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Scouting Report: Bengals Offense Putting Up Points

As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.

Today, our second look at the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT

BENGALS’ RUN GAME

It’s arguably not the bread and butter of their team anymore but the ground game is still a threat, mainly because of the man toting the rock. That’s Joe Mixon, who ran for 90 yards at five yards a pop against the Steelers in the first meeting. Mixon is still the lead guy and a workhorse back with 180 carries. No other Bengals has more than 38. Mixon is playing nearly two-thirds of the time, 65.8% of the snaps, which ranks sixth in the league. He’s averaging 4.2 YPC and his longest run this year is only 27 yards but he’s a talented runner with vision and power. Mixon has a nose for the end zone with nine of the team’s ten rushing touchdowns.

On the year, the Bengals’ run game hasn’t been big-play capable. 25 runs of 10+ yards, 25th in the league, though five of those runs have gone for 20+ yards, which sits middle of the pack. They are more of a grind-it-out team but do that job well.

Though the Bengals rank just 14th in overall motion rate and only 22nd in motion-at-the-snap usage, they’ve seemed to increase those numbers recently. I see a ton of pre-snap motion with this team, even if it’s just trading the Y tight end to the other side. Force the defense to shift and adjust after they get initially set. The team will often trade the Y to the other side and then run wide zone off it.

 

The Bengals’ receivers don’t have a lot of carries this year, Ja’Marr Chase leads them with six, but they run a lot of jet action and build off that. Here’s examples of them giving the jet, faking the jet and handing the ball off to Mixon, and faking the jet, faking the handoff, and throwing a Y screen. Lot to deal with.

 

Bengals also run a good deal of man-blocking schemes. Double-teams up front to get Mixon into the second level.

And check out this trickery. They ran a flea-flicker against the Browns in Week 9 and ran a fake flea-flicker against the Raiders last Sunday. Really cool.

 

Some other offensive stats. They rank ninth in points per game at 26.8 PPG, currently their best offensive ranking since 2015. After not scoring more than 27 points their first five games, they’ve breached the 30-point mark in four of their last five games. So offense is really picking things up.

What’s interesting is that they’re a top ten scoring offense despite being ranked 30th in plays per drive run. Which suggests they’re hitting big plays downfield (which they are). Their red zone offense is excellent, fourth-best in the league at 69.2% while they are average converting on third down at 39.5%.

BENGALS’ PASS GAME

With Joe Burrow running the show, not only enjoying an impressive sophomore season but doing so coming off a torn ACL. He’s completing over 68% of his throws, fifth best in football, while his 8.4 YPA, second best of any QB only behind Arizona’s Kyler Murray. The Bengals’ YPA is 8.5 compared to the Steelers’ 6.3 YPC. Big difference there. Bengals throw deep. Steelers throw short. Burrow’s 21 passing TDs are tied fifth most in football.

Burrow has a ton of weapons to throw to. Ja’Marr Chase is now known as one of the NFL’s top deep threats, something Pittsburgh found out the hard way back in Week 3. After Chase’s 200 yard performance against Baltimore, defenses have really tried to slow him down. Over his last three games, he has just 12 receptions for 112 yards, an average of just 9.4 YPC (he averaged 21.5 YPC prior to that) and a pair of touchdowns. But forget about him and he’ll win 1v1 matchups downfield.

Tyler Boyd continues to be a stop slot weapon and go-to guy on third down. 17 of his 44 receptions this season, 38.6%, have come on third down. His 17 receptions are top ten in football. Tee Higgins is a quality #3 while TE C.J. Uzomah has become a big part of the pass game. After a very quiet start to the season, he has 23 catches for 283 yards, 12.3 YPC, and five touchdowns since Week Four. Underrated tight end. RB Chris Evans serves as a two-minute back, sort of the Gio Bernard role though he isn’t playing as much as Bernard did. Evans has more receptions (ten) than carries (four).

On the year, the Bengals have 35 completions of 20+ yards, tied 12th most. They are tied #1 in football with ten completions of 40+ yards, right up there with the LA Rams. Big-play capable, no doubt about it.

Schematically, as I noted above, Boyd is their guy on third down. Align him as #2 or #3 and have him run option or slant routes. Top underneath threat.

 

Bengals run a lot of 4×1, very much en vogue this season across the more aggressive and prolific NFL offenses. Couple examples of that. Either throw to the four-receiver side or have Chase run a slant backside 1v1.

 

Plenty of quick, easy reads for Burrow as well. Spot (curl/flat/corner) Hank concepts (curl/flat) and Dragon (slant/flat) for Burrow to hit.

 

JOSH’s INDIVIDUAL REPORT

It’s Bengals week (again), Steelers fans!

First off, I hope you all had a happy, healthy Thanksgiving this year. Here’s hoping you ate as much as you needed to forget that Sunday night game in Los Angeles just five days ago.

We’re on to Cincinnati.

Heading into the Week 12 matchup in Ohio against the 6-4 Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers’ defense will have a real challenge once again, as the Bengals’ offense can put up points in bunches with an explosive passing attack led by Joe Burrow, and can also bludgeon a defense into submission with a power rushing attack centered on star running back Joe Mixon.

This is a terrific offense overall and has some really intriguing wrinkles to it, which will really pose a challenge.

Burrow really has the Bengals firing on all cylinders offensively. He doesn’t have the strongest of arms, but he has great pace and placement and just really appears to be locked in within head coach Zac Taylor’s offense in Cincinnati.

It helps to have playmakers like rookie Ja’Marr Chase, second-year pro Tee Higgins, and crafty pro Tyler Boyd to throw the football to, not to mention leaning on a rushing attack led by Mixon that is right up there with some of the best in the NFL.

Burrow is just very heady, advanced for his age at the position and is just in full command at this point.

He has a special connection with Chase and really leans on the top 5 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to be the key cog in the engine that is the passing attack, whether that’s firing deep for him with his deadly speed, or hitting him over the middle taking advantage of slower linebackers and safeties.

This throw against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 11 was a thing of beauty from Burrow to Chase. It’s on a frozen rope and the timing is perfect. Burrow sees Las Vegas linebacker Corey Littleton using a ROBOT (roll over and back) or “whip” technique, causing him to turn his back and run to a spot while looking for the crossers. He identifies Chase just a tick late, allowing for enough time and space for the dart from Burrow, picking up the first down and getting the Bengals out of the shadow of their own end zone.

The thing that really stands out with Burrow is his touch and ball placement.

Here against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9, the Bengals went with the flea flicker, hitting Higgins on the wheel route down the left sideline. Look at the touch and accuracy here to get this ball to Higgins inbounds, dropping one in the bucket over the Browns’ linebacker and underneath the closing defensive back.

The Bengals sure do like the flea flicker, and they added a wrinkle to it in Week 11 against the Raiders as Mixon faked the flea flicker back to Burrow, spun back upfield and ran the football.

Pretty remarkable wrinkle.

Mixon is the true star of this team though, and he’s become exactly the workhorse the Bengals thought he could become when they drafted him. He’s an ideal blend of speed, power and vision, and is an elite-level pass catcher out of the backfield as well.

Against the Raiders, Mixon had a field day, helping the Bengals bludgeon the Raiders’ defense into submission.

One wrinkle I loved came on Mixon’s first touchdown of the game. The Bengals faked the jet sweep to Higgins and pulling wide receiver Stanley Morgan from the backside to serve as Mixon’s lead blocker.

That’s some impressive stuff. You can see the contact balance and overall power Mixon has at the end, stretching across for the touchdown.

His ability to shift gears on runs is truly impressive.

On a toss crack to the left, watch the way Mixon throttles down once he’s on the edge, allowing his pulling linemen to land their blocks, giving Mixon a legitimate runway to the second level.

He’s so good at this stuff.

To cap off his great day against Las Vegas, Mixon showed his vision and cutback abilities, seeing the cutback open up immediately off the backside of the unbalanced line. From there, he has the speed to destroy angles from safeties.

He’s the complete package.

At tight end, I still love CJ Uzomah for the Bengals. He’s a fantastic Pro-style tight end who is a solid blocker and is a tough-as-nails pass catcher with some juice as a YAC guy. Drew Sample is the same way, though he can be moved around the formation for mismatches as a pass catcher.

Up front, the Bengals still have their struggles as Cincinnati allowed the Raiders to absolutely batter Burrow. Good news is this unit is clicking in the run game and gets a relatively banged up Steelers’ defense up next.

Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Sunday:

LT — Jonah Williams
LG — Quinton Spain
C — Trey Hopkins
RG — Hakeem Adeniji
RT — Riley Reiff

I’ve been really impressed with Adeniji as of late. He’s a great athlete overall and has really made strides in the run game. Kicking him inside has really paid off for the Bengals.

Williams and Reiff have had their struggles in pass protection, but these guys really move bodies in the run game and have helped the Bengals establish a physical identity.

No one is more important to the run game for the Bengals up front than Spain. He’s an absolute unit that can toss defenders around. He loves to work downhill and has landed some true body blows to defenders in the last month or so.

The Bengals will also bring in Isaiah Prince or Fred Johnson as an extra lineman and really get after defenses with six linemen. The Steelers have struggled mightily against that in recent weeks, so I fully expect the Bengals to roll that out early and often on Sunday.

Special teams are really solid as of late for the Bengals, thanks to rookie kicker Evan McPherson. He’s a true weapon in the kicking game with an elite-level leg and great accuracy. The rookie out of Florida drilled three field goals from 50+ yards in Week 11 at Las Vegas, becoming the 13th kicker in NFL history to accomplish the feat. He can hit from 55 and in with ease.

Punter Kevin Huber continues to get it done at 36 years of age, averaging 47 yards per punt with another 15 punts downed inside the 20 yard line. He doesn’t have as big of a leg as a he once did earlier in his career, but he rarely outkicks his coverage and just gets it done at a high level.

I really, really like return man Darius Phillips. He’s a touchdown waiting to happen anytime he touches the football in space. He’s very smart back there, rarely takes risks and is a true north/south return man that can make you miss and has home run speed.

Steelers’ coverage units will have to be on top of their game on Sunday.

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