Hue Jackson clearly thinks he has something with running back Rex Burkhead. Cincinnati is working Burkhead at wide receiver during OTA practices this spring, hoping to develop an already talented player into a role that highlights his versatility.
"He's very talented," Jackson said last week. "You have a talented player on your team you see if you can find a way to get him involved. He can do a little bit of everything. He can run the ball, too. He can catch, protect. He's one of the better players on our team so we will see what we can do with him."
This approach worked last season when the Bengals played Indianapolis without A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, as well as Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, who were out for the entire season. On Cincinnati's first offensive play of the game, the Bengals called an "end around" with Burkhead wide right (in a three-point stance). Dalton takes the snap and pitches to Burkhead, who slings around the edge for a 23-yard sprint down the left sidelines:
Alright, alright. No A.J. Green, no Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati's leading receivers in 2014), no problem.
With 7:35 remaining in the first quarter, Burkhead is wide left with third-and-seven from the Colts' 43-yard line.
The quick slants that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called were too short -- Dalton hit Burkhead in stride but the route/pass fell well short of a first down. On the other hand, Burkhead took the reception, slowed his momentum (higher quality video shows it clearer than the GIF below) and was tackled by the pursuing cornerback (we're not criticizing the player as much as that there's nothing that could have been done on this play). If he goes forward, he's crushed. If he stops to avoid the linebacker, he's toast from behind.
The game-opening possession for Cincinnati, moving the football to the Colts 39-yard line, eventually ends and the Bengals are forced to punt.
Perhaps Cincinnati's play of the game -- and that's saying something for a team that was so offensively incompetent during their infirmed-driven 26-10 loss to the Colts -- came with 3:06 remaining in the first. The Bengals had third and four from the Colts' 31-yard line with Burkhead slotted between Brandon Tate and Mohamed Sanu in trips formation.
Dalton hits Burkhead on a quick slant. Not only did the versatile running back beat his coverage (it was zone and the cornerback took a poor angle), he outpaced Darius Butler for a 26-yard gain -- the longest play that Cincinnati would submit during this otherwise miserable January afternoon.
Two plays later, Jeremy Hill powered into the endzone for a game-tying touchdown with 1:31 remaining in the first quarter. Indianapolis went on to outscore the Bengals 19-3 during the final three quarters, eliminating Cincinnati from the postseason.
Burkhead, who only played nine offensive snaps in the game, would finish with a team-leading 57 yards from scrimmage... including three receptions for 34 yards receiving.
Most yards from scrimmage:
- Rex Burkhead (57 yards)
- Giovani Bernard (52 yards)
- Jeremy Hill (47 yards)
- Ryan Hewitt (37 yards)
- Andy Dalton (34 yards)
- Mohamed Sanu (31 yards)
- Kevin Brock (7 yards)