How fitting that Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase get back on track in the place where they had one of the most impressive offensive performances in college football history?
To make things more interesting, they did it by rediscovering their roots schematically, as head coach Zac Taylor finally gave his quarterback the opportunity to operate exclusively out of the formation that makes him most comfortable.
Yes, it was a close game, but there were some indications of big developments on the horizon. So let’s get right into what we learned...
This offense will operate out of shotgun
Against the Saints, the Bengals went almost exclusively with shotgun formations.
The result? Burrow had his best game of the year. Chase finally broke free. And the team had its highest point total of the year. While we probably will see a few more plays under center, it seems that Taylor and the offensive minds on his staff have figured something out.
Bengals lined up in shotgun 52 of 54 plays. Two plays under center: QB sneak and QB kneel— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) October 16, 2022
Bengals in shotgun every snap other than the QB sneak? https://t.co/4XZ9vwecap— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 16, 2022
As John Sheeran said on our most recent show, this was the closest to the offense of Burrow’s LSU career that we’ve seen yet. And instead of asking the third-year QB to be “multiple kinds of quarterback,” the Bengals’ coaching staff allowed him to operate comfortably.
Sometimes you’ve got to go back to where you started to remember who you are pic.twitter.com/eKKi0JtbRZ— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 17, 2022
Perhaps even more importantly, Taylor finally let go of the idea of forcing a marriage between a wide-zone, under center running game with a spread, shotgun passing offense. “That was making it really predictable for defenses, who could put a safety in the box when Burrow was under center,” Sheeran said.
Of course, it’s easy to understand why this happened. Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, and offensive line coach Frank Pollack all come from wide zone backgrounds. Meanwhile, they wanted to take what worked from Burrow’s record-setting senior year at LSU.
That’s the most the Bengals offense has ever resembled LSU’s offense— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 18, 2022
But simplifying the offense in a way has also made it more complex from the perspective of opponents. “When you are dedicated to just one identity, like they are now, it makes you less predictable, allows you to make calls at the line, and confuse defenses by staying in the same personnel.”
Watch the entire analysis here:
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The Bengals can’t stop the run without D.J. Reader
We all knew there would be a dropoff without the best nosetackle in the game. But we weren’t prepared for a drop as precipitous as this.
In New Orleans, the Bengals allowed 228 yards on the ground on only 34 carries, meaning they gave up 6.7 yards per carry. And that’s part of a recent trend.
Dramatic difference in the performance of the #Bengals run defense without DJ Reader.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) October 17, 2022
Rankings in Weeks 1-3 w/ Reader:
Rush EPA: 14th
Rush Success Rate: 5th
Rushing Yards Allowed: 8th
Weeks 4-6 w/o Reader:
Rush EPA: 25th
Rush Success Rate: 28th
Rushing Yards Allowed: 24th pic.twitter.com/SwqaPGLA0H
Now Cincinnati will host the Atlanta Falcons, who have surprised folks by starting 3-3 behind a strong running game averaging almost five yards a carry. Fortunately, the pass defense is still strong and held former Bengal Andy Dalton to just 162 yards passing a week after holding Lamar Jackson to just 174 yards through the air. But if they can’t find a big body to plug the middle, the Bengals will continue to need late game heroics to win games, as they won’t be able to control the clock.
La’el Collins hasn’t declined
He just needed some time. Collins has had some lingering injuries in recent years, but his performance against Cam Jordan and the Saints’ defensive line showed that, talent-wise, he’s still near the top of his position.
On numerous occasions, we saw Collins win against Jordan and even put him in the dirt once.
La'el Collins with a dominant win over Cam Jordan in pass protection pic.twitter.com/spS9LcJ3rr— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 17, 2022
We also saw him take Tanoh Kpassagnon for a ride.
La'el Collins turns this pass pro rep into a hockey scrum pic.twitter.com/9oaySYr1hB— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 17, 2022
Not only do these clips show Collins’ physical dominance, but, as Sheeran noted in the video above, they demonstrate that his footwork is now more patient and confident. So, like Burrow, it seems Collins was just off to a slow start and will start dominating consistently soon.
The pass rush is really coming around
We all know what Trey Hendrickson can do, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t always show up in the simple box scores.
If you told me Trey Hendrickson only had 2.5 sacks this year, I'd call you a liar.— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 17, 2022
He's been a nightmare for LTs all year.
But now we’re starting to see other guys emerging, like Joseph Ossai.
Joseph Ossai (58 at DT, left side) on the first 3rd down of the game pic.twitter.com/ar7DZdhpYr— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 17, 2022
And B.J. Hill and Sam Hubbard, neither of whom are considered pass rush specialists, got to Dalton on the most important third down of the game.
So while the run defense will suffer with Reader out, the Bengals should still be able to win shootouts with timely plays by the secondary and getting pressure when they need it late in the game.