The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a strong 2012 campaign in which they went 10-6 and earned a second consecutive playoff berth for the first time since 1981-82.
Part of the cause for this mediocre offense was the lack of identity created by offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Early in the season, Gruden had a pass-first mentality that allowed quarterback Andy Dalton to post passer ratings of 96 or higher in three of his first four games. This included his highest passer rating of his career—a 132.9 in Week 3 against the Washington Redskins.
Later in the season, Gruden brought a run-first mentality to the team, which made the passing offense sputter and become lethargic and inconsistent.
This was a shame considering the passing attack that the Bengals are capable of producing if they can keep a consistent offensive identity.
One of the Bengals' most demanding presences on the field is wide receiver A.J. Green. He is constantly the focal point of opposing defenses—Green is the type of player that can make a defensive coordinator lose sleep the night before the game.
During the most dominant play that the Bengals were able to deliver in 2012, they utilized Green in a role that is not commonly associated with this receiver—decoy.
Being that Green demands so much attention on the field, sometimes his best served purpose is to create mismatches for other Bengals offensive weapons.
Let's take a look back at this specific play the Bengals ran with such precision in Week 2 last season against the Cleveland Browns. This will be a good indication of what the team is capable of producing once they stick to a consistent offensive scheme.
This is the Bengals' most dangerous offensive play from 2012.
This play will focus on the two outside receivers. Brandon Tate will be the intended target and Green will serve as a decoy. Notice how far Green is split out wide—the Bengals want to make sure he attracts the attention of a safety.
The Browns are lined up for a zone blitz. They will send five rushers after Dalton, drop a safety down to cover the deep portion of the strong-side, and keep one safety high, playing center field. This is a perfect setup for Cincinnati as Dalton will notice the mismatch on the speedy Tate immediately.
Now, we take a look at the routes that the Bengals receivers will run. Both slot routes are intended to stay underneath. These will be check-down options for Dalton—they also keep some coverage underneath to free the deep routes. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham do a great job getting up the weak-side of the field quickly. This induces most of the Browns' deep coverage which allows for a one-on-one matchup between Tate and a safety.
As you can see, the underneath routes do their job—they keep most defenders close to the line of scrimmage. Also, the streaking Green attracts the attention of the free safety who cheats over to his side of the field. The safety sees Dalton eye up Tate, but he has a lot of ground to make up.
By the time the ball is on a descent toward Tate, he is eight yards away from the free safety—rendering him ineffective. He has also used his speed to beat the strong safety in a footrace by a good three yards.
The ball is slightly underthrown, as you can see by the rotation of Tate's body; however, this play was so well designed and perfectly executed that Tate can afford to turn around to make the catch without being caught from behind.
After the reception, Tate turns and bursts toward the end zone, diving just inside of the pylon for the score.
One reason why a play like this works so well for the Bengals is the fact that they generally run short-to-intermediate routes in Gruden's West Coast scheme. When the Bengals pull the trigger to go over the top of a defense, it can be unexpected, and lead to a big play like the one above.
With so many key offensive elements—Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard—taking the field as well for the Bengals in 2013, this type of play could become a staple for Cincinnati.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.