Now that Jay Gruden has failed to nab any of the open coaching vacancies during this year’s hiring frenzy and the Cardinals have announced Bruce Arians as their new head coach, it is time to consider tweaks instead of overhauls to next year’s Bengal offense.
Gruden’s offense was outstanding when running its scripted plays to start out a game, as evidenced by the high frequency of opening-drive touchdowns. Similarly, the two-minute offense, which is whittled down to a handful of plays, often led to sustained drives and a Bengals-dictated tempo.
When the offense sputtered was when the offense left its script or limited playbook and Gruden opened up the entire play book. While having a great amount of plays is not a terrible thing to have, calling them without a strategy that is focused three steps ahead of the present time results in a hurried, unfocused mess of plays. During these offensive lulls, what were especially lacking were intertwined concepts and a focused, if not balanced, attack.
While the Bengals offense often had trouble jump starting the running game early in the season, Gruden employed almost exclusively zone running plays. Gruden deserves credit for recognizing his mauling offensive line and downhill running style of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and bringing in a greater focus on power-blocking. The other concept that Grudnen unveiled was in his use of Mohammed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins and Brandon Tate as wingbacks and halfbacks out of the shotgun.
Before Sanu was lost for the year, he began to emerge as a versatile slot receiver and effective runner out of the backfield. Like a slower, but more effective in traffic version of Randall Cobb or Percy Harvin. The use of the jet sweep to Hawkins was another effective manner of uniquely creating opportunities to run the ball, but this Tate shovel pass was my favorite concept.
With Hawkins motioning to the top of the formation, the Steelers are showing a blitz and some sort of man-based coverage. Tate is lined up at wingback behind left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s outside leg. At the snap, the Bengals block a basic Power O, with the guard kicking out the outside linebacker charging upfield, while the rest of the line blocks down. Dalton steps back and flips it forward to Tate, who hits the crease and shoots upfield.
Lining up at wingback gave Tate the extra room he needed to get up to speed while allowing the line time to make their blocks. Running out of an empty set like that can open up larger running lanes with the defense spread across the field.
The great Bill Walsh, godfather of the West Coast offense that Gruden runs, believed it was important to not only score early, but to also have success later and put teams away. Perhaps that can be paralleled with Peyton Manning’s playbook, which only consists of around 6 passing concepts generally ran out of one homogenous formation.