CINCINNATI — Maybe a little motion can help the Bengals get their offense in gear.
That’s the hope anyway and we started to see some of it Monday night as the Bengals did different things to loosen up defenses so Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd can start to get open.
Several times Monday, the Bengals moved Chase and Higgins around pre-snap to try and leverage the defense in their favor.
For Chase, it worked to the tune of 12 catches on 15 targets for 141 yards. Not every catch was the result of motion. For instance, his 13-yard grab behind him on third down in the third quarter came from a static position at the line.
On the 43-yarder, it was misdirection from Chase Brown and the offensive line to Chase shedding his defender and breaking free on the naked boot by Burrow. Those two plays are just great execution, plain and simple.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 26, 2023
But sometimes you need creativity in the execution. And speed.
Things at rest tend to stay at rest, and are much easier to keep an eye on. But if you put them in motion with lots and lots of speed behind it, then there’s more of a chance to put the defense in an uncomfortable spot, forcing them to play softer so they don’t get burned close to the line of scrimmage.
One of the big trends in NFL offenses right now is something called Miami Motion, where the Dolphins put either Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle – two speedsters – in motion before the snap. They also have rookie speedster De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert.
The Dolphins literally ran circles around the unprepared and unwilling Denver Broncos, who allowed 726 yards and 70 points last Sunday. The Broncos looked grossly unprepared and quit on seemingly every other defensive snap, not pursuing, using bad angles and generally quitting on the game.
The Bengals ran a chunk of those Miami motions Monday. It didn’t have the same impact on the Rams that Miami’s did on Denver. But the Bengals did kick start their offense some in the second half. If the Bengals offense does what is has in the last two seasons, they will take time to find their groove.
Two years ago, it was all about the big play, as teams played man coverage on Chase and Higgins. Last year, the Bengals saw much more cloud and zone and Burrow took what was available – for the most part – underneath on checkdowns and other short-to-immediate routes.
Now it’s time for the Bengals to adjust again. That adjustment has been to run pre-snap motions to offset and disrupt the defense – not just vertically but horizontally.
Let Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan explain:
“It’s kind of twofold,” Callahan said. “It’s become those the short motions have sort of become the new fly motions, which we’ve everyone’s done to some degree for the last couple of years. And you see it show up a little bit here and there. But Miami sort of done a lot more of it. They’ve done a good job of incorporating it, but really, it’s just an abbreviated fly motion. So instead of coming from across formation, it starts on the same side, and you can play with it and you can create softness and motion and out of stacks and give the defensive guys things to communicate on.
“And it’s something that we’ve toyed with a little bit even in the past years, not as much as you’re seeing it now and across the league. And then we’ve added some more elements that we think fit us as you, as you study the league and study what people are doing to put guys in good positions. And so that’s kind of where it’s all stemmed from.”
But Callahan, like a good professor, cautions not to think you can just run motion every down and have the same effect.
“All motion is not created equal. What are you motioning for is the is to me always the starting point. Are you motioning for a reason? Does the motion uncover something about the defense? Does it give you a pressure, tell you when you’re going to get a blitz? Does the front lock when the why? This one of my moves is the fly motion distort the defense. What are you trying to get out of it? And just saying that motion equals success, I think is a I think it’s a very blanket way to look at motion. The advantage of being static sometimes is that now you know where everybody is going to be. You don’t always know what the response is going to be to a motion Some quarterbacks prefer that, they prefer to see.
“They want to see you lined up and see what it looks like. But there’s a there’s a time and a place for it. If it’s if it has whatever the intent of the motion is, you’re aware of the cause and effect, I think is probably the best way to put it. But I’ve been in offenses where we were static all the time and hardly ever motion and had a lot of success.”
Callahan, of course, worked with Peyton Manning in Denver in 2015. He would not hesitate putting his receivers in motion if he thought it could create separation.
“And I’ve been in offenses where you motion quite a bit because it helps get guys open and free guys up and you know, you can’t win just one on one sometimes. So there’s a time and a place for it, I think. And we’ve found that it’s been the little bit that we’ve used in both ways, both static and with motion that we found ways to be successful, I think is that you got a good mix of that, and your motion has the right intention. You can find some good stuff.”
Which brings us to Joe Burrow. How does the Bengals quarterback view it.
“We’re always looking for creative ways to put our guys in a good position to get open,” Burrow told me. “That’s a great way to do it. Miami’s had a lot of success. You see it all across the league this year. So there’s a lot of different things we’ll implement.”
It’s not just Chase, Boyd and Higgins. The Bengals won’t shy away from putting running backs in motion, as they’ve shown with Joe Mixon and Trayveon Williams and tight ends Mitchell Wilcox, Irv Smith Jr. and Tanner Hudson.
Sometimes you motion to free a target up on his route. Sometimes you do it to disrupt the defense pre-snap. And sometimes, you do it after the quarterback reads the defense and dictates to the defense before they have a chance to adjust.
Whether to go motion is ultimately up to Burrow. It’s literal 3-D chess for Burrow.
“It fits him. I would say that’s a that’s a fair statement,” Callahan said. “I mean, he likes to see the defense. He likes to see it spread out. A lot of times when you’re in motion formations, you’re super condensed, everything’s tight, and your motion in and out of type formations and some guys prefer the opposite. And Joe would probably lean and say, ‘All things equal, I’d like to have everybody spread out, know everybody’s out. And I can diagnose from there.’ That’s not to say that he can’t do the other, but that’s probably a fair assessment.”