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Film Room: Problems and solutions for the Bengals’ red zone offense

The Bengals need to get better at converting red zone appearances into touchdowns.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Red zone offense was a problem for the Bengals in 2019 and that issue has continued into 2020.

On Thursday night the Bengals were two of four in the Red Zone. On one failed red zone appearance they drove all the way to the nine-yard line before giving up a sack on third down and settling for a field goal. On another, they had first-and-goal on the one-yard line and ended up kicking another field goal.

The Browns on the other hand were four of five in the Red Zone. The one time they failed to get in the end zone, the Browns had first-and-goal on the one-yard line and the Bengals managed stop them for four downs.

This was huge for the Bengals defense!

They had a rough night, but this stop could have been a huge momentum swing. This was the first drive of the second half for the Browns. The score was 21-13. A touchdown for the Browns would have put the Bengals in a deep hole. Coming out of the drive without giving up any points meant that the Bengals were still only down by one score.

Unfortunately, the Browns were able to come back quickly.

After getting the ball on the one-yard line the Bengals drew the Browns offside and gave themselves some room to work. Two plays later they picked up a first down.

After an incompletion and a short run, the Bengals were in third-and-long.

The Bengals were running a half man/half zone pass protection. The left side of the line was sliding, while right tackle Bobby Hart and right guard Fred Johnson were in man with the defensive linemen on the right. Giovani Bernard was responsible for any blitz on the right.

Myles Garrett is playing defensive tackle on this play. When he steps to the inside, Johnson steps hard to the inside to stop him from rushing the A-gap, but he does not lay a hand on him. Garrett puts a foot in the ground and quickly heads back up the B-gap.

Hart pass sets on the outside, looking to take away the edge rush from Porter Gustin. When Gustin loops to the inside, an exchange should take place between Hart and Johnson. Hart should step down hard to pick up Garrett, but by that point Garrett is so far up field that it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he did. Johnson desperately lunged at Garrett’s hip, trying to keep him away from the quarterback. He is in no way in position to come off of Garrett and pick up Gustin, in fact, it’s doubtful that he ever sees Gustin. (If you’d like to see how this should be picked up, check out this week’s Chalk Talk).

To his credit, Bernard does an excellent job of picking up the blitz, but it doesn’t matter.

Burrow gets sacked and fumbles, giving the ball back to the Browns at the one-yard line. They would not be stopped on the goal line again.

The Bengals defense had a bad night, but when they finally made a stop that could have had a major impact on the game, it was quickly negated by failed pass protection and a turnover.

First Appearance

Now let’s talk about the Bengals’ offense in the Red Zone.

After an excellent return by Brandon Wilson to start the game, the Bengals drove straight down the field.

They eventually found themselves in third-and-five on the nine-yard line.

The pocket quickly collapses from both edges, particularly the offense’s left side, where Jonah Williams struggles with Adrian Clayborn’s speed and gives up the sack.

Burrow has a potential touchdown throw to his right, but he cannot get his eyes to that side before the pass rush is on him.

Coming away from the first drive with a touchdown would have been huge, but they had to settle for a field goal.

Second Appearance

Their next red zone appearance didn’t come until the third quarter.

Bernard ran four yards for what was initially called a touchdown. The Bengals were getting ready to go for two in order to cut the Browns’ lead to seven points when the play was overturned.

This gave them first-and-goal on the one-yard line: a situation where they definitely should come away with the touchdown.

If you are like me you were screaming “QB Sneak!” at the top of your lungs when they lined up, but I understand why they didn’t sneak.

As you can see, there are defensive linemen in both A-gaps and both B-gaps. This would make the quarterback sneak a crap shoot that could end in a score, but would definitely end in a mass of humanity piled on Burrow.

The play they did run is called power. It involves down blocks on the front side, a kick-out by the fullback and the backside guard pulling around and leading up the hole for the linebacker.

Cethan Carter is the fullback and has a good kick-out block on this play. C.J. Uzomah is the wing on the right side. He does a good job with his down block.

The right tackle (Hart) and guard (Johnson) also look good here, with Hart working up to the backside linebacker. My only complaint is that Hart could have shot his right hand out at the defensive linemen in front of him. Just a quick shot to help out the tight end, who on this play is actually rookie offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji.

Adeniji’s block is the issue on this play. He gives up penetration, which makes it hard for Michael Jordan to come around on the pull.

As you can see in the picture. Jordan (60) has slowed by the penetration. He should be leading up on 93 for the Browns. If he could have gotten there, Joe Mixon would have followed the block and likely scored. Even if he did not score, it would have been second-and-one.

Unfortunately, the play wasn’t there. Mixon tried to make a play on his own and lost four yards.

They were saved, however, by a defensive pass interference call on the next play.

That gave them first-and-goal on the two-yard line.

This play is a sprint out pass, with a rub designed to get wide receiver Tyler Boyd open. The play works, but Boyd drops the touchdown pass.

Boyd is an excellent player who needs to make that play in that situation.

On second down they ran a zone-read and Burrow was tackled for a loss of seven. No bueno.

The third-and-goal play was a head-scratcher. Uzomah ran straight into the defender and Burrow tried unsuccessfully to force the ball to him. Even if the pass had been completed, it would not have mattered because Uzomah was called for offensive pass interference.

The Bengals were forced to settle for a field goal and trailed 16-28. This was a great opportunity, but despite the assistance of a defensive pass interference call, they failed to capitalize.

Third Appearance

Following an interception by William Jackson III, the Bengals got the ball back still trailing by 12 points. They drove down the field and were able to get in the end zone on this play.

The Bengals are in an empty formation and the Browns are clearly playing man.

On the top of the screen the Bengals run arrow routes (quick routes to the outside) with the two inside receivers while the widest receiver, Mike Thomas, runs a quick slant.

This creates a rub which helps Thomas get open.

If you look closely, you can tell that wide receiver John Ross is actually aiming for the shoulder of the defender covering Thomas. The defender can’t take a direct path at Thomas’s route because of Ross. Thomas scores the touchdown, but Ross makes the play.

This was a great play call and excellent execution.

Fourth Appearance

Zac Taylor has stated that a lot of red zone scores come down to the quarterback’s ability to create.

As time was ticking down, Burrow did just that. Moving in the pocket to buy time, he found Boyd for the touchdown.

Unfortunately the Bengals’ defense was done by that time and the Browns had quickly driven down the field for the definitive score on the previous drive. The ensuing onside kick attempt failed.

Grey Area

By definition the Red Zone is from the 20-yard line in, but that isn’t necessarily how every team or every coach views it.

Personally, I see the red zone as the 25-yard line in. For those who agree, there was one more red zone score. It came in the second quarter.

It was first-and-10 on the 23-yard line, and the Bengals came out with one running back, one wide receiver, and three tight ends.

To match the Bengals size, the Browns put four defensive linemen and three linebackers on the field. This was a good way to match the expected run, but gave them less speed on the field to combat the pass.

Boyd split out wide to the right, where Carter lined up at tight end. On the left, Drew Sample was the tight end and Uzomah lined up as a wing just outside of him. Before the snap, Mixon motioned out wide to the left, taking the cornerback with him.

This was a really interesting use of personnel.

The Bengals run four vertical routes, with three tight ends on the field.

Preoccupied with Mixon, the corner is slow to react to Uzomah running the fade. Burrow throws a great ball for his first career touchdown pass.

Scoring in the red zone is critical and the Bengals need to do a better job of winning in that area.

Early in this game, they left points on the board by settling for field goals. They cannot afford to do that if they are going to be competitive in 2020 and beyond.