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2018 opponent scouting report: Week 1, Bengals defense—these guys could be good.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On September 9, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will host the old-look Cincinnati Bengals. In this week one match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new-look Colts.

The Bengals finished 2017 with 7 wins and 9 losses, their second straight 9 loss effort. The last time these two teams faced off the Bengals came out victorious, winning 24 to 23 in week eight of 2017. Our Colts held a lead until the 7:05 mark of the fourth quarter when Jacoby Brissett threw a pass intended for Jack Doyle that was tipped, intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Carlos Dunlap. The Bengals moved ahead and the Chuck Pagano led Colts seemed uninterested in mounting a 1 point comeback in the final seven minutes of the game. Let’s hope 2018 yields different results.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week one.


Defensive Scheme

The 4-3 double A gap blitz existed long before longtime Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and longtime linebackers coach (and former defensive coordinator) Paul Guenther based their defense around it. The Bengals used this base defense from 2008 until last season when Guenther bolted for the Oakland Raiders. With the position open and Teryl Austin looking for a job after the Detroit Lions cleaned house, he was given another opportunity in Cincinnati. With Teryl Austin’s hiring this past off season a new defensive scheme will come with him that, according to Austin, will build upon the strengths of his personnel.

As of right now I can’t be entirely sure of what to expect out of the Bengals defense. What I can do is go back and look at the Detroit Lions defense where Austin established a middle of the road defense.

One thing of note is how often Austin will dial up blitzes. Even with a different team and different players a coach isn’t likely to change his stripes completely and Austin is aggressive. That’s new for the Bengals. Sure they liked the double A gap looks but Paul Guenther sent only four rushers far more often than not. This will be a vast departure from what we’ve seen from the Bengals for the past few years.

  • We may not see many more of these from the Bengals (weird):

Austin is a 4-3, one gap guy but other than that, I expect him to really shake up the Bengals defense.

I wanted to know how the Colts offense might try to handle this kind of attack so I took a look at the Austin lead Detroit Lions 2016 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. True to form Austin’s defense was aggressive and sold out to stop the run. To combat this the Eagles used a lot of play action and made the most of what they were given.

This was on 3rd and 2:

Given the fact this was a 3rd down call I think it might say more about Doug Pederson than Teryl Austin, but it’s a telling play either way.

The Eagles come out with 11 personnel. The Lions are showing pressure the whole way with seven men in the box. What this play shows is what has been reported about Austin, his defense is selling out to stop the run, if you notice an inside linebacker flows with the running back away from the ball. He was fooled by the jet sweep, but he wasn’t letting that running back get the first down. Ultimately this was a really well timed play against the defensive call, but Austin showed us his defense will look to be aggressive.

He isn’t afraid to drop a safety into the box:

This was a split zone play action pass from the Eagles and once again the Lions sold out on the running back. They did a good job recovering getting into coverage and forcing an incompletion.

Sending the blitz:

Wentz should have made a better read on this spot concept. The Lions are in a zone (kind of) and the curl route comes open. Either way the Lions sent five pass rushers and the Eagles only had five guys in to block, which forced a quick, bad decision from Wentz, a rookie at the time.

One thing to note, I believe the Lions are pattern matching. I believe I’ve seen it a few times in this game. It’s an effective way to combat bunch formations. It looks like a zone at first and quickly turns into man coverage, or a zone coverage or some mix of both that I only have a basic understanding of. This would explain the corner at the bottom of the screen playing press man and the corners at the top of the screen playing a zone. For a more detailed (and really awesome) description of pattern matching you can follow this link.

When comparing the Bengals of the past decade to what Teryl Austin might be bringing with him to Cincinnati, this Bengals defense might end up being really good. We might be in for a long day.


Defensive Line

If Colts fans want a real look at the new offensive line Chris Ballard has assembled, this Sunday, we’ll all get it. The Bengals have a strong line from top to bottom. Geno Atkins is a rare athlete at defensive tackle, Andrew Billings is a solid 1-tech that will challenge Ryan Kelly all day long. Carlos Dunlap is a solid, but unspectacular defensive end and on the other side is 2017 third round pick Jordan Willis didn’t have a huge role last season and probably expected to with the release of Michael Johnson but then Johnson resigned with the team and looks to start once again this season. Meanwhile 2017 fourth round pick Carl Lawson had a breakout rookie year racking up 8.5 sacks. Lawson is only expected to be seen in passing situations so despite his stellar play against the pass, we may not see Lawson often. Meanwhile the Bengals took pass rusher Sam Hubbard in the third round of the 2018 draft, who some projected as a late first or early second round pick.

This is the kind of thing that Geno Atkins gives you:

And this is the kind of thing that Carl Lawson gives you:

Shades of Reggie White.

This Bengals line is going to rotate talented players for four quarters. Frank Reich and the offensive staff are going to have to come up with a good plan to account for their depth. Expect to see tempo and the no huddle often and even then, I’m not sure it’s going to be enough.


Linebackers

If you’re a Bengals fan you probably have high hopes for rookie linebacker Malik Jefferson. You have high hopes for him because, like Colts fans you’re probably tired of seeing underwhelming play from the linebacker position.

Also giving hope while coming over from the Buffalo Bills is former third round pick, turned tackling machine Preston Brown. Brown, a Cincinnati native, has played in every game of his professional career. While making 62 of 64 starts he has averaged 8 tackles per game. Outside of these two there isn’t much to be excited for, if I’m being honest.

Frank Gore remembers Preston Brown:

Vontaze Burfict is serving his annual four game suspension, Nick Vigil and Vincent Ray don’t inspire anyone and 2017 sixth round pick Jordan Evans will start opposite of Vigil. So after those two new additions it’s not exciting.

What is exciting, for Colts fans anyway, is this is the position group that Reich is going to key on. It is the weak link. The knock on Jefferson coming out of Texas was that he was an amazing height, weight, speed athlete while maybe he didn’t have the best instincts. Further despite Preson Brown’s impressive tackle totals year in and year out, the 25 year old won’t be confused with anyone who is actually fast. Brown seems to struggle in coverage and will probably be a step behind on outside runs.

Look for the Colts to challenge this group early with RPO’s and forcing them to cover the backs and tight ends. I predict a huge advantage for the Colts in this battle.


Defensive Backs

This offseason we watched Adam Jones fight an airport employee and while Pacman had his best years in Cincinnati, the Bengals have rid themselves of the brash cornerback in favor of players under the age of 35.

The Bengals DB’s aren’t what I would consider proven, but there is some serious talent to work with. Dre Kirkpatrick isn’t someone Nick Sirianni is going to gameplan for but he would instantly upgrade the Indy DB’s room. On the other side William Jackson III, a former first round pick, had a dominant 2017. The receivers he covered had a catch rate of 36.6% when targeted, which led the NFL. The next closest player was Casey Hayward at 43,7%.

He’s better than decent:

Starting safeties George Iloka and Shawn Williams formed an average pair but in a shocking move Cincinnati cut the incumbent starter in Iloka after two preseason games and instead will be relying Jessie Bates III who the team drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Wake Forest, how well Bates III will play we can’t be sure, but we know the Bengals are relying on a rookie from a school that doesn’t generally turn out instant impact NFL players. I expect Andrew Luck to be aware of where Bates III lines up before each snap to watch the rookie and wait for him to make a mistake.

Overall the Colts are going to have to plan for William Jackson III. I won’t say he’s going to completely shut down anyone and everyone the Colts throw at him, but I will say whoever finds themselves covered by the third year pro will probably need to be schemed open, I don’t think anyone is beating him one on one.


What to Expect from the Colts Offense:

I expect to see them challenge what very well could be a weak group of linebackers. I expect them to stay away from William Jackson III and focus instead on working the middle of the field with tight ends and backs.

I’m not sure how much success we will see the Colts have via the ground game given Austin’s past defenses who often sell out completely against the ground game.


Colts Offensive Concept to Watch for This Week:

The RPO

If you notice above, I didn’t align the linebacker anywhere specifically I just plopped him down in the general area you’ll normally find him. That linebacker is going to determine almost everything about what this play ends up being.

I once had a coach that used to tell us “don’t worry boys, they’re gonna run it, or they’re gonna pass it.” His point was that as long as we all did our job, it didn’t matter what the other team did. Of course this was before the RPO was popular or well known. Even if that linebacker does his job on this play, it might not matter. Sorry, coach.

If that linebacker follows the running back, the quarterback should pull the ball out and throw the slant. If the linebacker falls into coverage the quarterback should hand the ball off to go find the void left by the absent linebacker. This creates a simple read that needs to be made quickly and executed at a high level, Andrew Luck seems like just the guy to do just that.

When the LB drops you run:

The cool thing about this play isn’t the massive hole that opens in the middle of the field. It’s what the pass option does to number 52.

At the snap of the ball the right side (your left) of the line all take zone steps to their right. That tells us this is going to be a zone running play to the right side of the line... except the left guard and tackle drop into a shallow pass set.

So the backside linebacker, in this case number 52, sees what’s in front of him, the LG and LT pass blocking, the receiver running a route and as a result he bails into coverage, leaving the middle of the field wide open. If Kyle Van Noy wasn’t as good as he is this is a bigger gain than it ended up being, either way it moved the chains.

This concept blends the zone run with a quick pass concept that makes defenders make choices that ultimately determine what the offense does. In short there shouldn’t be any way a defense can win.