Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is not a boisterous man. That’s somewhat of a rarity for the modern NFL receiver. And this is not just any receiver. Green was ranked as the 22nd best overall player in the NFL Network top 100 players in 2018. So when A.J. Green talks, it would behoove you to listen.
When Green told the Bengals team website that he expects the offense to be “high flying” and surprise people, it got our attention. Just what does wunderkind head coach Zac Taylor have planned for the Bengals offense? As a disciple of Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, Taylor is expected to bring a lot of the Rams offensive principles to the Queen City. Green has admitted to watching Rams highlights and playbook, which seems to back this up. It begs the question: Does Cincinnati have the offensive weapons to run the Rams offensive system to similar production?
Like Jared Goff, Dalton also reached the 4,000-yards passing and 30-plus passing touchdown threshold in his third season. However, it took him another three seasons to reach 4,000 yards again, and he’s only thrown 25 TD’s in two seasons since. Physically, Dalton has the tools to run a Rams-style offense, rooted in the west coast offense tradition. It’s the decision making that could be Dalton’s biggest stumbling block.
While Goff has thrown just 26 interceptions in three years, Dalton threw 49 in his first three seasons. In his last three seasons, Dalton threw 31 INT’s, and that includes just 11 starts last season. The Rams offense is a lot to digest, especially the way McVay runs things. There is a lot of pre-snap movement to create positional mismatches. McVay takes advantage of a rule that allows coaches to communicate with quarterbacks via helmet communication until the play clock reaches 15 seconds. If Taylor follows suit, it will be a lot for a QB to absorb, even for a veteran like Dalton. If minicamp is any indication, it looks like that’s the direction the offense is heading.
Just an observation from today, but it seemed they had more pre-snap movements than I’ve seen in previous Bengal offenses
— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) May 20, 2019
In 2017 Todd Gurley led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,093. Last season, he finished fourth with 1,831 despite missing two games due to injury. Look down just seven spots last season, and you’ll find Bengals RB Joe Mixon with 1,464 yards from scrimmage, also in 14 games. Factoring in the Bengals woeful offense that finished 26th overall compared to the Rams second overall, you see that Cincinnati has a Todd Gurley in waiting.
Mixon is Taylor’s ace in the hole to mimic the Rams offense in Cincinnati. In 2018, the Rams offense used play-action on 34.6 percent of their passing plays, four-percent more than any other team. Another interesting statistic, especially considering Dalton’s penchant for INT’s, is that only two of Goff’s 12 interceptions came from play action last season. Look for continued use of play action in Taylor’s version of the offense.
There is a lot to like when comparing this group of receivers to the Rams stable. A.J. Green is a top-five receiver in the league. He will assume the “X” or main receiver role that Robert Woods serves, which garnered 86 receptions, 1,219 and 6 TD’s in 2018. Tyler Boyd had a breakout year in 2018 with 76 receptions for 1,028 yards and seven TD’s. He played 552 of 773 snaps from the slot last season and could serve in the versatile Cooper Kupp role. Pro Football Focus ranked the duo of Green and Boyd 11th and 12th respectively in their 2018 WR grades. They will likely be the focal point of the passing game.
John Ross offers rare speed similar to that of Brandin Cooks, though he is nowhere near the polished receiver. Look for Ross to get a lot of looks on designed jet motion plays meant to exploit his speed, even as a decoy. If Ross struggles to pick up the new scheme, slot receiver Alex Erickson should be the biggest benefactor. Cincinnati has turned down trade offers for him, so he’s clearly in the team’s long-term plans.
This group should offer what Taylor needs to run his offense. In two seasons in Los Angeles McVay created a dominant offense that doesn’t rely on a dynamic TE. Rams receiving TE Gerald Everett never topped 50 yards receiving in a game last year. Bengals incumbent starter C.J. Uzomah did it only once last season, with 54 yards in week six. Depending on his ability to stay healthy, Tyler Eifert could serve as a playmaking option at the position. Anything he gives the offense at this point is just an added bonus. Rookie Drew Sample is a dominant run blocker that should play a bigger role than Eifert considering the importance of the run game to the offense.
Cincinnati has made great strides to improve a very bad 2018 offensive line. What was once a liability could be a strength this season. It needs to be for Taylor to run a Rams-style offense. McVay’s offense is based on a dominant ground game, play-action passing and pre-snap movement. The Rams offense improved in 2017 largely because of McVay but also because they invested in their offensive line with the additions of OT Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan.
The Bengals have followed that same game plan, plucking a coach from the McVay coaching tree and rebuilding their offensive line. Forget the skill positions, the success of the offense falls squarely on this group. It features a talented rookie in left tackle Jonah Williams, veteran tackle Cordy Glenn switching to left guard, 2018 first round center Billy Price, and a pair of veterans on the right side in guard John Miller and OT Bobby Hart.
Perhaps the greatest wrinkle in all of this is how McVay’s scheme (and by proxy, Taylor’s) has ties to coaching legend Bill Walsh, the creator of the west coast offense who began his coaching career for Paul Brown and the expansion Cincinnati Bengals in 1969. In American Football Monthly, Walsh once wrote of play-action, “I truly believe it is the single best tool available to take advantage of a disciplined defense.”
And here we are, fifty years after Walsh’s coaching debut in Cincinnati, with the Bengals once again entering a new era. The team has a veteran QB, a running back on the verge of superstardom, a talented group of receivers, and a revamped offensive line. There will be growing pains. There is no doubt that Taylor will want to make continued changes next offseason as well. However, it looks like the pieces are in place for the Bengals to succeed in running a Rams-style offense in 2019.