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Cincinnati Bengals Camp Primer: What Do We Have and What Are We Looking For?

22 Jul



What we have: Andy Dalton is now an experienced and a productive NFL starter entering his fourth NFL season. He processes information quickly and can make snap decisions when the bullets are flying. Add in a fast release, and Dalton has routinely played the role of a point guard in this offense by distributing the ball to the Bengals talented weapons. He has improved deDunning accuracy and now throws a nice vertical pass with good touch.

What we need to see: Dalton now must start to cut out his mistakes, but how? As I said, he makes quick decisions, but that’s not always a good thing. Dalton must read defenses better after the snap. He gets into trouble when his presnap reads don’t align with his postsnap reads. Defenses have found ways to confuse him with different looks and it only gets worse against common opponents and 34 defenses. I think most of his problems stem from this as you’ll see inaccurate passes and miscommunication as a result of not seeing the field  correctly. I would like to see improvements in Anticipation and Accuracy in the intermediate range. If you don’t have an above average arm, you must be able to compensate by throwing early and having great accuracy. Dalton‘s 2012 pocket presence was horrible, but he has much better in 2011 and 2013. Let’s hope 2012 was an aberration.

Running Backs

What we have: In Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill, the Bengals have two of the three highest drafted runners over the past two years. The talent is there. I think Bernard is an all around back that can run any play and be a legit weapon in the passing game. His vision and deceptiveness makes him very hard to line up and tackle for defenses.
Jeremy Hill is the big bruising back with surprising top speed. He can really run through tackles at full speed. He’s the more physically gifted of the two runners.
The depth chart rounds out with special teams captain Cedric Peerman and a battle for the fourth spot will be between veterans Benjarvus GreenEllis and Rex Burkhead. I expect Rex to win the job and possibly carve out a role in the passing game.

What we need to see: How much has Gio Bernard prepared himself for a larger role? Did he add weight/muscle? Did that slow him down? He has dealt with nagging injuries since college and keeping an eye on his health will be the only thing we can really be cautious of.
In Jeremy Hill, we need to see how he runs without a fullback in front of him. I don’t expect the Bengals to carry one and when watching LSU, he was noticeably different when he could follow his lead blocker and make a move off of him. Hill’s vision, patience and acceleration make him a candidate for losing yardage on many carries. He’s still raw, so he can improve on some of that, but his going to be used by Hue Jackson early in 2014, he needs to progress quickly. If he can improve as a pass blocker, it’ll only help the Bengals disguise their rushing attack more. Hill’s weaknesses are areas where Gio separates himself. Right now, they have two opposites and they could end up telling defenses what they’re doing based on who’s in the game.

Wide Receivers

What we have: This is a talented unit with some depth questions as they lost Andrew Hawkins and didn’t acquire anybody worth noting in free agency or the draft.
A.J. Green is the crown jewel of the offense and as he goes, the passing game and Andy Dalton goes. He can run any route and catch almost any ball thrown his way.
Marvin Jones is very talented and after a breakout year, I believe we still haven’t seen his best football. He has deep speed, can run after the catch, has a knack for the big play and is their best blocking receiver. If this offense ends up passing like last season, expect a big season again.
Mohamed Sanu may have reached his peak already. He’s a very smart player with good hands, concentration and toughness. We know he doesn’t have the athleticism to consistently beat man coverage and most of his catches come from the slot against zone coverage or he ends up make a contested catch. He can be used in many different areas of the field and that’s where he’s most valuable.
The rest of the depth chart yields a group of depth and role players. Dane Sanzenbacher may be able to get playing time in the slot and he offers more speed than Sanu. Brandon Tate plays all three spots and has been a steady return man. Cobi Hamilton has high upside, but needs to run better routes and catch the hard passes.

What we need to see: AJ Green needs to put the finishing touches on his overall game; less concentration drops, communication errors and show the toughness required to run those inside routes and have the QB trust you’re going to be where he expects you to be. If he runs these inside routes with conviction, Green will find more room to run on the outside. I don’t think Corners respect his inside moves.
Marvin Jones needs to continue improving his release off of the line of scrimmage and most of all, his handscatching. He likes to bodycatch and often double clutches passes required to catch with extended arms. This is a confidence thing and can be fixed, but some never do; Chad Johnson never fixed this and it hurt him a few times throughout his career.
If there’s a breakout candidate in the depth chart, it’s Sanzenbacher in the slot.  He has just enough athleticism to beat man coverage with the intelligence and concentration to make tough catches against zone coverage.

Tight Ends

What we have: This is another position where the Bengals have loaded up through the draft. In Jermaine Gresham, you have a tight end with enough athleticism and strength to play all over the field and create mismatches. His raw power after the catch is beautiful and can ignite the team and fan base when he runs through several tacklers. On the flip side, Gresham isn’t a natural hands-catcher and has dealt with his share of drops. This also leads to fumbles as he never looks totally comfortable with the ball in his hands. Throw in the penalties when blocking, and fans have become disenchanted with Gresham in year five. He’s reached his potential.
Tyler Eifert is the shiny new toy. He’s the complete opposite of Gresham. Eifert is as natural catching the ball as AJ Green is. He can make the spectacular catch and really stretch the field from inline or split out wide. He’s an effort blocker that doesn’t have the strength to be more than a nuisance for defenders.
The depth include veteran blocker Alex Smith and two guys that’ll double as H-Backs in Orson Charles and Ryan Hewitt. Charles hasn’t shown the athleticism we saw at Georgia and he needs to mentally find himself before we may ever see that player again.

What we need to see: How does the Eifert and Gresham combination evolve. Does Eifert become the lead guy? I see Eifert more as the move-TE and Gresham will continue to be the Y-TE and consume most of the snaps because of it. If Eifert can show he’s improved his strength and blocking, that’s his key to playing an expanded role and stealing snaps from Gresham.
If Charles mentally takes off in his H-Back role, he can be another weapon for the offense. I think he’s been playing slowly because he’s learning a new position and doesn’t want to make a mistake. It’s do or die time and he needs to go full bore now because rookie Ryan Hewitt could enter this role and run away with it. As all young players do, Hewitt needs to add strength and he can be a serviceable player.

Offensive Line

What we have: This is a veteran group with a lot of experience and talent. The offensive tackles are dependable in Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith. Neither are very athletic, but with the Bengals quick passing, defenders don’t have time to beat them around the corner. That leaves bull rushes and inside moves, and that’s where both OTs are at their best. Behind them, Marshall Newhouse is experienced and can play when needed. Tanner Hawkinson is an athletic backup that can also play inside. He has nice potential.
The interior offensive line is where things get interesting. Kevin Zeitler should be back to speed at RG after a sophomore slump that wasn’t helped by injuries. They say he’s in great shape and I expect a breakout year. At LG, if Clint Boling is healthy (knee), he’s a serviceable NFL starter. He doesn’t make many mental errors but Boling doesn’t create many plays either.
At center, we’re either going to see veteran Mike Pollak, who played very well at guard last season, or rookie Russell Bodine. I think they want Bodine to play and that scares me more than any position on the team. Pollak was probably their best lineman in space last year and without him in the lineup, the offense is missing a vital piece. Bodine needs plenty of work and is a liability in pass protection right now.

What we need to see: Health at OT and in Clint Boling. All three now have an injury history and it’s something with monitoring. I want to see this new body Zeitler has. Adding just a touch more athleticism to him could be the difference in a Pro Bowl year.
If Bodine is the guy at center, we need to see better hand usage, patience and balance. In one on one, he was routinely beaten and these were the reasons why. As a run blocker, we need Bodine to be that guy in the second level that they’ve lacked since Eric Steinbach, but that definitely isn’t Bodine’s strength.


Defensive Line

What we have: If healthy (knee), Geno Atkins is the best player on the Bengals. He makes the entire defense tick and his play makes everyone around him better. Carlos Dunlap is their best edge rusher now after the departure of Michael Johnson. Wallace Gilberry has become a reliable and versatile tool that seems to make plays he shouldn’t. Domata Peko is a veteran leader at NT and is only used in sub packages to defend the run.
The depth includes a bunch of potential in Margus Hunt, Brandon Thompson, Devon Still and Will Clarke. Veteran Robert Geathers is a coach’s favorite and should find his way onto the team again.

What we need to see: The health of Geno and Can the Bengals replace Michael Johnson? Carlos Dunlap will start playing more RDE in an effort to do so, but will he find the same success? Not only will he now play against the traditionally better OT, he will now play in space more and will need to use his athleticism rather than power. Dunlap is a power-rusher with just enough athleticism to beat Right Tackles. Putting him on the other side creates a whole new situation.
Who plays the other DE spot? Wallace Gilberry will play it on base downs, but he plays DT just as much on passing downs. So is Margus Hunt ready to take this role and become a reliable player? He need to play with better leverage and aggression in order to be that guy. If not, I could see the Bengals falling back on Robert Geathers, and nobody wants to see that.


What we have: Vontaze Burfict has become the heart of the defense with his passion, aggression and motor. He’s an intimidating force, but also has the brains to line everybody up and recognize offensive designs. Rey Maualuga has been relegated to run downs and as expected, we have seen a better player. He’s not who we thought he was going to be, but when we step back and look at him, he’s a serviceable starter that plays the run well. The breakout player of this group will be Emmanuel Lamur, but we’ve been saying that since last year when Lamur suffered a shoulder injury that wiped out his season. He’s their most athletic linebacker and his length only makes him even better in coverage. I can’t wait to see him play.
The depth offers some upside in Jayson Dimanche, Marquise Flowers and Sean Porter. I think Porter could carve himself a role if he shows he can rush the passer and if Margus Hunt doesn’t develop. Like last season, we could see more 3-3-5 Nickel defense with Porter playing the James Harrison role. This was done after the loss of Atkins, but could be used if another edge rusher isn’t found. Veteran Vinny Rey can play all three positions, but his value comes on special teams as he’s the other captain.

What we need to see: We would all love if Burfict could but down the negative plays in the form of penalties, rage-plays and over aggression, but we also love his play style.
Can Lamur stay healthy and is he what we saw in brief flashes in 2012?
If they only keep six linebackers, who’s the odd man out? It may come down to Porter, DiManche and Flowers. I could see any of them getting cut and I can see each one of them becoming role players if they develop. Should be interesting.


What we have: If he’s healthy (Achilles 2X), Leon Hall is probably the best Nickel CB in the NFL. On the outside, Adam Jones and Terence Newman have been playing well, but on borrowed time. The career cliff will strike for one of these two this year. That’s where Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick come in. One will need to play in order to replace Leon Hall and the other will need to be ready for when Jones or Newman fall off.

What we need to see: Outside of Hall’s health, the focus is on Dennard and Kirkpatrick. Neither are athletically gifted, but they play physical and aren’t afraid. When healthy, I’ve seen enough in Kirkpatrick to believe he’s not a bust and can be serviceable. Dennard could start as a rookie and probably will see plenty of playing time. If he can walk the line with his hand usage, he should be a solid starter.


What we have: Starters Reggie Nelson and George Iloka don’t have to worry about their jobs. Nelson is athletically gifted, but has had his share of mistakes. He plays FS and SS equally and I think he’s better when he’s closer to the LOS. Iloka played the deep FS role mostly and kept his head above water in his first year starting. If he can add some aggression and anticipation to his game, Iloka can start creating turnovers.
The position has quality depth with Daniel Manning, Shawn Williams and Taylor Mays. Williams is a SS with special teams upside. If Williams is to challenge Iloka, it would be because he shows the ability/range to play deep FS. Mays plays the Nickel LB/S role and has found a home there. Manning was signed to backup both spots and play as needed.

What we need to see: Does Iloka take the next step? If he can go from safe option, to impact player, it’ll be because he starts defending the run better and playing the ball in the air better.
As mentioned above, if Williams expects to compete for playing time, I think his best bet is on special teams. He’s a smart player that lacks the athleticism to be a play-maker on defense, but he definitely can lock up a roster spot for his special teams work.



Allow me to defend Dalton, then critique him

30 Sep

Defending Dalton
One thing that I’ve noticed when reading complaints about Dalton’s game is when people say — “He doesn’t go through his reads or gets locked onto one receiver.”
But I’m not sure how accurate that is, and I think it’s because of the design of this offense.
* The old ways in the NFL asked Quarterbacks to drop back, go through a progression system until the QB found an open receiver.
* Now, you see much more quick passing and taking what the defense gives you.
That’s the type of offense I believe we have in Cincinnati and I’ll explain.

After three years of studying this offense, players, and reading different offensive philosophies, I believe Andy Dalton is in a very simplistic offense designed to move the ball quickly IF he makes the correct reads in this order…

1) Pre-Snap Reads
Dalton comes to the line, looks at the defensive personnel, looks at their alignment/angles and depth and then decides weather to check to a run play or change the passing play.
* He’s looking at the safeties pre-snap to see what coverage they’re in.
* He’s looking for potential blitzing defenders.
* He looks to see if DBs are in off or press coverage.

2) Post-Snap Reads
Dalton takes the snap and then relocates the safeties. This will tell him if his pre-snap read was correct or if the defense rotated some players to confuse him.
* He (and his receivers) read the safeties again and determine what coverage he’s seeing.
* Based on the coverage he reads, Dalton now knows where he’s supposed to go with the football.
* He’ll set his feet and step up towards his targeted receiver.

3) Throw, Check Down or Run
As Dalton steps towards his targeted receiver and looks at him, he’s looking to see if his teammate is open or will be open.
* If the receiver will be open, Dalton will throw to a certain spot.
* If the receiver is covered or the coverage is different than expected, Dalton will either check down to a TE/RB in the flats…
* Or Dalton will try to run/scramble.

Now, I don’t think this applies to every passing play, but I think it applies to most of the Bengals offense.
So, when you see Andy Dalton drop back, look to his right and throw into coverage, it’s probably because he was fooled or didn’t read the coverage correctly.
If you see Dalton drop back and then freak out and get sacked, it’s probably because he didn’t get what he originally read in the defense and now doesn’t know where to go with the ball.

I believe he normally reads defenses very quickly and accurately. Yesterday wasn’t one of those days.

Now, allow me to criticize Dalton for not operating within the offense…


Pre-snap read
* Cleveland has one Safety more than 15-yards deep (blue) and press coverage on both outside WRs.
* Browns are showing blitz with 7-defenders in the box
* So Dalton keeps his TE and RB in to block. 7 blocking 7.


Post-Snap Read
* Dropping back, you see the deep safety align over Marvin Jones in man coverage and the other safety sprint in Green’s direction.
* The Browns bring all 7-defenders on a blitz. This ball needs to be thrown fairly quickly.


Throw, Check down or Run
* Dalton sets and throws Green’s way without ever looking towards Sanu/Jones. Both targets are more open than Green, but whatever Dalton read told him to go Green’s way.


* The ball falls incomplete after having little chance to Green to catch it.

I’m not here to say whatever he read in the defense wasn’t correct, but I did diagram this play last week and the Bengals ran it twice this past week. Three out of Four times, they threw it to Marvin Jones on the corner-route. Was he forcing it to Green here?


* Pre-snap read suggests a Cover-1 with off-coverage on Eifert and Press on Green.


* Cleveland brings the blitz again Post-snap.
* Eifert curls underneath the coverage and expects the ball.


* Dalton throws the back shoulder to Green again with a Safety over top.
Incomplete pass.


* Pre-snap read suggests Cover-2 and Man-Coverage underneath.


*Post-snap read confirms the coverage.


* Green runs a very crisp Out-route at the sticks (on third down) and gets good separation.
* The Ball needs to be thrown NOW.


* Dalton sees man coverage and the middle of the field free and takes off.


* He gains zero on third down. Do good QBs run or do they trust their arms on a sideline throw? You tell me, because I’m tired of being the bad guy.

Bengals at Browns – Plays Of Interest: Dalton Sack and Fumble

30 Sep

The title may sound like I’m going to pinpoint a bad play by the Bengals quarterback, and we know that would be easy after Sunday’s game, but this particular play shows how the Browns out-coached the Bengals.

First, let me show you a quick snapshot from the Packers game.


On this play, Green Bay blitzed their slot CB and forced Dalton into a sack/fumble and didn’t get the chance to hit Sanu deep down the middle.

Now back to yesterday’s game.

Gio Bernard has, at times, been used as a decoy receiver rather than a blocker. What i mean is, the Bengals will flare him out or loop him into the middle instead of blocking. This is to force the defense NOT to bring that extra rusher as they must now account for another receiver. But, as I showed in the picture above, teams have found a way to exploit that and the Browns followed.


* 3rd & 7 close to midfield.
* This is the drive where the Bengals shuffled their Offensive Line.
* You can see a Single-High (blue) look by the Browns presnap, but the safety is rotating towards the boundary.
* Bengals have 3-WRs with Eifert split to Dalton’s right.
* Eifert is running an Out & Up with the hopes of getting behind the LB and having the middle free to run.
* Sanu runs an Out & In as the safety valve underneath.


* At the snap, Cleveland brings 5 rushers with the MLB and CB blitzing (yellow).
* The snap is low and Dalton has to drop his eyes from looking at the defense.


* Again, the Bengals bring Bernard out of the backfield with no intention of picking up the blitz. The Browns blitzing CB doesn’t slow down — He’s not covering Gio.
* Dalton is just hitting his back foot as both main options are about to sell their fakes.



Allow me to flip to end zone angle for a second.
* As Gio comes out of the backfield, the DT (#92) picks him up and not the blitzing CB. Now the Browns are only rushing 4 with 7 in coverage. Advantage – Browns



* We don’t have a down field shot as of Monday morning, but with the Safety rotating away from Eifert and the way he sold his route, I’m betting he was open deep and Dalton tried getting it to him before he was sacked and stripped. image

(Will update on Wednesday with picture).

Marvin Jones: Same Play. Different Coverage. Similar Result.

23 Sep

When the Bengals were trying to mount a comeback, both of their starting cornerbacks made big interceptions and gave Andy Dalton and the offense a chance to get this game closer. After Newman’s INT, Dalton hit Green easily for a TD. After Leon Hall’s INT, the Bengals QB looked towards their third WR on third and 8 and when inside the red zone.


* 3rd and 8. Cincinnati has 3 WRs, 1 TE and 1 RB (11-Personnel)
* Sanu and Marvin Jones are stacked to Dalton’s left. This is a typical man-coverage-beating-alignment.
* Green Bay drops both Corners because of the stacked look.


* Jones is running a Post-Corner route.
* He first runs his route DIRECTLY at the Safety/CB Tramon Williams. This forces the Packers’ DB to make a decision.


* Once Williams opens his hips, Jones breaks towards the sideline/corner. He’s got him.
* Sanu hooks up underneath between the CB and LB.


* Both of the Packers underneath defenders jump on Sanu as Dalton starts to throw.


* The open area between the DBs allows for an easy throw. Big play for Dalton and Jones.



* Here we go again just outside the 10-yard line. Same formation and alignment.
* This time, Green Bay walks Tramon Williams up to the LOS to jam Marvin Jones.


* Jones gets a clean inside release and Williams grabs Jones’ left arm to try and slow him down.


* Jones extends his arm into Williams’ chest then releases it as the Packers DB leans in.


* That move forces Williams’ momentum to carry him further inside than he’d like and by that time, Jones is running for the corner and the ball is thrown.


* Again, we have a wide open Jones, who makes a nice catch.
* The same play by the Bengals offense, but Marvin Jones had to know how to beat two different types of coverages. He passed the test.

Bengals at Bears – Plays of Interest: The First Interception

9 Sep

This was Cincinnati’s second snap of the game. The first play was a play-action rollout and 3-yard completion to Tyler Eifert.
The next play started similarly, but had a much harsher result.


* Bengals come out in 12-personnel (1-RB, 2-TE) with a WR on each side.
* AJ Green is going to run a quick slant after 3-steps.


* Charles is only about 5-yards off in coverage, but his eyes are firmly locked on Andy Dalton.


* The Bengals start the play looking like a stretch run to the left.
* Important to note that Dalton’s eyes are not looking at the defense. He’s trusting that Green will get inside and beat Tillman for a quick catch.


* Dalton plants the right foot and snaps his head around. He isn’t wasting time and once he’s set, he’s throwing to AJ Green in the open area (light blue).


* With Tillman looking into the backfield, he sees Dalton planting and setting to throw before Green even starts to cut inside. He’s got the jump on the inside.




* Obviously Tillman gets inside position and hauls in the interception.
* A.J. Green CANNOT, under ANY circumstances, let the defender inside.

Andy Dalton is trusting his WR to be at a spot and able to catch the ball. This is a bang-bang play and unfortunately the needed intensity wasn’t there from A.J. Green. On a tremendous receiving day for Green, he was at fault for both of his Quarterback’s interceptions.

Quarterbacks and Development

29 Aug

Spending most of my time evaluating and analyzing the Cincinnati Bengals brings me to the routine question about Andy Dalton and his development as a Quarterback. That’s another topic that I think is still playing out, but it also brings other NFL Quarterbacks into the discussion and raises questions about how long it takes for today’s signal callers to develop into their prime.

I tend to believe it’s very early in their careers. Rookie and second-year Quarterbacks are winning playoff games and playing in Super Bowls. Most fans and analysts want to see a QB do it over an extended period of time and by then, their analysis seems outdated. Is it crazy to think Big Ben was in his prime from years two through five and now isn’t an elite QB anymore? It’s rare that a QB develops like Eli Manning; slow at first, then a big leap. But even his play hasn’t been consistent since (and during) that first Super Bowl winning year. Is he still an elite QB? I don’t think so. Same story with Joe Flacco. He was as inconsistent as they came before a stretch of 6-games to close out 2012 where he looked like an elite QB. Is he going to continue to be that guy? Does it matter since he got his ring? Why did those two have such big leaps in ability during the Playoffs?

There seems to be a mythological “third year is the year” to know what you have in a player. Like, all of a sudden, they’ll become an entirely new player. Will their arm suddenly become stronger or will they now be able to elude the rush?
I find this theory to be even harder to believe for a Quarterback with physical limitations. That player has probably made a career out of “intangible” attributes like “Smarts”, “Guts”, “Winner”, “Leader” or “Experienced”. So where can they get better later in their careers? Aren’t those usually the assets you gain as you grow in the NFL? Alex Smith is probably the best example if this. He was holding onto his NFL career by the tips of his fingers until Harbaugh was hired. The new coaching and offensive system got Smith’s head back above water.

On the flip side, a QB with all of the physical talents and a “high ceiling” for his potential, probably has been successful just off of pure talent-dominance. Those are the players where I’m most likely to see a leap in progression. A guy like Cam Newton is, at any moment, on the cusp of becoming an elite player in this league. Or he could dance with inconsistencies his entire career like Jay Cutler.

The Quarterbacks that marry the two are the all-time greats and instant success stories. Aaron Rodgers – once he rounded out his abilities and won the starting job – was an instant success. That’s why I don’t need to see much more from Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson or RG3 to anoint them as “Super Bowl Caliber QBs”. Am I calling them “All-Time Greats” already? No, because I believe that is where longevity comes into the picture. That’s why Curtis Martin is in the Hall of Fame and Terrell Davis isn’t. But who was better in their prime?

How can you write-off or proclaim a player so quickly?”

Because we’re often asked to evaluate on the spot. If you want me to predict the future, we’re wasting time, but I can tell you what I have evaluated to this point. Most of these players have years of college film to add to their recent NFL tape. If you see it in the NFL and confirm your collegiate evaluations, you don’t need multiple seasons to for conclusive evidence. I’m not talking production or stats, I’m talking about physical abilities and innate attributes that very often translate to the NFL level.

Here’s how I see the young quarterbacks in the NFL.

Ben Roethlisberger Group
These QBs are ready very early in their careers. I don’t know how long their peak will last, but they can win a Super Bowl now.

* Andrew Luck
* Robert Griffin
* Colin Keapernick
* Russell Wilson
* Matt Ryan

Eli Manning Group
High draft pick with the talent, but the light hasn’t come on consistently enough. It could turn on at any point and they become an elite QB.

* Jake Locker
* Matthew Stafford
* Joe Flacco
* Josh Freeman
* Cam Newton

Alex Smith Group
You have seen their peak and while it can be good enough to enjoy success, it’s also bad enough to get out-dueled consistently in the Playoffs by better QBs. You better build a GREAT team around them if you want to get further than the Wild Card round.

* Andy Dalton
* Christian Ponder
* Mark Sanchez
* Matt Schaub
* Sam Bradford

We need more tape
* Ryan Tannehill
* Brandon Weeden
* EJ Manuel
* Geno Smith
* Tyrell Pyror