Bengals factoid: Spreading the catches

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
9:30
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Hue Jackson, in the seven months he's now served as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator, has made it known that he wants to make the ground game the focal point of his offensive attack, while also judiciously airing the ball out when particular passing opportunities arise.

He believes he has a quarterback in Andy Dalton who can not only connect with his receivers, tight ends and running backs on shorter and intermediate routes, but he also thinks Dalton can go long when the time is right. Similarly, Jackson has expressed confidence in his playmakers to be in the appropriate spots when Dalton does look for them regardless where they are downfield.

Jackson is certain the offensive talent the Bengals have, combined with a stepped-up tempo and rhythm, will be just the trick to turn their top-10 offense from a year ago into a top-5 one this season.

When it comes to the passing game in particular, though, the big question is: How will Jackson divvy up the passes and spread catches among his players? That's a question we attempt to answer with Thursday's factoid.

The number for the day: 36.4.

That number represents the combined percentage of passes the Oakland Raiders' No. 1 receiver, No. 1 tight end and No. 1 running back combined to have in Jackson's scheme when he was their offensive coordinator and head coach in 2010 and 2011.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jackson's top target at receiver, caught 15.2 percent of the 594 passes his quarterbacks threw to pass-catchers in those two seasons. Running back Darren McFadden caught 11.1 percent of those passes and tight end Zach Miller caught 10.1 percent. Together, those figures equal 36.4 percent.

In Cincinnati the last three seasons, the No. 1 receiver (A.J. Green), the No. 1 tight end (Jermaine Gresham) and the No. 1 running back (for receiving purposes, it's Giovani Bernard) combined to grab 47.9 percent of the 1,007 passes Bengals quarterbacks threw. Breaking those numbers down further, in 2013 alone the three were the primary drivers of the offense, accounting for 54.9 percent of the 364 passes caught from Dalton.

It's safe to say that based on these numbers, the Bengals felt comfortable the last three seasons going to their top playmakers at the three skill positions. The numbers seem to suggest that the Raiders, on the other hand, were a little more comfortable spreading the ball among multiple players. Where Bernard not only paced the Bengals' running backs' receiving numbers as a rookie last season, the Raiders had three ball carriers in the 2010 and 2011 seasons that made for a productive receiving unit.

During those two seasons, McFadden commanded 11.1 percent of all the Raiders' receptions. The team's No. 2 running back, Michael Bush, had 9.3 percent of the Raiders' receptions. The No. 3, fullback Marcel Reece, hauled in 8.8 percent of the Raiders' passes.

Bernard in 2013 caught 15.4 percent of Dalton's passes, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis catching just 1.1 percent of them. H-back Orson Charles caught 0.3 percent of them.

All the numbers can be dizzying but the bottom line here is that Jackson's past offenses appear more apt to spreading the passing wealth than the Bengals' offenses were under former coordinator Jay Gruden. Since 2011, Cincinnati has been top -heavy in its passing game. When a team has a receiver like Green, though, it's hard to argue against it devoting as much attention to that player as possible. He is certainly among the elite players in the league at his position.

Before we go further, there are some variables that can affect these numbers that you should consider.

For starters, injuries likely have altered the numbers slightly. Perhaps McFadden, for example, would have seen more receptions and been a little closer aligned to Bernard had he not missed so much time due to injuries the two seasons he played for Jackson. Maybe if Andrew Hawkins hadn't missed the first half of last season with his own injury the Bengals' receiving numbers would have been a little more balanced among their top four receivers.

There's also the variable of defense. Certain positions or certain skill types might be favored in the passing game, depending upon what defense a team is facing. Maybe the running backs' reception numbers got a boost during weeks they played teams that were constantly blitzing and running past screen patterns. Any number of things could impact the numbers.

Still, the numbers alone clearly suggest that Bengals fans ought to brace for a more diverse passing array when Jackson's offense finally takes the field. In particular, be on the lookout for passes out of the backfield. Whether McFadden's injuries impacted the Raiders' running back numbers or not, it's clear he still liked going to that well. With Bernard and Jeremy Hill anchoring their running back play, the Bengals have two proven pass-catchers who could give that part of the passing game a slightly different look.

Gone are the days when Green and Gresham are the players primarily catching Dalton's passes.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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