One of the Cincinnati Bengals’ biggest issues this season has been failing to convert 3rd downs.
The issue hasn’t been being in too many 3rd and Longs. In fact, they have been worse at converting shorter distances to keep the drive alive.
This week, however, they converted an impressive 50 percent of their 3rd Down attempts.
Let’s take a look at how they did it, starting with four different conversions on 3rd and 1.
The Bengals come out in 11 personnel, with two receivers spread out wide on the bottom of the screen and Tee Higgins lined up close to tight end C.J. Uzomah on the top of the screen.
The Raiders counter with two linebackers in the box. Running back Chris Evans motions away from Higgins and Uzomah, which causes one of the linebackers to gain width and the one closest to Uzomah to take a few steps back.
When the ball is snapped, Uzomah releases vertically, but Higgins doesn’t move. This delayed release creates a pick. The defensive back can’t get around Uzomah to defend Higgins on the quick slant. Because the motion moved the linebacker, he was not in position to make the play either.
The result was a first down. This was an excellent play design and call to move the chains.
On this play, Tyler Boyd, Uzomah, and Stanley Morgan Jr, line up in a bunch. The Raiders defense mirrors this look, with three defenders lined up in a similar fashion.
Morgan, who is the innermost receiver, releases outside to block the defender at the tip of the defense’s bunch. Uzomah is in the middle, and releases inside to block the innermost defender.
By crossing, Morgan and Uzomah have created a lane for Boyd to run through. Even if the middle linebacker or cornerback was playing very aggressively, there is nothing they could have done to stop Boyd from picking up the first down on the screen.
This is another well-designed play.
With Higgins tight in the slot already, Uzomah motions in. Samaje Perine is offset to their side and although this isn’t technically a bunch formation, Higgins, Uzomah, and Perine are in position to run bunch pass concepts. That is exactly what they did.
Higgins releases inside and vertical, which affects both defensive backs, forcing them to gain depth. Uzomah releases inside and hitches up. His 265 pound frame provides an obstacle for the linebacker as he tries to get out wide.
Perine runs to the flat, and it is an easy conversion on the pass from Joe Burrow.
Later in the game, Perine picked up another 3rd and 1 on the ground.
The Bengals run a wedge play, trying to create movement in the middle of the defense. The key block comes from Isaiah Prince. The reserve tackle is in at tight end on this play. Right tackle Riley Reiff is the first to make contact with Carl Nassib, but it is Prince’s contribution to the double team that drives the defensive end down field.
K.J. Wright squeezes and gets to the running back, but Perine lowers his shoulder and gets what he needs for the first down.
After showing a lot of finesse on the previous 3rd and 1 conversions, it’s good to see that the Bengals can win with toughness as well.
Boyd’s usage and involvement have been questioned recently, particularly in light of the team’s struggles on 3rd down. This week, Boyd was a big part of the offense’s 3rd-down success.
The Raiders’ blitz puts them at a disadvantage to the three-receiver side of the trips formation. With the safety deep and Wright tight in the box, they are not in position to effectively cover Boyd as the #3 (innermost) receiver.
Boyd releases vertically, and Wright tries to match up. When Boyd breaks to the outside, Wright is woefully out of position to make the play and there is no one outside to help him.
Defenses know that they can have these types of issues when they blitz, but the thinking is that causing pressure will negate the offense’s advantage. To their credit, the offensive line and Perine do a good job in protection, allowing Burrow to make the throw and move the chains.
In this clip, Evans runs a slot fade with Uzomah outside of him running a quick stop. This is just a variation of the smash concept where the quarterback’s read is the cornerback. If he sits on Uzomah’s route, the ball will go to Evans. Here, he gains depth, so Burrow throws the ball to Uzomah for a first down.
This is an excellent play call on 3rd and 3. The corner knows he has to gain depth, but if he decides to play aggressively to prevent the first down, it would open up an opportunity for Evans on the deeper route.
That’s basically what happens here.
When Joe Mixon releases to the flat at the top of the screen, the cornerback sits on the route. This opens up Ja’Marr Chase for the touchdown behind him.
The only thing better than converting 3rd Down for a first Down is converting it for a touchdown!
Last week, the Bengals finally found success on 3rd down with some exceptional play-calling and execution. They will need to keep it up if they are going to make a playoff run in the very competitive AFC.