Bengals Should Stick with Run-First Approach in 2015

Almost everything about the Bengals from 2011 to 2013 was based on growth. The defense allowed fewer and fewer points each year. The offense scored more and more. Andy Dalton’s pass attempts increased each season as he continued to play better and take a larger role in the team’s success. That all changed in 2014.

Under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, much of the offense was taken out of Andy Dalton’s hands. He attempted just 481 passes, which was both a career low as well as 105 fewer passes than he attempted the year before. Jackson increased the emphasis on the running game behind rookie Jeremy Hill and 2nd-year back Giovani Bernard. The Bengals ultimately ran the ball on 49% of their first-half plays, which was the most for Cincinnati in any season since Andy Dalton took over under center. Yet perhaps there were reasons for this aside from Dalton.

Tight End Tyler Eifert, who figured to be a huge part of the passing game, was lost for the year in Week 1. A.J. Green missed 3 full games in the regular season, came out of 2 other games in the 1st quarter, and battled through nagging injuries all year. Green, Eifert and Jermaine Gresham were all not in the lineup for the Bengals’ playoff loss against the Colts, which can help explain some of their offensive futility in that game.

Injuries aside, perhaps the Bengals stumbled upon something. They have one of the best two-back punches in the game in Hill and Bernard. Hill is a big and physical runner with quick feet, good patience, and the make-up of a feature back. Bernard is a quick and shifty player who can contribute more in the passing game than Hill. By and large, they have the same offensive line returning, albeit with more competition, talent, and depth at the tackle positions because of their first two draft picks this season. Maybe continuing to focus on the run would be a great idea for the Bengals moving forward.

Furthermore, Andy Dalton has proven time and again throughout his career what type of player he is. He doesn’t always see the field well, makes questionable decisions and turns the ball over. He has gunslinger tendencies without the benefits that a great gunslinger provides. He is not the type of quarterback you want throwing the ball 35 to 40 times a game, and his career numbers bear that out. He is 18-5 as a starter when he throws less than 30 passes in a game and just 22-18-1 when he throws 30 or more. Additionally, he threw 30 or more passes in each of his 4 playoff appearances, all of which were losses.

As we wrote last year, Dalton was at his best when the pass plays called were based off of the running game using run/play action. When the run was working he was a better player. This is true for all quarterbacks but especially for Dalton. He is a complimentary quarterback who needs the parts around him to work in order for him to have success. With that in mind, Hue Jackson would be wise to take a similar ground-oriented approach in 2015, even with a healthy receiving corps.