The Bengals lost big to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. You may have turned the game off early to watch that DVR'd Naked and Afraid you've been meaning to catch up on (guilty), but if you were paying attention early in the game, something weird might've caught your eye.
For students of the high-school A-11 game (and fans of Steve Spurrier-era Florida, Chip Kelly-era Oregon and the 2013 Eagles or Jaguars), this wouldn't be a terribly shocking thing to see, but for most, watching both tackles line up flexed out to the wing, with Andy Dalton and Gio Bernard protected by only three linemen, might make you double take.
From the looks of it, this formation made the Patriots dig deep into their memory banks on how the hell teams are supposed to defend this thing. The Bengals have run this formation one other time this season, but by the looks of it, I doubt the Patriots practiced for it too much the week's run-up to the game.
Note body language expressing confusion, bewilderment, and hesitation. From every player.
Before I show you what happened on this particular play, a little background on it: This is what's known as the Emory and Henry formation, as it's based on an offense that the institution popularized back as early as the 1950's.
Steve Spurrier revived it and coined it the "Emory and Henry" at Florida and South Carolina (he attended Emory and Henry games in his youth) and it's been used sparingly as a trick play at a number of places since by multiple programs and teams. Chip Kelly famously used it at Oregon, then last year in Philly it got some mainstream attention as well.
While Kelly gets a lot of credit as an innovator and as a play-caller that's not afraid to "get weird," Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has quietly put together one of the most funky offenses in the NFL this year in Cincy. End arounds, triple-option runs, wide receiver throws, the list goes on. He kept at in in New England on Sunday with this.
Essentially, the play has up to four options (though they're not necessarily all on the table every time they run this). Depending on the defensive look that Andy Dalton gets in response to this weird formation, he has the option of running a read-option run play to Giovani Bernard, keeping it himself to run downfield, or throwing a quick screen pass out to either wing.
Note that the tackles that are flexed out to the wings are not eligible receivers, they're just out there to block, but it's obviously a pretty big mismatch if they're looking to smother a defensive back half their size. Also on the wing are tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Ryan Hewitt. There's some beef out there, blocking for the screen pass option.
Because the Patriots start with five defensive players in the box (to only three offensive blockers), Dalton's obvious choice is to quickly throw it to the wing. That's what he does, to Mohamed Sanu, who's a strong runner after the catch.
The play picks up 8 yards, and probably could've gotten a little bit more if Hewitt had held his block on the edge.
The Bengals would only go to the well with this one time in this game, but by putting it on tape once again, opposing teams will likely feel the need to spend time on defending it in practice. There are many options out of this play that could be run, so it's not something the defensive coordinators would likely take lightly. Even if Cincy only runs it once a game, they're forcing upcoming opponents to waste precious time preparing for it.