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Giants vs. Bengals: When the Burrow-less Bengals have the ball

What will the Cincinnati offense look like without quarterback Joe Burrow?

Cincinnati Bengals v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Giants travel to Cincinnati to take on the 2-7-1 Bengals in their week 12 contest. After a somewhat dramatic bye week, it’ll be nice for Big Blue to come out and establish themselves over an inferior opponent. As of Tuesday morning, the Giants are 5.5 point favorites on the road, and there’s a significant reason; quarterback Joe Burrow, the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, was lost for the season after tearing his left ACL and MCL Sunday against Washington.

The loss of Burrow changes the entire dynamic of the Bengals offense - an offense that struggled with the star in the making. Cincinnati ranks 22nd in rushing yards per game with 101.9. They rank 16th in passing yards per game (247.2), despite throwing the ball 2nd most behind the Dallas Cowboys. The Bengals rank 25th in points per game (21.3), but they rank 4th in time of possession. These stats are somewhat irrelevant with the loss of Burrow.

It appears that Brandon Allen will be the starting quarterback against the Giants.

Allen is a sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Arkansas back, and he saw some work at quarterback in 2019 for the Denver Broncos. He threw 89 passes, completing 49 of them, for 515 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 2 interceptions. He was also sacked 9 times in his starts against the Browns, Vikings, and Bills. He did lead the Broncos to a 24-17 victory over the Browns.

Allen is a bit more decisive than Ryan Finley and has a bigger arms in terms of zip and his ability to push the ball vertically. He has a better feel for the pocket, and has done an okay job at maneuvering to dodge rushers which helps him set up better throwing opportunities downfield. The Bengals elevated him from the practice squad to start over Finley on Sunday.

Offensive line

Finley or Allen won’t mask the real deficiency with this offense - their line. Their ability to protect is a mess. One of the Giants biggest flaws on defense is their pass rush with four, specifically at the edge position because Leonard Williams is having a phenomenal season. The Bengals have surrendered 36 sacks on the season, and a lot of their offensive line, excluding second-year tackle Jonah Williams and center Trey Hopkins, are expendable players.

Their starting right tackle is Bobby Hart. Yes Giants’ fans, that Bobby Hart, who has allowed 25 pressures and three sacks on the season. Left tackle Jonah Williams has allowed 18 pressures. The only team with both their tackles averaging more pressures per game would be the Giants, but hopefully that subsides as the line continues to progress.

Left guard Michael Jordan has the most pressures allowed with 31, the next most is 27, so Jordan is a player to scheme against on the interior parts of the offensive line. Right guard Alex Redmond has allowed 3 sacks and 13 pressures. Swing lineman Fred Johnson has been on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last game, and may play on Sunday, but he has 13 pressures allowed on the season. Johnson has been a solid swing offensive lineman for the Bengals; he’s played left tackle and right tackle as well as right guard. If Johnson is healthy, he may start at right guard over Redmond.

Skill positions

Tee Higgins, a second-round rookie out of Clemson, has caught 43 of 70 targets for 629 yards and 4 touchdowns with Joe Burrow leading the offense. He has a 14.50 aDot (average depth of target) and is used as the big-bodied deep threat. I don’t know if James Bradberry will shadow in this matchup, but Higgins would more than likely be the receiver to shadow.

The veteran of the wide receiving corps is A.J. Green, who is having a down year, but is still a savvy route runner who receives a decent amount of targets. Green has 75 targets and has secured 35 of those for 357 yards and a touchdown, which came last week before the Burrow injury. Green has a 13.97 aDot, however he’s been used much closer to the line of scrimmage in the last few weeks. He’s mainly targeted on quick slants, outs, and deeper comebacks. In the beginning of the year, he was used vertically more often, and it wasn’t the best fit for his declining athletic ability. Although he’s older, he still shouldn’t be overlooked.

Slot receiver Tyler Boyd is underrated. He has 69 catches on 86 targets for 710 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Bengals run a lot of quick game out of 11 personnel, and Boyd is the primary beneficiary of that style. He has an 8.62 aDot, and has the most end zone targets of all the Bengals’ wide receivers.

The rushing offense hasn’t been great the last two games against Washington and Pittsburgh. Running back Joe Mixon hasn’t seen the field since Week 6, and veteran Giovani Bernard is handling most of the snaps, with Samaje Perine sprinkled into the equation. Bernard is a good receiving back, who does a good job in blitz pickup, but he’s not a dynamic running back like Joe Mixon. Bernard has 32 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and 191 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, with a measly 3.4 yards per carry.

Tight end C.J. Uzomah was set to be the featured tight end, but was lost early in the season. The starting tight end is now Drew Sample, a second-round tight end out of Washington. He’s a solid blocker who is a reliable receiver, but is not dynamic with the ball in his hands. He’s caught 22 passes on 31 targets for 212 yards.

Cincinnati uses a lot of man beaters in obvious man coverage situations, which is commonplace in the NFL, and they weren’t afraid to take shots to Higgins by forcing safeties into conflict. We saw plays like this last week against Washington:

Rub and wheel to the boundary is an excellent way to create space and get receivers open on third-and-short, and Bernard sells the pick well enough. Against a quarters look, Higgins runs the clear out for the horizontal cross to Boyd, but the safety bites on Boyd, giving Higgins inside leverage on the outside corner. It’s not completed, but the play was there for Burrow and the offense. The question will now be...how will head coach Zac Taylor alter his offense without Burrow?

Taylor is going to try utilizing quick game, quick screens, simplified reads/concepts, and he’ll try and establish a running game. He’ll still take his shots if it’s warranted, and those routes will be there, but it’s imperative for Taylor to stress that Allen gets the ball out of his hands in a timely manner. There should be a lot of half field reads from 2x2 sets, and 3x1 sets with advantageous short combinations (one being a clearout), with Higgins on the backside; if Allen likes the leverage of Higgins, the green light will be given in one on one situations in 3x1 sets. Against the Giants, there will be a lot of dump offs to Bernard in the middle of the field.

Final thoughts

The offense will be slightly different and much less effective with Brandon Allen as the starter. I’m interested to see if there’s a bye week wrinkle that Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has designed to confuse the young inexperienced quarterback. Cincinnati will target the short areas of the field and attempt to establish the run, but the Giants defense should easily be up for the challenge against this beat up Bengals offense.