The enjoyment of playing a divisional opponent twice in eight days and three times in a season can’t be high, especially an opponent who specializes in a unique scheme. Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III put it as candidly as possible after defeating the Baltimore Ravens during Super Wild Card Weekend.
“We won’t have to play triple option football against the Ravens this week,” Bates said. “So we’re excited to play normal football. The triple option thing was something that we’re happy that we got over it.”
Studying film, game-planning, practicing, and then playing against an offense so distinctive compared to 30 other clubs can naturally lead to mixed results. As a University of Cincinnati football fan, this was the mindset whenever the Bearcats would have to face Navy, an AAC opponent they’ll leave behind this year for the Big 12. The Midshipmen unapologetically pound an option run game down your throats for 60 minutes. This made it incredibly surprising that they threw the ball a whopping six times in (hopefully) their last trip to Nippert Stadium last season.
Playing Navy was always an annoyance because they forced defenses to counter accordingly for the entire game, and they would inevitably find success to make the game competitive. Bates and the Bengals’ defense had to do this twice in a week’s time against two different Ravens quarterbacks not named Lamar Jackson.
Anything but fun, but was it a blessing in disguise? Eliminating the only remaining AFC North foe is a great first step for a team who’s 9-1 in non-divisional games this season. Experiencing in-game reps against a quarterback who can scoot and is prone to escaping the pocket is a factor that shouldn’t go unnoticed this week.
The Buffalo Bills are not the Ravens from a pure schematic standpoint, but they’re two of the best examples of living off their quarterback’s every action. Jackson represents the entirety of Baltimore’s identity when healthy, and Huntley had to best replicate that against Cincinnati. Throwing on the run off play action rollouts, extending plays out of the pocket, and of course, keeping the ball on read options and creating yards with his legs. Nothing’s more important than that last component as it allows the entire run game to operate.
All things the Bengals had to deal with, and will likely have to deal with against Josh Allen.
Watching Buffalo’s offense is always a treat no matter your agenda. Allen’s legs are as much of a catalyst to Buffalo’s success as is his arm, and that arm creates as much magic as it does travesty for his team. Regardless, the concept of playing 11-on-11 and defending every inch of turf because the quarterback can scramble well and launch the ball 70 yards effortlessly is simply terrifying.
Allen will try to burn Cincinnati deep, and odds are, he will succeed at times. It’s something every team has to accept when facing him. But the closest quarterback to Superman will also make himself vulnerable to his kryptonite throughout the afternoon. The danger he becomes when running the ball, whether it be on designed plays, or escaping pressure, is almost equal for both teams. He’s as liable to jump over you as he is to putting the ball on the dirt.
Every quarterback makes mistakes in the face of pressure. When it comes to Allen, he’s present on both sides of the spectrum. No one has more Big Time Throws (22) or a higher passing grade (71.4) when under duress than Allen, just like no has more Turnover Worthy Throws (18). Only Justin Fields has fumbled more often as a quarterback. He gives as much as he takes.
So how do you generate those mistakes as a pass rush? How do you limit his rushing lanes to escape? How do you best track him down once he has escaped? The answers lie not only in the Bills’ Wild Card victory over the Miami Dolphins, but in the Bengals’ win over the Ravens as well. Let’s take a look at some identical plays from both games.