Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis
Offensive Coordinator: Ken Zampese
Defensive Coordinator: Paul Guenther
Primary Running Threats:
Jeremy Hill - #32
Gio Bernard - #25
Primary Receiving Threats:
A.J. Green - #18
Brandon Lafell - #11
Tyler Boyd - #83
C.J. Uzomah - #87
Over the past few years the Bengals have consistently been one of the more powerful and dynamic offenses in the NFL. Under the direction of former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, and with a group of weapons featuring A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Muhammed Sanu, along with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard, quarterback Andy Dalton far exceeded expectations and led the team to perennial playoff contention.
With Hue Jackson becoming the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Jones and Sanu departing in free agency, and Eifert struggling with injury through the first four weeks, the offense has flowed through Green. One of the top wide receivers in football, he has been a target vacuum and Dalton has leaned on him anytime he needs a play.
On this snap, we see Cincinnati in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) in a compressed 3x1 formation with a 3-man bunch to their left, and their primary wideout, A.J. Green isolated to the right. Dalton has moved RB Gio Bernard up to the A-Gap on the right side to help sort out the "Sugared" front from the Miami defense.
The idea of compressing the formation is something you see often from Cincinnati, however they often don't compress with big personnel, in many cases like this one, they'll have athletes on the field, and bring everyone in tight to create traffic for defenders.
Any time an offense lines up with a bunch it will draw attention from their opponents. The defense has to first get enough guys aligned in relationship to the bunch, but then also properly communicate who is responsible for each player or route. Some teams will "inside/out" against the bunch, where one defender takes the first in breaking route, another takes the first out breaking route, and the third will take the vertical route, or the second route in either direction. Others will "box" the bunch where they play 4 vs 3 in a zone-style coverage, and others will assign a receiver to each defender to cover regardless of his route.
It looks here like Miami is going to man up on the bunch, as they have a man set to press the point of the bunch, as well as two defenders at varying depths 5-7 yards off the ball to avoid being picked while covering the other two receivers.
The reduced split for Green helps to give him a possible two-way go on a down field route giving the defender more to worry about. You can see the corner's head turned to the safety as it looks like they are communicating how they're going to handle Green in some sort of double coverage.
The route combination is a variation on the "Mesh" concept, where two receivers run underneath crossers at a depth of approximately 5-6 yards. However, rather than including a vertical threat or a threat to the flat, Zampese brings his other two options into the middle of the field as well. As a result you have four Bengals, along with the men they're covering, and any underneath zone players, all running into, or through the middle of the field from 5-10 yards from the line of scrimmage. This creates a load of traffic between the hashes, granting A.J. Green a ton of separation, creating an easy throw for Dalton, with room to run after the catch.
The brilliance of this scheme design is that Zampese has given Dalton a way to get the ball into Green's hands, on a high percentage throw, while creating so much traffic inside that it's impossible for either the free safety or the corner covering Green to play him tight. The result, an explosive catch and run for the Bengals' best player.
As illustrated above, the Bengals use quite a lot of window dressing to help make life as easy as possible for their offense. Whether it's unusual formations, motions, or full team pre-snap shifts, Zampese is going to make it very difficult for a defense to line up properly. Add that to the need to communicate assignments as the offense moves or shifts, or comes out in a crazy formation, and you can really give defenses problems.
This formation features six offensive linemen in an unbalanced set. Starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth is lined up as a third lineman to the right side of the ball with tight end Tyler Croft out side of him, while guard Clint Boling is the only lineman on the line of scrimmage to the left of the ball. Reserve tackle Jake Fisher is flexed off the line as an eligible player to the left outside of Boling. This personnel and alignment package creates plenty of options for the Bengals, as it can be sound as a pass protecting front, as well as dangerous in the run game.
This formation is a remnant of Hue Jackson's time in Cincinnati, and one that pops up at least once a game from Zampese's group. In this set the offensive tackles split out wide to form stacks with a wide receiver (near side) or a bunch with a tight end and a wide receiver (far side). Most often Dalton will pick a side based on numbers and throw a smoke screen to the outside based on the best option. They will also show this look and shift back into a traditional formation to allow them to get a free look at how your defense plans to counter this exotic look.