The Cincinnati Bengals have a wealth of talent on offense this year, but this past weekend was the first time that they scored over 24 points in regulation. As a result, Zac Taylor’s acumen as a play-caller has come into question.
Obviously, the Detroit Lions are not the most difficult opponent, but Taylor showcased some interesting play designs and fun calls in this game. Here are five that stood out.
Philly Not-So Special
This is a play we’ve seen from the Bengals before, and it bears a striking resemblance to a much more famous play.
The concept is similar. Get everybody on the defense moving in one direction, then sneak someone out the backside. With the classic Philly Special, there is a reverse and the player coming out the backside is the quarterback, who even after all these years never seems to be covered. The Bengals’ version is a little more simplified. The misdirection comes in the form of a fake jet sweep, and the quarterback dishes the ball out to the running back in the flat.
This is a great play call against man coverage. There are two defenders to the top of the screen, The jet-motion takes one of them away and the crossing route eliminates the other. I believe linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin is responsible for Joe Mixon on this play, but it’s hard to know for sure because he is in such bad position to defend it. Reeves-Maybin was walked up into the gap on the opposite side of the formation.
This was an easy first down that turned into a touchdown due to an incredible effort and a monster block by Rookie of the Year front-runner (yeah, I said it) Ja’Marr Chase. This is a great play call which showed understanding of the defensive scheme and its weakness.
The result was not only converting the fourth down, but turning it into a touchdown.
Tight End Throwback
Another great play call against man coverage proceeded this touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah. Once again, all the action goes in one direction, but the ball comes back the other way.
After the play action, Mixon makes a great block, to give Joe Burrow time. Drew Sample is lined up at tight end, with Uzomah as a wing beside him. Sample releases vertically to create a pick. Mitchell Wilcox is the tight end on the opposite side. Both Uzomah and Wilcox run crossing routes, with Uzomah coming underneath creating another pick opportunity. Safety Dean Marlowe is forced to run underneath both of these routes, essentially chasing Uzomah, rather than taking a direct angle to cut off his route. The result is a wide open Uzomah in the end zone.
I had concerns in previous years about how Taylor and his staff were scheming receivers open in the end zone, but this was a well-designed play.
The One that Got Away
Good check— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 18, 2021
Missed opportunity pic.twitter.com/U9fnTG3dOB
The clip above is too short to see it, but Burrow checked this play at the line of scrimmage, and it’s easy to see why.
Burrow had trips to his right at the bottom of the screen. The Lions had three players to that side, but one of them was 18-yards off the ball. On third-and-three, this a gave the Bengals the numbers advantage to easily move the chains.
The idea is for Chase to block the corner, Tyler Boyd to block the nickel, and Tee Higgins to run to the sideline where there would be no one to stop him. Unfortunately, the play was poorly executed.
Detroit’s nickel corner blitzed, which confused Boyd. He should have just let him go, looked inside to block pursuit, and most importantly gotten out of Higgins’s way. Instead, he hesitates and the timing and spacing of the play is thrown out of whack. Even with the corner pressing hard inside, Higgins should have been able to get to the outside. This would have been an easy 1st Down and potentially a lot more. It could have sparked a touchdown drive before the half, but this miscue caused the play to fail.
Sprint Out Pass
Some people don’t like sprint out passes because it takes half the field away from the quarterback, but on third-and-short when you have a quarterback who can run, this call makes a lot of sense.
It essentially makes Burrow his own check-down. He sprints out looking to throw the ball down field, but if he doesn’t have a clean throw for the first down, he is already out of the pocket and on the move.
This time, Burrow picks up the first down with his feet, keeping the drive alive.
Putting Burrow in position to do this was a smart move by the play-caller.
Steve Rogers for Six!
Chris Evans wins with his release pic.twitter.com/eNSWTpt4hh— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 17, 2021
Empty formations create great opportunities for the offense to find a matchup they can take advantage of. The Bengals move their players all over in these formations to see how the defense will react.
On another third down, the Bengals came out in an empty formation with running back Chris Evans was split out wide. When Burrow saw him matched up with Reeves-Maybin, he knew exactly where he wanted to go with the football.
This was the first time Evans saw any real action, and yet they had a play in that worked to his strength and the guts to call it. Great call.
For his part, Evans had a great release that left the linebacker in the dust as he hauled in his first career touchdown.
In writing this article, I didn’t set out to find third and fourth down plays, and yet that is what we ended up with. That indicates that the Bengals are putting a concerted effort into being getting the right call in these key situations.
For all the talk about the lack of creativity in Taylor’s play calling, he made some nice calls in this game. The Bengals’ offense used formations to create favorable match-ups and took advantage of vulnerabilities in the defensive scheme and personnel.