The key to the Cincinnati Bengals' 38-31 road victory over the Washington Redskins was the use of the Wildcat. The Bengals used versions of the Wildcat formation to catch the Redskins' defense off guard and create mismatches along the front and in coverage.
Two key scoring plays provide perfect examples of how the Bengals use of the Wildcat outwitted the Redskins. All screen shots courtesy of CBS Sports.
The first example is the Bengals opening play of the game, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu's 73-yard touchdown strike to A.J. Green.
The Bengals aligned with a tight end on the weak side and Sanu behind the center in shotgun formation, flanked by running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Chris Pressley. The screen shot below shows how the alignment confused the Redskins.
The highlighted portion shows cornerback Josh Wilson remain in place because of the presence of a tight end on his side of the formation. This prevents him from covering A.J. Green in the slot on the other side.
Green is instead covered by safety DeJon Gomes, an obvious mismatch and a pre-snap win for the Bengals' offense. Quarterback Andy Dalton aligns outside Green, forcing the other corner, DeAngelo Hall to cover him.
Why the Redskins didn't adjust their coverage to put either one of Hall or Wilson on Green remains a mystery. The next part of the play was the play-action designed to fool the inside linebackers and deep safety, shown in the screen shot below.
The first highlighted portion shows Sanu faking the handoff to Green-Ellis, which freezes both inside linebackers and the free safety, shown in the second highlighted portion. Green then runs a deep inside route.
His speed takes him past the overmatched Gomes, and the inside route prevents Hall from getting over the top. Sanu couldn't miss Green, and the result was a crisply-executed 73-yard touchdown pass.
In the second quarter, the Bengals again used alignment to overmatch and confuse the Redskins, shown in the screen shot below.
With the ball on the 1-yard line, the Bengals add an extra offensive lineman and two tight ends. Once again, splitting quarterback Andy Dalton out wide helps create a mismatch. Dalton's position takes a defender out of the front.
Now the Bengals' eight-man line outnumbers Washington's six-man defensive front. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis lines up in the shotgun formation, ready for the direct snap.
Once the ball is snapped to Green-Ellis, the Bengals quickly make their numerical advantage count, shown in the screen shot below.
Guard Clint Boling pulls around the corner, acting as a lead blocker. Tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) and fullback Pressley combine to seal the edge, creating a huge lane for Green-Ellis. The running back enjoys a clear path to the end zone for a key score.
This clever use of the Wildcat helped the Bengals outguess the Redskins' blitz-heavy schemes. That will certainly add to the rising stock of young offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
The plays also prove that after relying on defensive solidity in recent seasons, it is now the offense that will determine the success of the 2012 Bengals.