Why Has the Cincinnati Bengals Offense Collapsed?

The NFL is a copycat league. At all times has been. If there’s one thing that works in opposition to a top-tier offense—like no longer blitzing Patrick Mahomes, or operating 6-1 fronts in opposition to Sean McVay’s offense—it spreads like wildfire. So when the Cincinnati Bengals ran hog wild during the AFC playoffs with probably the most league’s maximum impressive passing assaults, it figured that the next season would characteristic a concerted effort from defensive coordinators around the league to take the wind out in their sails. Such has been the case for the Bengals offense over the primary two weeks of a nonetheless winless season. Cincinnati’s offense ranks twenty fourth within the league in EPA consistent with play, and twenty first in issues consistent with pressure. Burrow in particular has struggled—he’s remaining in DYAR and third-worst in DVOA. And there’s one magic sprinkle of fairy mud in charge for all of those struggles: excellent ol’ shaped Duvet 2.

Remaining season, Cincinnati used to be a feast-or-famine workforce when dealing with Duvet 2. Burrow’s 9.15 yards consistent with strive in opposition to such protection ranked 0.33 within the league, whilst his sack price (14.1 %) in reality led the league. It will appear just like the Bengals have been a downfield passing workforce in opposition to Duvet 2, with Burrow incessantly discovering a deep goal or taking a sack on his Duvet 2 dropbacks—however that wasn’t the case in any respect. Burrow’s air yards consistent with strive in opposition to Duvet 2 (4.79) used to be a few of the league’s lowest.

This turns out unexpected for such an explosive downfield passing assault, however the ones stunning sideline balls to Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins aren’t the one feathers in Burrow’s cap. Going again to his LSU days, Burrow has been a dominant quarterback in unfold, quick-game offenses. The evolution of Zac Taylor’s offense beneath Burrow has observed a gentle spreading out towards the sidelines, culminating in 2021’s super-spread offense. The Bengals have been 2nd within the league of their utilization of empty formations and their utilization of eleven workforce (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), in the back of simplest the Rams. However whilst Taylor’s previous mentor, Sean McVay, used to be protecting his workforce in condensed formations, the Bengals have been spreading out, averaging the sixth-widest formations amongst offenses in 2021.

This divergence from the McVay offense is significant. It lets in Burrow to look all of the box and establish no longer simply matchups, but in addition doable blitzers, which used to be crucial for Burrow given the deficient state of the Bengals’ offensive line in 2021. He bore the manager duty of figuring out power and eliminating the ball briefly or escaping the hit and increasing the play. With the receivers unfold out and the zones stretched, Burrow may just use his brief free up and toughness to seek out area within the brief sport, at the same time as rushers received early and incessantly in opposition to his leaky offensive line.

However this used to be by no means going to paintings perpetually. The deficient play of the offensive line in 2021 torpedoed the Bengals’ probabilities within the greatest sport of the season. Burrow took 70 sacks around the 2021 season, the third-highest mark in league historical past, together with seven within the Tremendous Bowl. Cincinnati had to reinforce the offensive line—they usually did. Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and Los angeles’el Collins have been all got in loose company.

And but, Burrow’s sack numbers aren’t happening—they’re going up.

This can be a counterintuitive phenomenon. Shouldn’t higher move coverage result in fewer sacks?

It will depend on the quarterback. Whilst sacks are incessantly “given up” by means of an offensive lineman, a quarterback’s sack price has a tendency to observe him from workforce to workforce, and stays reasonably solid at the same time as his offensive line adjustments. A quarterback takes sacks no longer as a result of his offensive line is excellent or dangerous, however as a result of how he chooses to act when he’s within the pocket. If he removes the ball at lightning speeds, like Tom Brady does, he’ll perpetually have a low sack price. If he holds onto the ball searching for deep photographs, like Russell Wilson does, he’ll perpetually have a excessive sack price. It’s early in Burrow’s profession, however he recently looks as if he falls cleanly into the second one bucket. He himself would agree—he mentioned being keen to take additional sacks simply this offseason.

Groups aren’t blitzing Burrow—he’s been blitzed on 20 % of his dropbacks, the fifth-lowest quantity within the league. Groups aren’t soundly beating the Bengals’ offensive line—although surely, dealing with T.J. Watt and Micah Parsons in consecutive weeks to open the season has offered its demanding situations. Merely, when Burrow is burdened (on 31 % of his dropbacks, a league-average quantity), he’s getting sacked off of that power at a league-leading price (38 %).

This is identical sensation the Bengals skilled remaining season—Burrow had a league-average choice of burdened dropbacks, however a league-high choice of sacks. Burrow’s excessive sack numbers wouldn’t move away if the 2016 Cowboys’ offensive line used to be taking part in in entrance of him. That is his play taste. He’s a gamer, a chance taker, an I-can-make-you-miss-er. That is who he’s.

However remaining season, the Bengals have been in a position to string this needle with the outstanding efficiency of Burrow and his receivers. All of us bear in mind the tale. Chase led the league in receiving yards over expectation. Higgins used to be fourth. The Bengals at all times gave the impression to have an explosive play of their pocket. This season, the ones explosive performs are now not there. Burrow’s yards consistent with dropback is 5th worst within the league, and he’s finished just one move of greater than 20 air yards downfield on seven makes an attempt.

That is regression. It’s the inevitable development of all remarkable efficiency—exceptionally excellent and exceptionally dangerous—backtrack to the imply. And as it used to be inevitable, the Bengals must have observed it coming. However they just noticed some of it coming. The Bengals made no bones about their expectation that they’d see extra two-high coverages this season, with a defensive center of attention on taking the downfield shot clear of Burrow. Right here’s Burrow talking at the subject in June:

In the event that they noticed it coming, why don’t they’ve an answer for it? Why is each workforce sitting in Duvet 2 whilst Cincinnati’s offense sputters, and the way do the Bengals get them to prevent?

It is going again to Cincinnati’s formations. Have in mind, when Burrow and the Bengals have been exploding in 2021, Burrow used to be dicing up Duvet 2 with the ones brief, shallow, brief throws. He’s nonetheless doing that … however nonetheless taking heaps of sacks when he will get burdened. Remaining season, when a workforce would in spite of everything display just a single-high protection, Burrow would cause them to pay. Subsequent Gen Stats graded Burrow as the most productive passer in opposition to single-high seems to be in quite a lot of metrics remaining yr.

To be able to get a protection right into a single-high glance, you must make two-high coverages now not price it. Two-high coverages are simplest imaginable when that additional protection is taken from the field and added to the defensive backfield. This lowers the choice of avid gamers within the take on field for the protection, making it tougher to prevent the run.

If you wish to get a protection out of a two-high glance, you might have so to run the soccer neatly. So neatly that they’re compelled to carry that further participant again into the field.

Cincinnati isn’t operating the ball neatly this season. Via two weeks, their operating sport is seventh-worst by means of EPA consistent with play and completely lifeless remaining by means of good fortune price by means of a considerable margin.

The Bengals’ struggles within the operating sport have a couple of roots. Joe Mixon is suffering to begin the season—he’s averaging negative-.73 yards over expectation consistent with rush, this means that he’s getting not up to what’s blocked for him—and Bengals ball carriers altogether are averaging an insignificant 2.15 yards after touch consistent with rush, which is tied with Atlanta for the league’s worst determine. The deficient play from the backfield however—Mixon is a superb again whose manufacturing will most probably reinforce with a bigger pattern measurement—the Bengals have a miles larger drawback.

They preserve operating in opposition to single-high defenses.

It’s the very same factor they’ve within the passing sport, simplest inverted. Each time the Bengals throw the soccer, they appear to be throwing into Duvet 2—and each time they need to run the soccer, they’re operating into single-high seems to be and loaded packing containers. Right here’s a number of pre-snap run seems to be the Bengals noticed in opposition to the Cowboys in Week 2.

As a result of those are single-high seems to be with loaded packing containers, the answer feels simple: Throw the soccer! That is one of these protection that Burrow dominates, proper?

However the Bengals can’t do this. Right here’s a number of pre-snap move seems to be from the similar sport.

The Cowboys’ defensive formations glance other, however that’s since the Bengals’ formations glance so distinct themselves. Have in mind, the Bengals have an increasing number of change into a range passing offense beneath Taylor and Burrow. Just like the Rams offense beneath which Taylor discovered his craft, they led the league in empty units; they led the league in 11 workforce—however whilst the Rams have been perpetually tightening their formations and pulling avid gamers into the middle of the sector, the Bengals had been widening. Take a look at how unfold out the Bengals’ large receivers are within the passing sport, in comparison to the tight splits of the large receivers within the operating sport. Take a look at Burrow beneath middle at the operating performs, and Burrow within the shotgun at the passing performs.

There’s a chasm within the Bengals offense between the operating and passing video games. Cincinnati nonetheless majors in under-center zone operating schemes, identical to the Rams do. However whilst the Rams’ passing sport has at all times prolonged off of the ones zone runs with play-action fakes, lengthy rollouts and boots, deep crossers with quarterbacks at the transfer, the Bengals have change into a shotgun, spread-out, quick-game passing assault. The passing sport in Cincinnati has misplaced its connection to the operating sport.

This cut up creates predictability. The Bengals run on 80 % in their under-center snaps, which is the sixth-highest price within the league. When operating from beneath middle, greater than 80 % in their performs are zone runs, which is the third-highest price within the league. And when they are attempting to run anything, they don’t execute neatly. Right here’s an strive at a lure run from shotgun, through which rookie left guard Cordell Volson is not sure of his project.

Right here’s a snap of duo, a commonRams changeup to zone operating, through which the 6th offensive lineman D’Ante Smith (heavy workforce!) is past due off his double workforce, permitting penetration from the attacking protection who (seeing Burrow beneath middle) expects a run.

Right here’s a pin-pull run, through which unblocked edge rusher Parsons is so unafraid of the Bengals’ play-action passing sport (as a result of they don’t in point of fact have one!) that he chases Mixon down from in the back of and ignores Burrow at the boot solely.

And right here’s a snap of zone windback, some other not unusual Rams counter to groups expecting the zone run, through which the timing of the toss and perspective from Mixon make it such that the deliberately unblocked defender all too simply tackles Mixon within the backfield. That is only a poorly designed and coached play.

The Bengals have a siloed offense presently. When Burrow will get beneath middle, he’s going at hand off the soccer, and the Bengals are going to run zone. They’re going so as to add additional avid gamers to the middle of the sector and condense the formation with a purpose to do it. When the Bengals want to throw, Burrow goes to get in shotgun, and the Bengals are going to unfold the sector. They are going to throw the occasional changeup, however when you’re going to be that predictable on offense, defenses will gladly take a peek at your playing cards, and play their hand accordingly.

Burrow isn’t suffering with Duvet 2 as a result of that specific protection confounds him. Taylor isn’t missing for designs that open receivers up in opposition to Duvet 2. It’s simply, it seems that, tougher to throw the soccer in opposition to Duvet 2 than it’s in opposition to single-high coverages—and the Bengals can’t be able to get single-high on passing downs. The Bengals’ operating sport isn’t even all that dangerous! They only can’t be able to get a run referred to as in opposition to a gentle field with two deep safeties.

There are a myriad of answers to this drawback. They all contain someway connecting the 2 silos of the Bengals offense. You’ll name RPOs from unfold formations to run in opposition to mild packing containers—that’s what LSU did with Burrow when he ruled school soccer. You’ll run extra play-action and boot Burrow out of the pocket—he doesn’t appear to love that taste of play a lot, however he can’t like getting sacked on over 10 % of his dropbacks that a lot, both. You’ll get started operating extra hole schemes to make it tougher for defenses to look forward to your zone runs, and in doing so, with a bit of luck in finding sufficient good fortune at the floor to get defenses out of two-deep coverages altogether.

The problem for Cincinnati over the following few weeks is to select a method, get it put in, and notice if it really works. If it doesn’t, they’ll want to pick out a brand new one and take a look at that. The regression of the Bengals’ magical 2021 season used to be at all times inevitable, however the persevered stagnation of the 2 silos of Taylor’s offense in Cincinnati isn’t. It’s fixable. It calls for trade, and alter is painful, however for the Bengals to end up that 2021 used to be no longer a flash within the pan, they should heal the disconnect that exists inside of their offense. Differently, opposing defenses will proceed to play with an ace up their sleeves.

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