In an interview with Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith prior to training camp, Jay Gruden was asked if he had plans to expand the Bengals playbook in 2012. “Quite a bit,” Gruden said. “Probably too much.”
Wow, he wasn’t kidding.
Last Sunday’s game against Washington was arguably the most wide-open offense the Bengals have featured in years. The huge Mohamed Sanu touchdown pass out of the wildcat formation to start the game was of course the most obvious example, but Gruden also called several other plays out of the wildcat, including BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s short touchdown run. The wildcat is fine (in small doses) and served as a great change of pace against the Redskins for the normally conservative Bengals offense.
More important in the long run, however, is that Andy Dalton has matured to the point where Gruden can have confidence in his second year quarterback being able to handle the expanded playbook. Dalton had a fine rookie season but was much more of a game manager in 2011; this year, with a struggling defense and a banged up offensive line, the Bengals have needed Dalton to win the game for them in two straight weeks, and he has responded both times.
The emergence of Andrew Hawkins has also been key in giving the Bengals another home run threat in addition to AJ Green. Gruden has done a great job calling plays to get Hawkins the ball in space, where he is simply electric. With an improving quarterback, game-breaking receivers, and an imaginative play-caller, the potential is there for Cincinnati to develop a championship-caliber offense.