Football is finally back! Even if these are just preseason games they still carry plenty of excitement.
Monitoring the different changes that have been made from last season, how rookies look and how young players are improving is enjoyable. Plus, it's fun to watch football again.
The Bengals have quite a few things to figure out this preseason, but most notably is trying to figure out the starting offensive line in Frank Pollack’s wide zone system. It would also be nice to catch a glimpse of what changes Marion Hobby might bring to the table as the new defensive line coach.
Let’s watch some preseason film and see if we can find the answers to these questions.
Wide Zone Offense
Well as I wrote about over the last two weeks and projected, it seems as if the wide zone offense is in full effect. We did not see every play that comes with the wide zone offense in the Bengals' matchup against the Bucs, but it’s preseason so I am sure that some plays being kept under lock and key.
The Bengals ran wide zone action to the left and a naked keeper with a slide route from Tyler Boyd to the right on the first play of the game. This is one of the bread and butter plays of the wide zone offense and we used it like one. I saw Moss, Boyd, Shreck, and more on this little slide route and with the slide was always a wide zone play fake with a naked keeper. They need to get as much practice on this play in as possible because it is going to be one of the most called plays for the Bengals this year. The other interesting thing about this play is that we have a condensed set with a stack tight to the offensive line on the left side. We did not use these condensed sets too much last year. It is something that Sean McVay and the Rams use a ton though and that is where Zac Taylor comes from.
I would expect more bunch and stacks along with wide receivers tight to the offensive line going forward. I will give the one caveat with this play is that eventually you need to run windback or split zone with Tyler Boyd sealing the defensive end for this to work all year. Most defenses are smart and if they see Boyd on the sneak route (which is really a fake sift block) then they will assume play action. So hit them hard with the wide receiver and make them respect his ability to block so that this works at a higher level. We'll look at more examples of the wide zone later in this article.
Stunts On Defense
The main takeaway I had schematically is that the Bengals seem to be using stunts, twists, and movement along our front more often this year. There were a ton of E-T (end crashes first then the tackle loops around him) and T-E (tackle crashes first and then the end loops around him) stunts. This movement creates unpredictability for the offensive line. They need to stay on their toes and keep good levels with their adjacent linemen to pass these off. These twists are very useful for generating some pressure and freeing up guys for one on ones with the offense. I do not know why they moved away from them last season, but they're back.
This was my personal favorite stunt of the night. Mirrored stunts between the mugged up A gap linebacker with the defensive tackle next to him. This could make one of the linebackers a free runner if not picked up properly by the running back, although Tampa does pick it up. Even with him not being a free runner defensive coordinators will take a one on one with the running back every time. The linebacker should win that battle. The other nice thing that this stunt in particular does is that it gives both of the defensive ends a one on one with the offensive tackle they are going against. The interior of the offensive line is too caught up with everything going on with the tackles and linebackers to give help. The end result of this play is that it did not work out, but I still think it was a great process and I hope Hobby continues utilizing this movement along the front.
Two Impressive Rookie Ends
There were two standout rookie performances on defense to me in this game. Third round pick Joseph Ossai and undrafted free agent Darius Hodge.
Let's start with Ossai’s fantastic game cut short by injury. He began the game by taking a huge shot from Ryan Jensen on his first snap. A real welcome to the National Football League hit from the Buccaneers starting center. The good news is things only went up from there.
Ossai and Hubbard are running an E-T stunt with Hubbard at nose tackle and Ossai coming off the edge. Buccaneers right guard Alex Cappa tries to jumpset Hubbard and this makes it impossible for right tackle Tristan Wirfs to pass off Ossai.
Ossai disengages with a club move and is able to sack Tom Brady. This started off a great performance for the rookie. After this play Bruce Arians pulled his starters, so Ossai started to go against some of the secondary members of their offensive line.
Ossai is able to stun their backup left tackle with a shot to the chest. This stopped his feet for a moment which allows Ossai to work outside with a rip move for a quarterback hit. Another impressive play for the rookie.
It was also nice to see that Ossai has the ability to utilize a counter move if his original plan does not work out. It looks as if he tries to use a similar move to the last clip with a stunning two hand strike then get around the outside, but the left tackle is more prepared to deal with it. However, this opened up an opportunity to pull on the left tackle and win inside, which Ossai does for another quarterback hit. He continued to have a nice game, but his night was cut short due to a wrist injury. Reports say he could be good to go for week one against the Vikings, so hopefully, his hot start carries over into the regular season.
Hodge came in late, but had a really nice impact. He finished with 1.5 sacks and plenty of pressures. It was against Tampa’s third unit that are all fighting for roster spots, but he dominated them. That’s what you want to see from one of your fringe guys against other fringe guys. It shows that he is a full tier above them as a player.
Here we see Hodge showing both impressive get off/burst, a high motor, and the quick processing needed to be a pass rusher at a high level. As nearly every defensive line coach that I have ever listened to says, the get off is the most important tool for a pass rusher. It can allow you to speed around guys, convert speed to power and bully them, or as in this case, it can open guys up setting up your other moves.
This picture from the clip is the perfect example of the effect a great get off can have on an offensive lineman. He’s selling out to stop the speed rush around the outside from Hodge because he can’t keep up with him.
The left tackle doesn’t keep his hips square to Hodge and oversets way too far outside. Hodge can easily rip inside for a pressure and sack because his get off was so nice. Not only did his get off impress me, but also his quick processing to see the tackle overset and make a move inside impressed me. This pass rush from Hodge gives the Bengals everything they need to see to give Hodge more reps to see if he can be a rotational piece on this defensive line.
Offensive Line Battle
It seems as if a few spots on the offensive line are pretty set. Left tackle Jonah Williams, left guard Quinton Spain, center Trey Hopkins, and right tackle Riley Reiff. This really only leaves one spot for the rest of the guys to win. The battle going into the night was between Xavier Sua-Fio, Michael Jordan, and Jackson Carman, but in my opinion another player made a strong case to start along this offensive line.
Let's start with Michael Jordan, who got all of the first team reps and for the most part he was solid against tough competition.
This was the most impressive play of the night from Jordan. He maintains good body position throughout the pass set. Keeping his body in between the pass rusher and the quarterback. First the defensive tackle swipes away Jordan’s hands, but he is able to quickly reset his hands onto the pass rusher. He then drops his hips to get lower than the pass rusher and anchors against his bull rush. The pass rush from the defensive tackle was an impressive plan that included a move and a counter in case that didn’t work, but Jordan was able to win the rep handedly through all of that.
I’ve never really considered Jordan’s processing to be one of his biggest weaknesses, but it was not a true strength last year either. This however shows pretty impressive processing ability to work on the fly and help stop the T-E twist. He is working against the defensive portion of this twist which is slanting out trying to take out multiple defenders. The right tackle does a terrible job of keeping level with Jordan, so he cannot pass off his man and pick up the looper. However, Jordan does not lose his calm and just makes a great pass block against the defensive tackle. He can do this because he knows this is a half slide to him, so Billy Price will be able to pick up the looper. This allows the stunt to be picked up even if the right tackle did not correctly do his job. Smart play from Jordan and another good rep in pass protection.
Even with these impressive pass pro reps, Jordan still left plenty of meat on the bone in his first preseason action. There were a couple of plays like this in the run game, which should not surprise you if you've watched him over the past two seasons. On this one he just comes in way too aggressive and wild against a high quality linebacker in Lavonte David. He’s leaning too far forward and playing too high while also not taking the perfect angle to block David. This allows the linebacker to play Matador and just move out of the way while Jordan runs into nothing like a raging bull. To make matters worse David ends up forcing a fumble and a turnover on the play, but that part is not truly Jordan’s fault. Perine needs to hold onto the football.
Sua-Filo did not play with the first unit and was not one of the first players off of the bench to play with the second unit. Either he is further down the depth chart than I anticipated or the Bengals know what they have in him and do not need him to take any of the reps at right guard. He played zero reps at right guard to my knowledge and looked pretty average at left guard, which is essentially the story of his career. I lean towards believing the latter part of this hypothesis and think the Bengals want to see Jordan and Carman take every snap at right guard as unknowns compared to giving some of those reps to a guy they know can be OK.
Third up in this battle is Carman. He entered training camp as the favorite to win the job and understandably so. He was selected in the second round and was “the Bengals' guy” in the draft process over some of the more highly thought of players among draft analysts. His game was really up and down as a player with one weird and interesting piece. Let's start with the “positiove” portion of his day.
Carman showcased the heavy hands and strength that made him a five star recruit coming out of high school on this play. He is working a double team with the right guard and puts the defender onto his back. Pretty simple analysis that knocking a defender over is a good play, although if I was to critique anything it would be to stay on his feet to block another player. If he did that, this rep would go from good to amazing.
Carman jumpset on nearly every pass attempt against Tampa Bay. A jumpset is essentially taking the fight to the defender rather than kick sliding and working backwards. By getting on a guy quick you can stall their rush before it even starts, but the window for success is smaller than a more traditional pass set. This jumpset from Carman was successful as he hits the pass rusher and stops him before he can get going. It helps to stop that bullrush before it picks up momentum. Like I mentioned earlier though, jumpsets can leave you on the wrong level with the tackle next to you, so twists and stunts are more deadly. A jumpset should really be more of a change-up to be used rather than an offensive lineman’s go to pass set.
Here we can see the negatives of a jumpset. While Carman initially stalls the rusher his window for success is decreased. The rusher gives him a good counter move and wins the rep. Carman has a difficult recovery on this play because his momentum is carrying forward rather than being beat on a traditional pass set and having his momentum working backwards. If he loses in the exact same way, but a traditional pass set it would also take longer. The jumpset speeds up the pace of a pass rush. The initial move and then counter move take place much quicker because the offensive lineman engaged much quicker.
While this one isn’t a real jumpset because Carman is run blocking on an RPO, this does give another example to the issue with trying to get on guys quick in pass protection. While the right tackle gets beat even worse and gives up a huge quarterback hit, Carman completely whiffs on his block and ends up on the ground. There were a few plays just like this one where Carman whiffed or got beat quickly and those losses really spoiled a pretty decent game from him.
Lastly, I wanted to look at a player that created a good case to be part of the starting offensive line in D’Ante Smith.
Smith was at his best in the run game. Not to say that he was lackluster in pass protection because I would not be writing his case if he was. It is just that Smith was an absolute force in run blocking.
Here you can see him at left guard with the athleticism to pull and kick out a defensive back as part of the pin-pull play. This creates a nice hole for the running back to sprint through.
This was another play at left guard. He does not initially get the movement to displace the defender. This play showed the difference in the added weight and strength. If he was still 280 pounds, then he would not be able to move this defender the same way. After the initial stall he shows off his core strength to be able to uproot a defender from a stand still and seal him off. Really nice play from the rookie.
His work at the second level against linebackers was the best part of his game last week. He just absolutely bullied Tampa Bay’s backup linebackers. This bullying happens on a wide zone where his goal is to get to the linebacker and block him on the angle he is found. Meaning if he goes inside seal him, but if you take the correct angle and he is flowing, then throw him out of the play.
The right side of the offensive line ruins this one for Smith, but he throws the linebacker off screen on this play. He beats up on the linebacker and mugs him so far off the ball that he ends up off the screen. That is a very impressive block that Bengals fans haven't seen since 2016 when Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler were in town.
Oh and he did it again. This time from the left tackle position. His ability to sustain these blocks against the second level and drive them was probably the most impressive part of his game against the Buccaneers. Not to say it was all great.
This was the only bad play in Smith’s game from my memory and it leads to a fumble. He does show that he will not sulk and beat himself up when he is beaten, but rather jump on the ball so that a bad play does not turn into a terrible play. Still he needs to clean this up if he wants to win the starting job. The draft capital does not matter too much to me, but I think we both know that if Carman had the high level game that Smith had, he would be repping with the first team right now.
Unfortunately, Smith missed Wednesday's practice because he was dehydrated and he might not play on Friday night in Washington
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