This year, Josh Carney and I will break down the opposing team’s offense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Josh will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Alex’s Scheme Breakdown
Bengals’ Run Game
Despite Hue Jackson’s departure, it’s very difficult to find any differences in how this offense functions. The run game is probably a bit more zone based than it’s been in the past. But they’ll pin and pull. Big men moving.
Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard were basically even in snaps last week, 29 and 28 respectively. It’s a run game looking to bounce back from last season. They ranked just tied for 25th in the league with 13 runs of 15+ yards.
All the hallmarks of Jackson’s team are here. Emory and Henry? Check.
Tackle eligible? Check. It’s still Jake Fisher coming in, playing four snaps Sunday.
All sorts of pre-snap motion? You got it. Here they are going from two back to empty.
And on another play, empty to two back.
Thank goodness none of this is new to the Steelers. On a short week, it’s an absurd amount of information to handle.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah started last week and dominated the snap count over Tyler Kroft, though Kroft is working his way back from injury. I’d expect his usage to increase this time around.
I’ve been in the minority of someone who likes center Russell Bodine but he’s regarded as the week link of this front five. Right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is largely untested, too.
Andy Dalton carried the ball twice on zone read runs against the New York Jets. Threat to run, something the Steelers are well aware of after his 20 yard TD three years ago.
Ryan Hewitt still serves as their fullback/H-Back. He only saw seven snaps last week though.
Wide receiver James Wright was used as a bit of a gadget guy. Only five snaps but had an end around and took a snap out of the Wildcat, a sweep to the left. He’s #86. Gotta account for him when he’s on the field.
Bengals’ Pass Game
I know most of us think about their vertical game and there’s no question they can get a lot of chunk plays off it. Last year, they finished 4th in the league with 62 completions of 20+ yards. They came in 5th with 13 plays of 40+.
But they can create chunk plays with their short stuff too. They ran seven WR screens last week. Here’s the gain for every playcall: 15, 6, 10, 29, 6, 9, and 7.
That’s an average of 11.7 yards, or a first down per try. Five of those calls came on 1st and 10. It’s an extension of their run game and it is crazy effective.
Last week, the Bengals had six gains of 20+ yards in the air. Three of those were 40+. They accounted for 65.3% of Dalton’s total passing yards. Unreal.
They’ll throw middle screens to backs and tight ends too. Marry that with four vertical concepts, a headache for the Steelers’ base Cover 3.
You’ll get their over routes, with the Y or the Z, which again, is another Steelers’ killer.
Their RPO game is pretty advanced. They’ll probably end up running at least five of them Sunday. Here’s one pretty similar to the Steelers. 3×1, inside zone paired with a swing route and the ability to throw to Green backside, isolated up top. Dalton chooses the last option and completes it. Lonely place to be if you’re a DB.
The Bengals offensive line was the top story of last week. They gave up seven sacks, the most as a team since 2008. By my count, three of those came on some sort of stunt from the Jets. Here’s an example.
So get creative up front and you can win. The Jets didn’t bring a lot of pressure. But they still got him. That’s winning football.
Talent wise, A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell are on the outside. Tyler Boyd works in the slot. Size all around. There isn’t a receiver on the Bengals team (53 or practice squad) listed under six foot. All three TEs are 6’6 while another on the practice squad is listed at 6’7.
Bengals’ Special Teams
Adam Jones and rookie wide receiver Alex Erickson, split kick and punt return duties last week. Jones opened things up as a KR, Erickson came in after long drives when Jones was gassed. CB Chykie Brown, S Derron Smith, and CB Chris Lewis-Harris were seen as jammers.
Jones is still super aggressive and has never met a return he didn’t like.
They will double-vice, especially to the side of the return, and will always attempt to force an outside release down the sideline. Leverage inside and the inside jammer sits on the snap, not letting the gunner cross his face.
Unable to get a feel for their kick return unit formation. They were protecting against an onside kick every time against the Jets, who lined up in a bunched look that would threaten it. Not something the Steelers do.
Uzomah and Kroft are the wings on field goals. Mike Nugent’s career long is a 55 yard field goal, accomplished in 2012. That means the Bengals would have to make it to the Steelers’ 37 to be in proven range.
Kevin Huber serves as the team’s punter/holder. He hasn’t attempted a fake in years and never thrown a pass.
Derron Smith led the Bengals in snaps last week with 23.
Josh’s Individual Breakdown
I can’t really say much more for Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals other than that.
Like I did for Week 1’s matchup with the Washington Redskins, I’ll take a look at individual players on the Bengals’ offense for this week’s showdown at Heinz Field at 1 p.m.
For Cincinnati, everything starts with sixth-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who’s taken massive leaps in performance the last two years. In 2015, Dalton threw for 3,250 yards and 25 touchdowns in just 13 games before breaking the thumb on his throwing hand against Pittsburgh, missing the rest of the regular season and the Wild Card matchup with the Steelers.
Last season Dalton cut down on his interceptions, throwing just 7 in those 13 games, so he’s become a quarterback who can not only take shots down the field, but also take care of the ball. But where the veteran quarterback really struggles is with pressure in his face, which is exactly what the New York Jets did in Week 1.
In the 23-22 loss, the Jets sacked Dalton 7 times, including a franchise record five times in the first half. Dalton looked skittish and threw off balance quite a few times due to the pressure coming at him up the middle.
Despite being sacked 7 times, Dalton remained poised and led his team to the win, completing 23-of-30 passes (76.6 percent) with one touchdown and one interception.
In the GIF above you can see Dalton with jittery feet, falling away from a throw to rookie tight end C.J. Uzomah, which would have been a sure touchdown in a close game.
Through six years of watching Dalton, this is one of the rare occasions where I’ve seem him fall away from a throw like this, and that likely had to do a ton with the beating he took from the Jets’ defensive line in the win.
Cincinnati’s offensive line was downright horrendous in the win and looks like a MAJOR Achilles heel this season.
This is how Cincinnati will line up left to right this week:
LT — Andrew Whitworth
LG — Clint Boling
C — Russell Bodine
RG — Kevin Zeitler
RT — Cedric Ogbuehi
Whitworth is as steady as they come at left tackle in the AFC. The 34-year-old bookend tackle continues to get it down for the Bengals in the run and the pass, protecting Dalton’s blindside admirably.
From there, that’s where it gets bad for the Bengals.
Bodine is easily one of the worst centers in football. He has very little power at the point of attack and he can’t anchor with powerful defensive tackles. Want to see a butt-kicking last 60 minutes? Watch Steve McLendon and Leonard Williams dominate Bodine all game long in Week 1.
Boling and Zeitler are solid players in their own right, but they’re often asked to help clean up next to Bodine, and sometimes that clean-up process is difficult. They’re asked to do more along the interior in terms or pass pro and run blocking than most guards in the league because of how poor the starting center is in Cincinnati.
Rounding things out on the offensive line is second-year tackle Ogbuehi. The former second-round pick from Texas A&M held his own for the most part in his first career start against the Jets, but he’s making the transition to right tackle after playing left tackle in college. He’s a very athletic tackle who can handle speed off the edge, but I’ve yet to see someone bull-rush him. That could change on Sunday.
With the pass protection struggling against the Jets it seemed to cover up the poor run blocking as well as the Bengals rushed for just 57 yards on 19 carries (3.0 yards per carry). The duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard had very little room to run against the Jets as the Bengals tried pretty much everything, including zone stretches, powers, counters and end-arounds.
Hill had one long run of 12 yards early in the game, while Bernard busted off an 11 yard run, but outside of that it was tough sledding for the run game.
The disappointing thing with the Bengals’ offense is that they got Bernard just 7 touches against the Jets. For a guy as dynamic as a runner and pass catcher, 7 touches is nowhere near enough, so that number should skyrocket against the Steelers in Week 2.
Outside of Hill and Bernard, the Bengals showed that they wanted to steal a play from the Steelers and run the end around with James Wright twice. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Wright lost six yards total on the two carries, finding very little running room since they seemed to telegraph what was coming.
One thing we know for sure is that the Bengals have a bonafide superstar as their No. 1 receiver, AJ Green. Like Mike Tomlin said this week, “We know what he is; we knew that even before last week. But if you didn’t, now you do. But we did.”
Green simply went out and caught 12 of 13 targets for 180 yards and a score, which was a 54-yard post route past Darrelle Revis early in the game. One play that really stood out to me with Green was the one below.
I haven’t seen the Bengals run something like this for Green with a power line to the right before throwing the screen back to the weak side of the field with linemen out in front.
If Green doesn’t have brain cramp and stumble out of bounds in the open field, he likely adds another score to his resume from Week 1.
The Bengals make the audible before the snap as Dalton drops into the gun with Bernard as his side-car. Whitworth and Uzomah make the shift from left to right, creating an unbalanced line to the right, while Kroft and LaFell shift to the left.
Look at the running room created for Green from the subtle play action to the right before throwing back to the left. He should have scored, no question.
With Mohamed Sanu in Atlanta and Marvin Jones in Detroit, Cincinnati had to break in two new receivers in Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd in Week 1.
LaFell, who had drop issues in New England hauled in four passes on four targets for 91 yards, including a big 49-yard romp on a screen pass along the right sideline. Boyd hauled in just two catches out of the slot for 24 yards, but with improved protection, Dalton should be able to find the dynamic rookie more often against Pittsburgh.
At tight end, star Tyler Eifert is still dealing with an ankle injury so who knows if he’ll play on Sunday, but Tomlin and the staff are preparing like he’ll be on the field. Getting Eifert back would be a huge add to the Cincinnati offense as the move tight end can line up anywhere on the field and provide another matchup problem opposite of Green.
For now though, Tyler Kroft and Uzomah are slated to be the tight ends for the Bengals on Sunday. Uzomah was a revelation as a pass catcher in Week 1, drawing five targets down the field from Dalton in his first career NFL game.
Outside of a 54-yard catch-and-run, Uzomah hauled in just one other pass for five yards. However, like the GIF showed earlier, if Dalton steps into that throw the rookie has his first career touchdown.
Kroft showed up as a solid blocker for the Bengals against the Jets and had a key block to spring Green on the screen, but he isn’t much of a weapon in the passing game for the Bengals.
On special teams, Cincinnati has a solid kicking game with Mike Nugent and punter Kevin Huber.
Nugent went 3-for-4 in the win against the Jets, including the go-ahead 47-yard field goal with 54 seconds left. Huber punted three times for 144 yards (48 yards per punt) with one being downed inside the 20.
In the return game, Adam Jones and rookie Alex Erickson will split reps as punt returns depending on the position of the field with Erickson taking punts deep in his own territory while Jones will get shots to returns punts for scores near midfield.
On kickoff return Erickson will handle the majority of the duties while Jones will get a shot or two depending on the game situation. Jones is the big threat to break a big one, while Erickson is the steady returner who won’t turn the ball over and will fight for every yard.
They might not be a flashy special teams unit, but they’re solid. Sometimes that’s all you need in that area of the field.