Image Credit: Associated Press
The 1-0 49ers travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, who actually look pretty intimidating after barely losing on the road against the Seahawks in Week 1. Former Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor is the new head coach there and already he has the Sean McVay blueprint intact despite inheriting a poor offensive line and a receiving corps that currently is without A.J. Green.
Speaking of receivers, Tyler Boyd gets plenty of deserved attention, but it’s John Ross we may need to start talking about. The former first round pick was badly used in his first two seasons with Cincinnati, and it looked like he would enter bust territory without unlocking his potential. Ross finished his first two seasons with 21 receptions for 210 yards and 7 touchdowns, all of which came in 2018.
And then Week 1 of the 2019 season happened. Suddenly Ross had easily the best game of his career, catching seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle. If anything Taylor has revived and put Ross back on the right track, but he himself is a very talented receiver with outstanding speed and great potential for vertical play.
The combination of Ross’ usage against the Seahawks and Ross’ individual skill set should terrify 49ers fans, and it’ll come against a coach that should be familiar with the defense San Francisco runs as a former member of an NFC West coaching staff.
For that reason let’s breakdown Ross’ tape and determine what makes him a potential nightmare matchup for the 49ers.
On Ross’ first target of the game (early in the first quarter) he’s lined up as the X receiver against Seattle’s zone defense.
Ross makes a quick cut at the top of his curl route, but seems to drop this pass. Upon closer inspection, however...
...we can see that the throw from Andy Dalton is wide and forces Ross to adjust. Ross has plenty of space from the separation he created on his route, so this should’ve been an easy throw for Dalton to make. Unfortunately that was not the case and it landed on the turf for an incompletion.
In the second quarter, however, Ross was involved in what is perhaps the best play call from Week 1.
This time Ross is initially lined up as the Z receiver in what appears to be an 11 personnel package (three receivers, 1 running back and 1 tight end).
Dalton motions Ross left, and at this moment the fun begins. Pay attention to Damion Willis, the X receiver (in layman’s terms, the top left receiver) as we further look at this play.
Willis runs a simple go route which, along with the flea flicker that occurs on this play, frees up tons of space for Ross.
Ross sells his route perfectly, baiting the Seahawks into believing it’s running play when there’s actually a little trickery going on with the flea flicker. Ross breaks a couple tackles and heads into the end zone to cap off a sensational play from the Bengals.
For the next play let’s move a little closer to the line of scrimmage, taking a look at something that was by no means a positive play, but one that indicated the Bengals offense is in good hands with Zac Taylor and company.
Once again the Bengals run 11 personnel (which, by the way, is heavily used by the Rams) in the shotgun formation with Ross seemingly lined up against press man coverage. Keep an eye on the two receivers at the top, because they help dictate the coverage Ross gets.
The attention from the Seahawks defense gets shifted to the weak side of the formation (meaning the top), clearing up loads of space for Ross to break free.
The problem is Ross drops this ball, delivered on time and on target. It’s a shame because he had a boatload of space in front of him and potentially had a touchdown on a terrific play call.
Fortunately for Ross, this happened on the very next play.
Ross finds a way to get himself open against zone coverage, and to Dalton’s credit this is a ballsy throw, but not a precise one. Ross has to slow down and adjust, moving to his left on this dangerous toss. Somehow, some way, Ross makes a magnificent play at the catch point, breaking free and scoring his second and final touchdown on the night.
Ross currently has the record for the fastest 40 time at the NFL Combine (4.22), and that shows up on this play. The downfield speed he gets here is reminiscent of a skill set guys like DeSean Jackson and rookie receiver Marquise Brown have in that their trademark ability is blazing speed. It’s a safe bet that Ross has this and then some.
Finally, let’s take a look at another one of Ross’ routes, this time more toward the sideline.
This time the Bengals are in 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 receivers, 2 tight ends) as Ross is again lined up as the Z receiver.
And that’s when he adds to his breakout day with another sharp cut on a deep out route.
With a few stutter steps, Ross fools Tre Flowers (not Trey Flowers, Lions defensive end) and makes a great cut toward the sideline, easily hauling in this catch for 24 yards.
In addition to showcasing blazing speed and some impressive route running skills, John Ross finds himself rejuvenated in what appears to be a well-coached offense that consistently got him open against the Seahawks. The 49ers better be ready for Cincinnati’s constant 11 personnel packages, many of which will most definitely feature Ross as the primary target.
With Ross being a big reason, the Bengals should not be taken lightly by the 49ers. This is not one of the post-playoff teams that are coached to mediocrity of the Marvin Lewis era, or at least not yet it isn’t. This is an offense with enough talent and a great scheme to possess as a danger to many teams in 2019, with one of those potentially being San Francisco.
So Robert Saleh and the 49ers defense better be ready for the Bengals offense, and most importantly they'd better be ready for John Ross.
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