New Bengals in New Roles Part 3: Misdirection and Making the Old New Again

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Mike Shanahan Redefines the West Coast Offense with a Nod to the Past and Future

I will admit, this not the first time I’ve compared the diamond-formation pistol offense to a modern version of George Halas’ wing T formation. Even though it was the 49ers offense, the same goes to another West Coast stalwart: Mike Shanahan.\

Shanahan did not arrive in San Francisco until Bill Walsh had already exited stage left. But, at the same time, no one can accuse the traditional Shanahan offense of being wide open. Although we remember the John Elway magic that took the Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl wins, it was really on the back of Terrell Davis and the zone blocking scheme developed by line coach Alex Gibbs and Shanahan.

Take, for instance, this play. It is essentially a belly option play, but, unlike a traditional option, this play is not designed around the quarterback running, although, like the zone read, it is based upon the how the outside in-line defender reacts

Robert Griffin III hands the ball off to Alfred Morris as the Washington Redskins take on the Dallas Cowboys.

Brandon Banks, who can be reminiscent of Hawkins with his diminutive stature combined with sudden quickness, went in motion before the snap, ending up behind running back Alfred Morris.

The outside linebacker, who is circled, is the player that Robert Griffin III keys. Because the outside linebacker will be left free, the numbers have been evened and the offensive linemen use more of a man-based blocking scheme.

At the snap, Griffin put the ball in Morris’ gut while looking to see how his key reacted.

Robert Griffin III hands the ball off to Alfred Morris as the Washington Redskins take on the Dallas Cowboys.

Anthony Spencer respected the speed of Banks and shifted outside to perform contain duties. Instead of removing the ball and pitching to Banks on the end-around, Griffin left the ball to Morris and the belly run.

How could this relate to the Bengals? Pistol plays like this can be executed by Dalton, despite his pedestrian foot speed. Also, with Bernard lined up at wide receiver, it could be an opportunity to pair both Bernard and Green-Ellis. Or to pair Hawkins with either Bernard or Green-Ellis

The name of the game is versatility, which allows a variety of personnel groupings. And that leads us to the H-back role in Shanahan’s offense.

With his new, hybrid offense, Shanahan found creative ways to use smaller and more athletic H-backs. Fred Davis, Logan Paulson, Chris Cooley, and, in this case, Niles Paul, found themselves lining up in the slot, on the edge or at wingback.

Robert Griffin III hands the ball off to Alfred Morris as the Washington Redskins take on the Dallas Cowboys.

Paul, who was often utilized much the same as Marvin Jones towards the end of the year – motioned towards the run to take advantage of his understated blocking ability in space – is circled in his wingback position.

In this toss play, both the cornerback and safety make their run fits on the outside, where they appear to have the upper hand. But, much like a pulling guard on a power G run, Paul, lined up behind an in-line Paulson, pulled down the line and turned the corner.

With his speed and comfort in space, Paul was able to easily wall off the safety to give Morris the sideline. With the Bengals’ burgeoning emphasis on dynamic players in space, these are the little things that can help the transition away from a solely power running, punch you in the mouth type team.

Of course, this is all speculation, but isn’t that what the offseason is for? No matter how they come together, this offensive unit has the potential to not only help the defense carry the load, but also potentially shoulder the brunt of it themselves.