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Film Breakdown: How The Bengals' Offense Kicked Into High Gear Against the Lions

Cincinnati will be looking for the same production this week in Baltimore.

The Bengals played their most complete game of the season on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Before garbage time started, Cincinnati built a 27-0 lead. 

It was a suffocating performance on defense and a strong performance on offense as well. Even though the offense took a little bit to get going, it ended up doing well. This was the first 30 point performance of the season for the Bengals. Just an absolutely dominating 34-11 victory. Specifically focusing on the offense, since we talked enough about the defense last week, there were two main reasons for this victory.

Running Back Dominance

The Bengals' running backs were great in this game. Both Joe Mixon and Chris Evans had phenomenal games in all three areas that are important for running backs: running the ball, receiving, and pass protection.

Let’s start with Evans:

The Bengals come out in a 3x2 empty set with a bunch to the passing strength. On the weak side to the boundary, Evans is lined up well outside of the numbers. Detroit is playing Cover 1 on this play. When playing a single high coverage, such as Cover 1, the man defenders are going to play with divider leverage.

Divider leverage

With the ball on the near hash, the bottom of the numbers is where the divider will lay. It is kind of an inverse relationship to where the receiver is. If the receiver is outside of the "divider," the defender will play inside leverage. This is because the defender will want to use the sideline as his help due to being so close to it. If the receiver is inside of the "divider," the defender will play outside leverage to play into his help to the inside.

Evans attacks the space between him and the defender by starting his release to the outside. He gets on the defender’s toes with this and then fakes inside with a hard jab step. This opens up the defender and allows Evans to create instant separation. Evans is too far outside for most safeties to help and Joe Burrow puts the ball right on the money. Maybe a hair too far for a running back, but Evans shows his special skill set to catch up to the ball and make the play.

He showed elite tracking, release, and hands for a running back. Most backs only run shallow routes and screens when they're split out wide. With Evans, the Bengals can attack deeper down the field. It is rare to see a running back do this to another defender regardless of the talent level.

This was the other end of Evans’ game on Sunday. Picking up the blitz. This play was the most impressive blitz pickup from him on the day. The Bengals are giving a play fake inside. The Lions, on the other hand, are bringing heat against them. 

Burrow knows he has Chase on the skinny post and just needs time to hit it. Evans catches the free runner off of the edge out of the corner of his eye. Right after the fake, Evans goes to pick up the blitzer. He hits him low and then drives him away from Burrow to give him space to make this throw. Eventually, the blitzer comes off, but that is well after the ball has been released. If Evans missed his pickup there is a very low chance the Burrow can make this play. His block helped create an explosive play. Probably the third most important player on the play other than the guys throwing and catching the ball.

While most of what Evans did that was truly impressive was in the passing game, Mixon excelled in all three phases.

Going in reverse order from Evans, let's begin by watching some of Mixon in pass protection.

On this play, Mixon is cutting the defensive end after the play fake. The intent of this block is really just to let Burrow survive long enough to make the throw. The cut block is not a plan to take a guy out of the play for 3 seconds. Instead, it is utilized to slow down the defender. This is exactly what Mixon does on this play. Burrow then capitalizes on the time given to him by his running back with a perfect throw to C.J. Uzomah for a touchdown.

This play highlights Mixon’s ability to run after the catch. The catch and route are nothing exemplary, but this is what happens when he gets in space with room to run. The Bengals are running a mesh passing concept with swap boot action. Mixon is the first read on this play. If that is covered, Burrow will work to the near receiver from mesh. He doesn't need to go through any progressions here because the motion (more later) opened up the outside for Mixon and slowed down the backside. This is an easy gain off of a wide zone play fake and what Zac Taylor has been missing over the past few weeks. Mixon does a good job to run after the catch, but the highlight is Ja’Marr Chase's effort. He sprints downfield to make a huge block. Really nice design to get a playmaker in space and then flawless execution to turn that into a touchdown.

When it came to running the ball, Mixon put on a clinic with making guys miss in the backfield. Starting with the same side duo concept from shotgun, we can look at a few plays where Mixon excelled. 

The duo run play is essentially “power without a puller." It is a gap concept rather than a zone concept and the point is to get double teams and drive those doubles backward. The running back will read the MIKE linebacker and try to make him wrong. There are only two places the back should go with the ball and that is bouncing or down the middle. He should not cut back to the opposite side.

duo

There is also a subtle difference in the two plays that are essentially the same play just flipped. On one the playside double comes from the right tackle and tight end, but on the other against a similar front the playside double is with the left tackle and the left guard. Could be due to personnel, the 3-Tech playing a little more loose on the second, or other factors. On both of these plays, he bounces it to the outside and then makes a linebacker miss as he jukes back inside. 

Mixon cannot run the play as designed due to one of his guys losing their solo block on each play, but that is why you pay him. He can make run plays look better than they actually are with his ability to make guys miss behind the line and ability to set up blocks. These two were great plays from him on one of the Bengals' favorite shotgun run concepts.

But what about under center? If you have been following me and reading my articles by now the words “wide zone” should creep into your head. Let’s watch a few clips of him running wide zone. If you have not kept up and you are curious as to what wide zone is, I did an entire article on it that you should read that goes over everything from the blocking scheme, the history, and the running back’s read in-depth earlier in the year. For those of you that read that but want the play art anyway, here you go.

wide zone

These five clips really showcase Mixon’s ability in wide zone. He sets up his blocks well, makes guys miss in the backfield, and he makes decisive cuts to get upfield. He shows again why he was paid as a running back by making the blocking look better than it is. 

On the first clip, the stunt by the nose tackle is difficult for the center to handle. This leads to him missing the block, but it doesn’t matter because Mixon gets upfield quick enough that the nose does not have an effect on the play. The second play is a classic Mixon cut all the way across the formation to the backside. Then he puts on the jets and nearly scores a touchdown. 

A play is never dead when he is running the ball. Then on the other plays, he shows again his ability to make defenders miss in the backfield. This turns what could have been a terrible day running the ball into over five-yards per carry. Excellent performance from him running the ball against Detroit.

Motion And Play Action

Two other things on offense stood out to me in Week 6. One of them was the usage of motion at the snap. Specifically, I am talking about jet motion on both run plays and play action. If you scroll up and rewatch some of the clips that I have shown, you will see the utilization of jet motion at the snap on a wide zone play and Mixon’s big catch. 

There are a few reasons that jet motion is something that should be utilized. I will go over three of the effects of jet motion here. The first effect is in the run game and that is that it helps the offensive line. With jet motion, the linebackers freeze up and sometimes get bumped over with the motion. This creates advantageous angles for the offensive line to block them. 

The second effect is that it slows down the pursuit from the backside. On a lot of wide zone plays, the keeper fake is what holds the unblocked end, but when you add in jet motion as well, the end really cannot crash down to ruin the play. The third effect comes in the pass game. This is that it creates extra space for other receivers. On the Mixon touchdown, jet motion was utilized to clear out the right side of the play so that when Burrow throws it to him, it is just green grass in front of him.

Play action was the other area that stood out to me when rewatching the film. The Bengals finally got into some deeper play action passes and they worked beautifully. Each one was different, but the general thought with play action is that it will freeze up defenders and allow receivers to get behind them. Mostly this means linebackers, but there is one play where it helped to freeze up a safety as well.

This play has no motion at the snap, but it does have play action. That play action holds the second level defenders so that Uzomah can just run away from the defender covering him. Burrow does a good job to sell the play action and then go through his reads to get to Uzomah on the backside. He makes a pinpoint throw to the veteran tight end for the touchdown.

This deep post to Chase was set up by both jet motion and under center play action. The safety does not seem to get to the correct depth right away and that is most likely due to everything he is reading during the play fake. Once that has been executed he sees Tee Higgins coming towards him and gets caught up a little bit again. This allows Chase to run away from his defender for a huge gain.

More play action in conjunction with jet motion. There is an insane amount of space created in this play in particular. The area between the defensive backs and the linebackers is ginormous. The safety tries to nail down on the first crosser and instead leaves the second crossing pattern open.

In all of these plays, the play action and jet motion combine to mess with defenders and create space. This is what I was talking about over the past few weeks about needing to take the easy stuff that comes with the wide zone offense. By going further downfield on the under center play action passes, the offense is generating easy explosive plays. These plays are critical to the offense becoming something to fear for defenses. Every big gain does not have to be a 1-on-1 shot to Chase, sometimes the offense can scheme it up like on these plays.

Hopefully, we see the offense continue to thrive next week as they head to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. This game was an impressive performance, but next week it is a much tougher opponent. The Ravens defense recently held the high scoring Chargers offense to just six points. However, the Bengals have a chance to take it to that defense if they play like they did on Sunday.

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