In the Green Bay Packers’ 27-13 preseason victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, Cedric Benson proved some of his worth to the offense. Though he didn’t see the field until the Packers’ second series, his influence on the defense was immediate, especially when it came to the play action fake.
In fact, the Packers went with a play action pass on the first three consecutive downs played by Benson. The first down resulted in an incompletion deep to Jordy Nelson, who probably should have drawn a defensive pass interference flag for getting knocked down when going for the ball. Greg Jennings hauled in the next two play action passes for 19- and 18-yard gains respectively.
Here is a video of the 18-yard completion to Jennings:
You’ll immediately notice that Bengals safety Reggie Nelson (#20) makes a nice fake at the line as if dropping into coverage before coming on a blitz. He even almost tips the pass intended for Jennings.
But go back again and this time keep your eyes on Bengals cornerback Leon Hall (#29), who is lined up across from Jennings in what appears to be a zone coverage. What the play action fake does here is draw him in to the center of the field, not only keeping Jennings wide open but also giving him room to run. (I particularly love how Jennings makes Hall completely whiff on the tackle.)
In the wake of two play action passes, the defense still bites on the fake for a third time. Even the blitzing safety had to adjust his target from Benson to Rodgers.
On the start of the third series, Benson remains in the game, and the Packers immediately lead off with a play action pass. It’s called incomplete on a tip-toe catch from Nelson along the sideline (though I would argue he was able to keep his feet in). But what I want to focus on now is the play that immediately follows:
Benson gets a good 8-yard run here in part due to the play action game. Keep your eyes on Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (#93) here. He stops his pass rush when he identifies the offensive line run blocking, but his attention hesitates on Rodgers just long enough after the handoff to allow Benson some driving room inside the tackle.
The threat of Rodgers throwing (or scrambling) on a play action was enough to keep the defense honest and allow Benson room to run. Really, the Packers are just playing mind games with the Bengals at this point.
There are a couple more videos I could show to highlight this aspect of the offense, but I will leave you with just one more. This is the Packers’ first play of their second series in the second quarter:
This is another play action pass, but with no bootleg by Rodgers. Instead, what the fake does here is buy Rodgers some clean time in the pocket to make a deep pass to Jennings (even though it ends up incomplete). If you watch the defensive line, especially the ends, they pull back their pass rush for just a moment when the fake handoff to Benson occurs. It’s more than enough to let Rodgers step into his throw.
At first glimpse, the addition of Cedric Benson not only helps the Packers’ running game, but it also pays dividends in the passing game, especially in regard to the play action fake. The threat of Benson’s running prowess helps to keep the defense at bay and give Rodgers more time to find his target.
Conversely, we also saw how this helped Benson in the running game when the defense had to take just a little more time to diagnose whether the play was run or pass. As long as Benson can keep up his productivity, this dual advantage will continue to push the offense to its maximum potential.
Now, as we always have to remember, this is still a preseason game and the Bengals didn’t really game plan a whole lot for the Packers specifically. As teams get to study Green Bay and their use of Benson, it will test the offense more. The fact remains, though, that Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers will have a lot of flexibility in play calling when Cedric Benson is in the backfield.
As a final note, here are some statistics for Benson from his preseason debut:
|Play Action Snaps||6|
|Pass Blocking Snaps||4|