Vontaze Burfict‘s Coming Out Party
Although the linebacker unit as a whole deserves blame for their struggles after losing Thomas Howard, both Manny Lawson and Vontaze Burfict elevated their play against the Jaguars. Maualuga may still appear lost, but Burfict’s splash plays and sure tackling made him look to take over the middle linebacker spot sooner than many expected.
The play above illustrates the open-field tackling prowess that Burfict showed all game. In contrast to Maualuga leaving his feet and whiffing on tackles, Burfict routinely broke down, kept his feet underneath him and stopped the running in his tracks. Knowing the danger of letting Jones-Drew bounce a run outside, he forced Jones-Drew back towards the heart of the Bengals’ defense and made the play.
Even when he allowed the touchdown to Marcedes Lewis, Burfict was running stride for stride with Lewis. He could have turned his head to locate the ball instead of waving his hands in the air cluelessly, but with Gabbert’s ball-placement there was little he could have done realistically.
Offensive Play-Calling and the Brilliance of Andy Dalton
Throughout the game, the Bengals were able to take advantage of the Jaguars’ defense. This came through play-calling that kept the Jaguars off-balance, and pre-snap adjustments by Dalton.
With the offensive line struggling to run block, the Jaguars started the game by getting as much penetration as possible. By calling draw plays and screens, the Bengals forced some honesty into the defensive front and were able to get their offense into a rhythm.
When the Jaguars concentrated on not allowing the big play to A.J. Green, Dalton patiently threw to other receivers. Dalton did not even complete a pass to Green until two minutes were left in the first half. In the play above, Dalton exhibited the intuition that, coupled with his increased velocity, he is using to pick apart defenses that still think the Bengals’ offense is one-dimensional.
With the Jaguars in man coverage for much of the game, Dalton would look for mismatches before the snap. With Hawkins’ man blitzing, Dalton kept his eyes downfield to keep the pass defense honest, then hit Hawkins for a 31-yard catch and run.
When Green snagged a touchdown reception after streaking down the sideline, Dalton’s anticipation was just as important as Green’s route. Green aligned at the numbers, with plenty of real estate open towards the sideline. With the single-high safety, his cornerback tried to route Green inside.
Upon the snap, Green faked inside, and then jumped outside, releasing cleanly and gaining a step on his defender with his clean release. Dalton recognizes this immediately and fires the ball as soon as he sees the clean release for an easy touchdown.