How Bengals Beat Titans at Their Own Game
NFL Week 13 - The Cincinnati Bengals came from behind this past Sunday to beat the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans and win their third game in a row, moving into a tie with the Baltimore Ravens for the best record in the AFC North. The last time I focused on the Bengals in this space was after a disastrous pass-blocking performance against the Cleveland Browns in a Monday night game. While the offensive line wasn't perfect this week, they definitely made some improvements in both running game and the passing game up front.
Once you get inside the 10-yard line, it gets really difficult to run the ball. There's just a lot of bodies in a condensed space, and obviously safeties don't have to worry about the ball being thrown 40 yards down field. Here, the Bengals have three tight ends (one of which is actually a sixth offensive lineman) in the formation to stretch the Titans laterally since they can't stretch them vertically and are running a single-back Power concept.
First, let's look at the play-side tight ends. The tight end on the line is actually reserve tackle Hakeem Adeniji (77) and the first thing he does is cheat his split a little outside to widen the hole before the play starts. He and the hipped tight end are working a double team from the walked up outside linebacker (Dylan Cole, 53) to the box safety (Kevin Byard, 31). Adeniji does a great job of knocking the edge player fully onto the tight end, then climbing and manhandling a safety who has no chance of standing up against a sixth lineman inserted at tight end. A clear mismatch that Cincy takes advantage of and is a big part of the touchdown.
Just inside of that, right tackle La'el Collins probably has the hardest block on the play. He has to handle a 4i defensive end (DeMarcus Walker, 95) without any help. Luckily, the defensive end is playing the B-gap so Collins doesn't have to move him, he just has to hold on. That's exactly what he does—he doesn't get any real movement, but he locks in a stalemate which is enough for this play to work.
Left guard Cordell Volson is the puller here, and he does a good job of getting to the hole quickly, and he needed to because that linebacker (Monty Rice, 56) is playing downhill. Volson gets some help from the linebacker, who inexplicably decides to take on the block with his outside shoulder, which makes it really difficult for him to defeat the block. Still, the only reason Volson is in a place to take advantage of the linebacker's mistake is because he gets to the hole so quickly.
The combo block between center Ted Karras and right guard Alex Cappa isn't perfect, but it's enough. Karras doesn't do a good job of fighting to get head-up when he feels his guard leave and Cappa is probably a little late coming off to the linebacker (David Long Jr., 51), but like I said, each slows his man down enough for the back to hit the hole and run through the safety for a touchdown.
Just like running it inside the 10 gets hairy, running the ball in short yardage is always more difficult than it is on first-and-10. This is another good example of Cincy's offensive line not being perfect, but being good enough to pick up the first down and a nice gain on a key short-yardage attempt in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals almost look like they're running the old Student Body Right that USC made famous back in the day with the tight end, tackle, and guard all pulling to the outside. Tight end Mitchell Wilcox and tackle La'el Collins both get good blocks out there on the edge. Cappa gets just enough so that the linebacker (Long, 51) doesn't get a clean shot at running back Samaje Perine. Again, not every block has to be a highlight block in short yardage. If you can get a hat on a hat, the back should be able to run through an arm tackle or push a pile for a first down.
(Speaking of backs, I really liked how Perine ran. Plus, he has been a useful piece in the passing game. Hopefully he continues to get some use even after Joe Mixon gets back.)
It wasn't just the running game where the Bengals offensive line handled some tough situations and turned them into big plays. They also did a good job of giving Burrow time to make some plays down the field.
This is a hard stunt to pick up on the inside but the Bengals handle it pretty well. Sure, center Ted Karras gets rocked a little bit by the looper (Mario Edwards, 94) but everything he does before that is great. The Bengals are running half-slide protection with the slide side going right. Once Karras sees the nose tackle (Jeffery Simmons, 98) is crossing his face, he knows he has to carry him back across the ball because the left guard is man-to-man and can't help. But as the nose keeps tracking backside, Karras can sense this is a twist and he needs to pass it off to pick up the looper. So Karras shoves the nose as far as he can outside (look at how he extends the right arm), hoping the guard will be able to take over the block and Karras can come off inside. It works.
Now, both guys give up too much penetration, as does the left side of the line. But again, it's not always about being perfect. Simply having offensive linemen engaged with pass-rushers allows Burrow to comfortably escape the pocket and find a receiver on a scramble drill. Yes, the pocket collapses a little bit, but every pass-rusher is occupied by someone and can't make a play. This isn't clinic tape, but it gives you enough to have a chance.
Finally, I wanted to highlight something that wasn't just good enough, but damn good. This is great pass protection up front for Cincy. Let's start with Jonah Williams (73) at left tackle, because he was the guy who really struggled last time I focused on the Bengals, but he played so much better on Sunday. Now, it is easy to block a looping defensive tackle (Walker, 95) as an offensive tackle because it's hard for the defender to change direction back towards the quarterback. Still, what I like about this from Williams, and for most of the game, is that he's using his arms. In that Monday night game, we saw Williams again and again duck his head and fail to use his hands. He was so much better this past Sunday by extending his arms and keeping the defender away from his pads. Hopefully he continues this progress.
La'el Collins (71) on the opposite side also struggled in that Monday night game against Cleveland and played better here. This isn't the prettiest pass set, but it makes sense for Collins to set like this because most of his struggles have been when there's too much space between him and the defender. So Collins closes the distance immediately on the edge, gets into the defender (Edwards, 94) and just tries to maul him. If you have been struggling with your feet in space, you should eliminate space as quickly as possible and just turn it into an alley fight. Again, it's not the prettiest thing in the world, but it works.
On the interior, what I love is watching all three guys work together and stay busy here. The center sets working to his left and feeling to his right while providing body presence to help the right guard. Once the nose (Kevin Strong, 97) crosses the center's face and Cappa (65) sees that the nose is handled, he gets his eyes outside to help the running back. The left guard (Volson, 67) doesn't have anyone come in his gap, so he comes inside to help the center. That's three guys keeping their heads on a swivel, staying active, and finding work.