This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.
Our reports for the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT:
I’ll say it. The Bengals’ offense is the hardest in the NFL to gameplan for. More than the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots, or anyone else. It doesn’t mean they’re the most talented – though there’s plenty of that, too – but Mike Tomlin said it in his press conference. There is so much to account for and so little time to do it. We’ll work through that as we compile the scouting report.
Cincinnati Bengals’ Run Game
Giovani Bernard has become the lead cow despite him and Jeremy Hill having nearly identical carry numbers. Bernard is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has the only two 20+ yard runs of any Bengal this year.
Juxtapose that to Hill with two fumbles in 74 attempts, zero 20+ runs, and a long of only 11. That is the shortest “long” of any running back in the league with at least 50 carries.
Overall, the Bengals have 17 runs of 10+, tied for 21st in the NFL.
On the season, Bernard is out-snapping Hill 58,5% to 40.5%, though a lot is dependent on game flow. Bernard is definitely the passing-situation back and a pretty good, physical pass protector. Hill is the four minute offense type of player – big, burly, grinding out tough yards.
Their blocking scheme is a little dependent on the backs and pretty obvious. A little more power with Hill in the game, a little more zone with Bernard. But it’s far from exclusive and doesn’t really tell you much. What we do know is they are a varied rushing attack. You’ll get man blocking, gap runs, power.
Their power scheme is very creative. Get your traditional Counter OF with the back-side guard (BSG) pulling, you’ll get some pin and pull schemes with both guards pulling, and a dart scheme with the backside tackle pulling. We’ll show examples below.
Overall, they aren’t a one-note team and give you a lot of layers to defend.
To the wrinkles: they use unbalanced lines – stacking one or even two lineman to one side. For example, they’ll move typical left tackle Andrew Whitworth next to the right tackle.
They’re also shown themselves to be willing to move two over, with two tight ends left of center, still forcing you to defend nine gaps in total. Big stress on a defense from a preparation and execution standpoint.
Always admired Hue Jackson and think he is one of the best offensive coordinators in the league. I expect him to be a head coach again – he was the only guy able to make the Oakland Raiders a respectable team before getting fired because well, Oakland – in the next few years.
There was some confusion when the Bengals took Jake Fisher in the second round after taking a tackle in the first. They’re getting some use of it him, using him as a tackle eligible. He’s seen 52 snaps on the season with the majority of them in that role. Eight in Week 6, six in Week Five, and 11 in Week Four.
That isn’t very innovative in itself. But given his athletic skillset, he was the most athletic tackle in this year’s draft, they get him involved in the passing game. No lie. He’s been targeted twice, catching one pass for 31 yards.
The situation was similar in each, giving us some semblance of a situation alert. Both came on first and ten right inside of opponents territory (their 47 and 49). One came immediately off a turnover.
I’ll leave you with one other note. Steelers’ fans are familiar with him but Domata Peko still gets some goal line work. Has four snaps on the year as a powerful lead blocker.
Cincinnati Bengals’ Passing Game
Andy Dalton, not that I need to tell you this, is having a stellar regular season. 67.3 completion percentage and just two interceptions on 193 attempts. Effective, efficient with the football.
His offensive line has done him favors and he’s only been sacked six times. Their starting five are solid, if there is a weak link, it’s right tackle Andre Smith, and above all, they haven’t dealt with injuries that have forced them to play lesser talent. Each of their starting five have logged 96% snaps or more this year. They’re talented, and a little lucky, and that’s a dangerous combination.
Tyler Eifert is a top five tight end and is also an every-down player. In on over 95% of the Bengals’ snaps.
As you’d expect, their passing offense is explosive. 27 completions of 20+ yards, sixth in the league. The wealth is spread out, too. A.J. Green and Mohammad Sanu each have six, Marvin Jones has five, and EIfert has four. Lots of 11 personnel with Sanu playing 64.6% of the time.
The Steelers have faced some great quarterbacks this season – Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Carson Palmer. Great quarterbacks – especially ones who are paid as such – are given complete control over their offense. Dalton, though maybe not in that tier (but playing really well) has the same. The Bengals run a ton of RPO, run-pass options. Similar to the Kansas City Chiefs’ last week, it’s run out of 3×1 and is a box count. They’ll do some zone-read looks so they can run against six man boxes, and usually have a swing screen to the trips side as their pass option.
There are also some hots built in with Dalton. Here’s an example of him getting off coverage against the Buffalo Bills at the top of your picture, and decides to throw the hitch to A.J. Green for an easy completion.
They’ll try and work over Cover 3 base teams – like the Steelers – with four vertical concepts. Common and easy way to beat it, or at least, stress it. Scissors/switch vertical concept out of empty vs the Seattle Seahawks Cover 3 in Week Five. Goes for a 44 yard gain.
Sticking with their vertical concepts, noticed some divide routes the following week versus the Bills. Came on third and long. Post/fly route to stress the safety. Throw the opposite of where he goes.
Also worth mentioning some of their concepts that are in most team’s playbooks. Hank concept (TE curl, curl/flat combination from WRs/RBs) and a spot route (curl/flat/corner), the latter commonly run out of 3×2.
Now, to their crazy stuff. You might see this Sunday and don’t let it freak you out. It’s the Emory & Henry formation that consists of just three down lineman and each tackle split out wide. Take a look.
Pretty crazy, huh?
They often run it on 1st and 10. Shown it on their first possession their last two games. Try and gauge how you react to it. Can run screens to the outside or an inside zone game against three or four man boxes. They’ll often adjust to and out of that look, again, seeing how you react and communicate it. The Bengals shift and adjust as much as any team in the league. Have to be on point pre-snap or you’re toast.
One last wrinkle (I’m exhausted too). Sanu has tried to throw one pass this season though had to tuck and run. Former QB at Rutgers who can run the Wildcat and be an asset as a gadget-play guy.
Cincinnati Bengals’ Special Teams
On their kick return unit, the Bengals show a 6-2-2-1 formation with Adam Jones as their kick returner. He’s averaging 27.6 yards per return, which rank 4th if he was qualified (he’s one return shy). He is also averaging 12.7 per punt return. Always aggressive, Jones has only two fair catches over his last 99 punt return opportunities.
Their jammers include DBs Shawn Williams and Chris Lewis-Harris + Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw. The field goal holder is punter Kevin Huber. He’s never attempted a pass in his career.
JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT:
You name it, the Bengals have been doing it at a high level on offense for six games now this season. Throwing the football? Yep, Andy Dalton is averaging over 288 yards passing per game, good enough for fifth in the NFL. The ground game? Churning along thanks to the “two-headed monster” of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, the duo has propelled the Bengals to 12th in the league in rushing yards per game at almost 123. Protecting the football? +3 in turnover differential, with only six offensive turnovers (four fumbles). Protecting the quarterback? Six allowed sacks in six games. Third down efficiency? 47 percent conversion rate, good enough for second in the NFL behind only New England.
Scoring? Yeah that’s no problem either, as the Bengals are rolling out 30 points per game on teams this season. They’ve scored at least 24 points in every game this year, and have topped 30 three times. Not easy to pinpoint one reason for their success either, as the Cincinnati offense is versatile, deep, and dangerous in a plethora of ways.
Like the majority of high-octane offenses, the strength of the Bengals unit is in the trenches. Cincinnati is one of very few teams in the NFL to have drafted all five of their starting offensive linemen, a common theme you’ll find in the analyzation of their roster. Four of those five have been playing together for four years now, while center Russell Bodine starts for his second straight NFL season. Like Pittsburgh, before the Steelers injuries anyway, Cincinnati returns all five starters from last year’s unit. Unlike Pittsburgh, the Bengals appear to be fully healthy up front.
The numbers on their offensive line:
LT Andrew Whitworth: 3 penalties (all holding), 0 sacks allowed (0.5 sack allowed in 16 games last season)
LG Clint Boling: 1 penalty (false start), 0 sacks allowed
C Russell Bodine: 4 penalties, 1 sack allowed
RG Kevin Zeitler: 1 penalty (holding), 1 sack allowed
RT Andre Smith: 3 penalties, 0 sacks allowed
These stats, courtesy of the Washington Post, blames the Bengals offensive line for just two of the six sacks allowed all season. Based on what I have seen on tape, that number appears accurate.
Whitworth is quite simply one of the best pass protecting left tackles in football, largely due to his technical prowess. I’ve poked fun at him often over the years for having the skinniest arms of any offensive tackle in NFL history (seriously, check them out on Sunday), but Whitworth wins with hand placement up top, and a solid base due to his fine footwork. According to Pro Football Focus, Whitworth hasn’t given up a sack in 819 snaps, the longest streak of any offensive lineman in the league. The next closest is 100 snaps behind him. PFF also says it has been 21 games since Whitworth allowed his blocking assignment to even hit the quarterback.
While he is the undisputed leader of this unit, Smith bookends him as a stout performer on the other side. Probably the Bengals most powerful lineman, Smith is enjoying a fine season after a slightly disappointing 2014 campaign, by his high standards anyway.
All the Bengals linemen are good in space, but Boling is a sneaky athlete who can really pull and hit targets with great accuracy. He and Whitworth had key blocks to open up this hole for Bernard to score against Buffalo.
That’s just textbook stuff right there, including tight end Tyler Eifert throwing a top-notch base block to drive linebacker Nigel Bradham off the ball. We’ll come back to him later, but important to note how much that area of his game has improved this season.
Boling has gone 360 snaps without allowing a sack according to PFF, the longest such streak among all left guards in football. The main reason these guys are so good in pass protection, Zeitler included, is that they are incredibly well-coached and technical in all their movements. The Bengals have done a fantastic job at identifying the mold of offensive lineman they want in the draft, and doing whatever necessary to acquire that type of talent. The unit is like a well-oiled machine in pass protection, communicating, punching, helping, repeating. Really fun to watch.
The weaknesses of this unit then? Well, there aren’t many but here’s two I found. Bodine is improved in his second season, but he’s still the weak link. He struggles with power noses and can lose the leverage battle. Gets rag-dolled aside here by the Buffalo nose tackle and permits interior penetration.
Marcell Dareus took him for a ride into Dalton’s lap later in the game, by leveraging the young center off the snap.
Also saw him struggle to identify stunts to the A-gaps, something he had issues with last year as well. Let some leaky pressure in against an active Buffalo front, something Pittsburgh should look to utilize to their advantage. Gave up his one sack on the year to Seattle in the same way.
The only other weakness I’ll offer, the Bengals line are technicians in the run game, not maulers. They’ll carry out their assignments to a ’T’, but get physical with them, and you’ve got a chance to make their offensive one dimensional. They run the ball well, but aren’t overwhelming at the point of attack. Contain the edges, fill your gaps hard, and I think Cincinnati will struggle to move Pittsburgh defenders off the ball. Put the pressure on Dalton to win it with his arm, and hope he makes that costly mistake he’s avoided all season.
Speaking of Dalton, I was looking forward to getting into his tape to see how much he’s improved in 2015. 14 touchdowns to two interceptions looks pretty good on paper, as does a 67 percent completion rate. One of my biggest issues with the quarterback in the past has been his propensity to leave a clean pocket early, compromising the structure of a play before it is absolutely necessary. It still happens, but Dalton is moving through progressions at a much higher rate than before.
One of Dalton’s best throws of the year showcased his ability to throw accurately with anticipation, and his newfound ability to thrive in the face of adversity. The Bengals had just gone down 17-14 to the Ravens after C.J. Mosley scooped up a Dalton fumble and returned it for a touchdown with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati took just one play to answer, thanks to a phenomenal throw from a calm and collected Dalton.
The aerial view from the All-22 isn’t quite as clear from so far away, but you can see Dalton releasing the throw before A.J. Green is even past the nickel corner on the slot-go route. With the safety coming over quickly, that window isn’t going to be open if Dalton waits any longer to make the toss. Instead he throws it with perfect timing, unhindered by Bernard getting deposited in his lap by the blitzing linebacker, as the ball arrives on a rope to Green, allowing him to catch it in stride and eventually get to the end zone. Big-time throw under pressure in a big-time game.
It was no aberration either, as Dalton has made plays like that all season. Down 24-7 to Seattle with 13 minutes left, sacked four times that day, intercepted on the goal line, still brought the Bengals back for the win against the Legion of Boom. One of the more impressive games I’ve seen by a quarterback this season.
Dalton isn’t without his vices still. Like most quarterbacks, a crumbling pocket will attract his attention pretty quickly, albeit a situation he rarely has to deal with. He’ll still sail passes high and late to the middle of the field absent-mindedly, especially if his first or second read is taken away. How Earl Thomas picked him off in their matchup. But those mistakes are happening far less frequently then they have in the past, which is the biggest reason for Cincinnati’s offensive success.
When Dalton is clicking, good luck stopping this unit. They play three wide receivers, Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohammed Sanu. That’s it, as #4 wide receiver Brandon Tate has seen just a solitary offensive snap this season. All three are big, physical, and fast, a lethal combination regardless of their other skills. But what has impressed me about the group is how technically sound they are, both in their releases and in their routes. Sanu made Kam Chancellor look rough on this slant route when the two met in Week 5.
That’s just excellent footwork with a tremendous burst coming out of the break and giving Dalton a big window to target thanks to the created separation. We all know about Green, who I won’t bother to GIF further, but the emergence and health of Jones and Sanu is paramount to Cincinnati’s success. If defenses want to focus on Green, these two will absolutely make them pay.
Jones is big and nasty in his releases at the line of scrimmage, much like Green. Jam this duo at your own risk, as they’ll hand-fight with the best of them, then get a step on you down the field.
Great battle at the LOS to establish position, then with the corner clamping his left arm, Jones simply reaches up and snags the ball with one hand. This trio makes a living on contested grabs, so you better be ready for a physical battle in the air all afternoon. And if you don’t get them to the ground, all three are stellar after the catch as well.
The player the Bengals really missed last year was Eifert, who is enjoying a breakout season in his third year. Eifert is quite easily the most gifted tight end I’ve ever scouted, blessed with an insane catch radius and fantastic concentration/flexibility in the air. His ability to make highlight-reel catches is perhaps only superseded by Gary Barnidge’s between-the-legs antics, as Eifert is as high-effort and as athletic as they come at the position. This incredible 25-yard grab in the fourth quarter against Seattle moved Cincinnati into range for the game-tying field goal with no time on the clock.
Can’t coach that. Eifert is much improved as a run blocker as well (as I mentioned previously), but is still finding his way as a pass protector. He’s allowed two sacks this season, or as many as the entire offensive line combined, but in fairness to him, tough for any tight end to be on an island against Elvis Dumervil and Cliff Avril. Oh, one other thing, Pittsburgh better tackle this dude, because he’ll fight for every inch after the catch. So, stop a top three tight end in the NFL, and tackle. Right up the Steelers defensive alley, correct?
Even after his standout rookie season, I’ve always found Jeremy Hill to be pretty underwhelming as a whole. He’ll look great one snap, then go down easily on the next. He’s a powerful back with some sneaky agility, but his balance and nastiness isn’t anything special. Now, I realize by saying that he’ll now gash Pittsburgh on Sunday, but I prefer Giovani Bernard, the team’s third year running back out of North Carolina. Bernard is like a bigger, more powerful Darren Sproles to me. He runs hard between the tackles despite being just 5’8, 202 pounds, and will romp through arm tackles for extra yardage. Bernard is elusive in space, and one of the best receiving backs in the league.
The statistical comparison between the two isn’t close this year, with Bernard collecting 427 yards on 77 carries for a 5.5 average, while Hill has rushed 74 times for 232 yards and a 3.1 average. The LSU product is the team’s goal line back thanks to his size, giving him five rushing scores on the season, but Bernard has out-snapped him 238 to 165. Hill’s longest carry is just 11 yards, and he has fumbled twice on the year.
The two complement each other well, but both struggle mightily in pass protection. I’d test them both often if possible on Sunday, forcing them to stay in the backfield rather than check-release, where Bernard can be especially dangerous.
Mike Nugent is still one of the more reliable kickers in the NFL, despite two misses in nine attempts on the season, one from 36 yards and the other from 44 yards. The 11-year veteran has missed one extra point this season as well. Nugent’s career long is 55 yards, coming back in 2012. Worth noting that he has missed his last three attempts from 50+, and hasn’t made one from that range since mid-2013 season. That’s 29 consecutive games. So if he has to hit from there, it won’t be a walk-in-the-park. Nugent has never attempted a pass or a rush on a fake field goal before in his entire career.
The Bengals return game might be the only underwhelming part of their attack. Adam Jones and Tate share the return responsibilities on punts and kickoffs as they have for years now, but have combined for just a 20-yard average on the latter, 29th in the NFL. The duo has fared better on punt returns with an 11.3 combined average, 7th in the league, but haven’t found the end zone since Jones busted one in 2012. The Bengals haven’t score on a kickoff return since 2009, representing a now-six year drought. Yes, I hope I didn’t just jinx it as well.