The Bengals struggled to run the ball early last season, but Joe Mixon ran for 817 yards in the last eight games.
Schematic changes played no small part in this resurgence and perhaps the biggest change running six times as many toss plays in the 2nd half of the season compared to the 1st.
The clip above is a “TG” toss, where they pull the play-side tackle and the play-side guard. They also ran quite a bit of “GC” toss where the play-side guard and center pulled. How they ran the toss was based on the alignment of the defensive line and whether they were running to the strong or weak side. (If you’d like to learn more about toss and the Bengals’ variations of it, I did a detailed video here.)
This play works very well with the skill-set of both Mixon and the offensive line. The offensive line is athletic and works well in space.
They added players this offseason like Xavier Su’a-Filo and Hakeem Adeniji who also fit this mold.
Toss variations will be the foundation of the Bengals running game in 2020.
This RPO was a big part of LSU’s offense in 2019 and would make a lot of sense for the Bengals in 2020.
Basically they have six players (the offensive line and the tight end/h-back) blocking for the run play. So if there are six men or less in the box, they can block the run play.
In this clip, the safety on the top of the screen rocks down. That is a seventh (unblockable) player in the box, so they throw the quick slant to the receiver who is now one-on-one with the nickel.
They would do the same thing if it was that nickel who came into the box.
If the safety (or even the cornerback) on the bottom of the screen rocked down, they would throw the slant to the receiver on that side of the formation.
If everybody stays put, the ball will be handed off.
Burrow was excellent at reading this play, and found success with all four defensive possibilities.
If you are interested in seeing examples of the other options on this play, check out the first 5 and a half minutes of this video.
Play Action Passes
Tyler Boyd is very good at football pic.twitter.com/Xoid0ZeQY6— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 8, 2020
With a rookie quarterback and a freshly extended running back, you should expect to see a lot of play-action passes from the Bengals this season. This is the Bengals favorite play-action pass.
There are only two receivers running routes. One runs a post and the other runs a dig.
It is an eight-man protection with the running back, tight end, and even a wide receiver staying in to give the quarterback time to throw.
Why do you keep so many players in to protect?
Because you want to throw the ball deep, and deep routes take time to develop.
So the Bengals want to go deep to the post route.
The receiver running the post pushes hard vertically trying to get the safety to flip his hips. If he does, the receiver will cut underneath him on the post and find a whole lot of real estate to run through on the other side. On this play the safety does not bite, so the receiver pushes the post route up the middle of the field.
If you’d like to learn more about this play-action pass, you can watch this short video.
Burrow to Jefferson - soon to be Burrow to Boyd pic.twitter.com/nYYVucm0Hk— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 8, 2020
You see this play a lot in both college football and the NFL.
The outside receivers run vertical routes, and the quarterback can go to them if he likes the matchup, particularly when the defense has 1 high safety.
But they really want to go to the inside.
After a quick play-action, the running back runs a swing route, occupying the flat defender on the bottom of the screen. The tight end chips the edge rusher, then runs an under route in the opposite direction. This draws the attention of the hook defender,
This combination of routes opens up a window for the slot receiver on the dig route.
This is how the play looks against a single high safety defense.
If the defense was in Cover 2, the slot would bend the route vertically. The vertical routes on the outside would draw the attention of the safeties and the quarterback would read the middle linebacker. If he ran with the slot (Tampa 2) the ball would go to the tight end. If the linebacker sat on the underneath route, the quarterback would throw it to the slot.
If you are interested in learning more about this play, fast forward to the 12:25 mark of this video.
The Bengals ran a lot of slot fades last season and Burrow and LSU ran it well against Clemson in the National Championship. The video above breaks down both.
A slot fade is simply an outside vertical route run by an inside receiver.
When the Bengals ran it, they would have the outside receiver run a hitch. This stacks receivers on two different levels of the defense.
The quarterback makes a high/low read on the cornerback. If he drops off underneath the fade, the quarterback will throw the hitch. If the corner sits on the hitch, the ball will go to the slot fade.
LSU ran the slot fade with a different complimentary route and tied it to a different concept.
They had their outside receiver release inside, so instead of a high-low they were looking to create a rub in man coverage.
With the improvement in the run game in the tail half of 2019 and the addition of Burrow, it is going to be fun to see what this offense looks like in 2020.
I expect these five plays to be a big part of it.