Despite it being a glorified preseason game, quite a few aspects of Sunday’s Bengals victory over Baltimore showed just how much that Cincinnati has evolved since Week 1.
Vontaze Burfict layed down a mind-boggling 18 tackles to finish with 127 during his rookie season, which was incredible considering he was playing out of position on a shortened season. But he could not replicate all that was lost after the season-opening WILL linebacker, Thomas Howard, was able to provide in coverage. But this has caused the Bengals to become even more creative with their linebacking corps, including a wrinkle that allows greater flexibility from what is technically a base 4-3 defense.
In passing situations, Baltimore likes to come out in 12 personnel, using Ray Rice and their two athletic tight ends to create mismatches in the passing game. The SAM linebacker in a 4-3 base is generally a thumper, like Manny Lawson, but substituting a linebacker like Emanuel Lamur adds an interesting dimension. Lamur is solid against the run, but he covers like a hybrid linebacker and safety, which is perfect to cover a tight end that is a borderline wide receiver.
In this play, the Ravens are attacking the Cover 3 zone that the Bengals have been running out of a base defense. They want to stretch the responsibilities of the two cornerbacks that have the two outside one-thirds of the field deep, by running vertical routes on either side. They attack Nate Clements, who is on the strong side with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.
Dickson runs a straight vertical route to the inside, which, along with the opposite slot receiver’s skinny post, keeps the single-high safety in the middle of the field. Pitta releases outside, then goes vertical, designed to blow past the linebacker and take advantage of the space that Clements has vacated. But Lamur recovers nicely on the double move and stays in Dickson’s hip pocket, making the throw impossible. That will be an important element to shutting down Houston’s Owen Daniels.