Commentary: Bengals effectively using aerial assault
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 02:10
When the Cincinnati Bengals realized they could no longer beat the Baltimore Ravens at their own game, they decided to change the formula. And their opponents have been paying the price.
After surrendering 44 points to Baltimore in their season opener, Cincinnati seemingly went through an identity crisis. Realizing that their defense could no longer carry them and that their passing game had become their greatest strength, the Bengals, members of the black-and-blue AFC North, now hope to outscore opponents.
In their last three games, Cincinnati (3-1) is averaging 33 points per game. But it is the way in which they are scoring that best indicates coach Marvin Lewis’ new strategy.
In Week 3 against the Washington Redskins, on their first play from scrimmage, the Bengals lined up in the Wildcat formation, with rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu standing in at quarterback while Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton lined up at wide receiver. Sanu found wide receiver A.J. Green for a 73-yard touchdown that set the tone of the game, as Green went on to total a career-high 183 yards receiving and Cincinnati totaled 38 points.
Last week, with the Jacksonville Jaguars leading 7-3 late in the first half, Lewis called a punt fake that resulted in running back Cedric Peerman picking up 48 yards. The Bengals went on to outscore Jacksonville 24-3 the rest of the game before winning 27-10.
After playing three of their first four games on the road, Cincinnati returns home to host the Miami Dolphins. And more likely than not, the Bengals will continue to attack through the air.
Miami (1-3) is ranked first in rushing yards allowed, surrendering a measly 56.8 yards per game. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s lead running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, has lost two fumbles in his last two games. Previously, the sure-handed Green-Ellis, a free agent acquisition from the New England Patriots, had not fumbled once in his career.
Fortunately, the Dolphins are 30th against the pass, and since the fiasco-like loss in Baltimore, the Bengals are averaging 279.2 yards per game passing. More importantly, Dalton, who has thrown for 1,111 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions, is completing 67.5 percent of his passes and features a 103.0 QB rating.
Dalton, arguably, has looked exceedingly comfortable now that the roles of his young receivers have been figured out.
The biggest question mark for the Bengals coming into this season was who would be the No. 2 receiver behind Green. Cincinnati allowed the troubled but freakishly-talented receiver Jerome Simpson to defect to Minnesota. Looking to fill the gap were two rookie wide receivers in Sanu, Armon Binns and a 5-foot-7 longshot, Andrew Hawkins.
Sanu has yet to be involved in the passing game, but Binns and Hawkins have found their identities. Binns, who has 157 yards and one touchdown reception this season, seems to be a big target, the kind of receiver who draws pass interference calls. While Hawkins, who has notched 247 yards receiving for two touchdowns, has served as Dalton’s bailout.
In the last three games, Dalton has found himself out of options only to dump off the ball to Hawkins. The electric Hawkins has turned those short passes into two 50-yard touchdowns against Cleveland and Washington and a 27-yard pickup last week. The new options in the Bengals’ aerial assault have opened things up for Green. The second-year receiver was recently named AFC Offensive player of the month for his 27 catches, 428 yards and three touchdowns.
Miami will look to match the Bengals’ firepower. Last week, former Ohio State and current Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline set a franchise record for receiving after netting 253 yards against Arizona while rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed for 431 yards.
In the running game, Miami running back Reggie Bush is coming off a slight knee injury and has not been as effective the past two weeks as he was in Week 2 when he rushed for 172 yards. Should Bush be fully recovered by Sunday, the Bengals can expect to see him involved early and often. That means Cincinnati will have to hope to rattle Tannehill with their pass rush, which has been their strength on defense so far.
Cincinnati is ranked 25th in points surrendered and 19th in yards allowed, but first in sacks with 12 in just their last two games.
Traditionally, a great defense will not allow that sort of offense, but if the Bengals can get big plays from their defense and production in the passing game, they might just have a recipe for success. After all, the 2011 New York Giants ranked 27th in total yards allowed, but third in sacks. Quarterback Eli Manning threw for almost 5,000 yards and won in the fourth quarter consistently (a record 14 touchdowns in the fourth quarter). Their success carried over into the Super Bowl where New England quarterback Tom Brady was harassed by the Giants’ front four and Manning continued to make plays.
Cincinnati’s performance on Sunday could go a long way in seeing whether or not they have a similar DNA as that Giants team.