Anytime you watch a football game the second time around, you notice more things; not unlike watching a movie. In a lot of ways, when you watch the game live, objectivism is thrown out for raw emotion, or the peak of wondering what the hell is going on. In truth, we only care about winning. How we get there doesn't matter. A different justification comes with losing. When we lose, we point out failures and flaws. Obviously something wrong happened. We have to explain it; blame a player, a play or a coach (and in 2006, an NFL referee). It's not a fault of ours. It's human nature. The desire for explanation of things we can't necessarily explain initially. That's just the the way it is. You're worried about the moment. When one player makes a mistake, that mistake weighs heavier on people's impressions of that player for that game. For example, recently a lot of disapproval has been thrown around about Tight End Daniel Coats. After watching the game the second time, only once did I notice a truly awful play he made. It was an attempted block on a guy that tackled Cedric Benson four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Aside from that, he made his routine blocks and caught two passes for 18 yards -- including a first down reception during the team's second touchdown drive. Was he awful? Aside from that play, he was average. However, that awful play is far more remembered because of the detailed visual of Coats on his knees, watching the guy he blocked totally destroy a running play.
I'm going to take the same approach with the Bengals offensive line. Were they truly awful? Most of you will say yes, and when we woke up Friday morning I agreed. But the Bengals offensive line was the reason the Bengals rushing offense recorded 141 yards rushing and 4.4 yards-per-rush. If the Bengals maintain that average, there's every reason to believe the rushing offense will be very good. However, it's the six sacks allowed that we'll remember. But how much was the offensive line to blame for those sacks?
We take a look during this week's game rewind.
Sack #1. The situation is first-and-ten at the Bengals 30-yard line. It was their first possession in a game that already saw an exchange of touchdowns. The Bengals lined up four wide, two receivers flanking each side of the offensive line. The Rams blitzed three, causing a problem with protection because the offense didn't have enough players to protect against the pass rush. The defensive end and defensive tackle were neutralized by Andrew Whitworth and Nate Livings and Cedric Benson took out the blitzing outside linebacker. As a result, #37-Butler sprinted through the line unblocked. Was it the play of the offensive line that caused the sack? Or was it a combination of a good defensive call against a bad protection scheme?
Sack #2. The situation is first-and-ten at the Cincinnati 44-yard line with 2:46 left in the first quarter. The Bengals lined up off-set I formation, strong side to the right against a base 4-3 Rams defense. At the snap, the defense brought six -- which includes an outside and middle linebacker blitzing. Kyle Cook picked up the blitzing middle linebacker, while Bobbie Williams, Anthony Collins and Daniel Coats protected the right side of the line. Andrew Whitworth kicked out the defensive end and Nate Livings picked up the defensive tackle. In other words, the Bengals offensive line picked up everyone. Except for one -- #51-Witherspoon, who stunted around the blitzing #55-Laurinaitis finding a gap on the offensive line between Livings and Whitworth. J.T. O'Sullivan sidestepped #51-Witherspoon's attempted sack and moved up in the pocket. A quick observation here. If O'Sullivan stops at this point, he has time to look downfield and get rid of the ball. However, hindsight is 20/20 (would you do better?). O'Sullivan keeps his head down, tries to look for a running lane and finds #58-Vobora instead.
Through the first two sacks, you have to note that the Rams found gaps by stunting and overloading one side during a blitz. Is this an example of giving the offensive line a pass, or an excuse? One could argue that it is. However, the fact is the Bengals offense, not just the offensive line but the coaches and play-calling included, didn't adjust to the blitzes. Furthermore, few observations are made at the line of scrimmage that changes the play into a quick pass or the quarterback hitting hot reads. Everyone is at fault, including the offensive line -- but NOT only the offensive line.
Sack #3. Now, I'm not excusing the offensive line either. With 12:53 left in the third quarter, J.T. O'Sullivan sits in shotgun on third-and-eight at the Cincinnati 41-yard line. At the snap, Kyle Cook is completely overpowered, pushed back into the quarterback. O'Sullivan has to move out of the way, shifting to the left, finding #43-Dahl. However, I'm not so sure that if Cook actually blocked his man and held his ground, that O'Sullivan wouldn't have been sacked anyway. Like several situations in the game, the Bengals lined up with four wide receivers on third down. The Rams, in response to the formation, bring anywhere from six to seven pass rushers. On this sack, the Bengals had trips to the right and a lone wide receiver on the left. The Rams brought four guys on the right, where only two Cincinnati blockers stood their ground.
Sack #4. Sometimes you can defer blame from the offensive line to the quarterback, or just great defensive play. With 3:36 left in the third quarter, the Bengals have third-and-six at the Cincinnati 37-yard line. The Rams brought five, all on the right side of the Bengals line -- the right defensive end went into zone coverage in the flats and the weakside outside linebacker covered the middle. Even though the Rams had the numbers -- more rushers than the Bengals had blockers -- the protection held. Jordan Palmer scanned the field, scanned some more, decided that he should take longer to look and was eventually sacked by #94-Adeyanju. I counted over five seconds before the pass rush got to Palmer. Sometimes you have to give credit to the defense, and label plays like this as a coverage sack.
Sack #5. And we'll call it a coverage sack here. With 12:44 left in the fourth quarter, the Bengals have first-and-20 at the Cincinnati five-yard line. Palmer drops back, waits, watches, drinks tea, calls his girlfriend, waves to his older brother and then fumbles when #98 Ah You hits him from the front. Center Jonathan Luigs recovers the fumble and events go into motion several minutes later that would see Cincinnati make an impressive drive down the field -- going 96 yards in three plays for a touchdown to close the deficit to three.
Sack #6. Then there's the obvious. If you wanted evidence that
Randy Jackson Augustus Parrish was only house-sitting for Andre Smiths' arrival with no possible shot at making the squad, here's the play. With seconds before the Two Minute Warning, Jordan Palmer rushes the offense to the line to get one more play off before the timeout after a five-yard gain by James Johnson. The Bengals are down by three points, with plenty of time left on the 29-yard line. There's no reason to rush to the line. When the ball was snapped, the game was over. Defensive end #92-Moore sprinted by Parrish, who looked very slow, leaving no doubt that he was giving up the game's sixth sack. It was one of those plays that you said uh-oh less than a second after the snap. The defensive end turned past Parrish and knocked the football out of Palmer's hand essentially giving the Rams the win.
The point we made earlier, that the six sacks allowed by the offensive line, was in fact, a team effort and not solely to blame on our big uglies, stands. By my count, twice the Rams called a defensive play that exposed problems on the protection scheme. Twice the quarterback held onto the football far too long because wide receivers couldn't get open; which we call coverage sacks. And twice an offensive lineman was simply beaten.
Is this the year that Geathers returns (aka, returns the investment the team made in him)? I believe Robert Geathers has all the potential to be the team's best defensive lineman. Aside from his 10.5 sacks in 2006, that potential hasn't translated into overwhelming success on the field. One observation many are making this year is that Geathers is performing; meaning he's making plays, but he's looking really good on plays he's not technically involved in (aka, not making the tackle). Against the Rams, he was everywhere. On the first play of the game, Geathers contained the edge, ran up-field and took out Steven Jackson for a one-yard loss. One first and ten with 12:01 left in the first quarter, Geathers (at LDE) slanted to the right, holding up the offensive guard, hitting Jackson for another one-yard loss. Along with a quarterback hit which came within a millisecond from being a sack, Geathers finished the game with four tackles and was around the football on nearly every run between the tackles. He's by far the team's best overall defensive end, strong against the run and pass.
Don't write off Jeanty just yet. Even though Rey Maualuga is getting all of the publicity (and being totally bad ass in the process), Rashad Jeanty isn't just keeping the position warm for the rookie. In fact, if it wasn't for Maualuga, there would be no competition. Jeanty starts. On first-and-ten at the Cincinnati 20-yard line (the play after the botched snap between Kyle Cook and O'Sullivan), Jeanty found the point of attack behind the left guard, took out the fullback and brought down Gado for a no-gain. Even though he only made three tackles for the game (his playing time reduced because of Maualuga), Jeanty is far superior than his competition on pass coverage. He knocked away one pass to a tight end, and sat in the hip pocket of a wide receiver. The receiver made the catch anyway only because Kyle Boller made a nice throw to #14-Burton, who extended out to make the catch. But a linebacker should never be in the hip pocket of a wide receiver.
A quick look at the newest veteran safety. Roy Williams might be a liability against the deep pass, but the boy can hit. On second-and-ten with :56 left in the first, #25-Pittman ran off the left edge. Chinedum Ndukwe flew into the running back first, wrapping his legs. Williams came in from behind and destroyed Pittman, causing the crowd to express themselves as only crowds do when seeing a big hit.
Then again, Williams made noticeable mistakes. On third-and-eight at the Bengals 44-yard line with 10:20 left in the first, Boller hit #89-Curry, running a crossing pattern from right to left. With Williams trailing a good 3-4 yards behind the receiver, the safety still had a shot to make the tackle and force the punt. Instead, Williams overshot the receiver, who cut up-field and picked up the first down.
Sometimes when the offense makes a good play, the defense plays disastrously. On the Rams' long touchdown drive, when #38-Gado ran up the middle for a 16-yard touchdown, Roy Williams took a bad angle and couldn't cut off Gado from reaching the end-zone. This isn't totally Williams' fault however. Rey Maualuga overshot the point of attack, Domata Peko (who is the team's defensive lineman that gets the most double teams) couldn't break the block (but did get an arm on him), Morgan Trent slid off the running back like Gado was covered in butter, and Ndukwe was blocked downfield by a wide receiver. It looked too easy.
If it wasn't for Tank Johnson, then it would be for Pat Sims. I think Tank Johnson, for the most part, has contributed. Has he made plays that stand out? No. That's typically not what good defensive tackles do. Unless your name is Pat Sims. With 2:59 left in the first half, the Rams drove to the Bengals 40-yard line. If the Rams pick up the first down on third-and-one, there's a high likelihood they kill the clock and convert a field goal, giving them a ten-point lead heading into Half Time. Strong with the force, Pat Sims fired off the line of scrimmage just as the ball is snapped. It was almost simultaneous -- like if the count was on two, Sims would have been called off-sides (however, when we make Star Wars references, it makes our day even brighter). The center had to block down on Sims because the left guard pulled to the right. Sims, already in the backfield when the center whiffed on the block, dropped Pittman for a four-yard loss, and five yards from the first down. Rams punt. Sims, for the second week in a row, makes a case that he, not Tank Johnson, should start for the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals.
Flags. Even though the Bengals committed eight penalties for 50 yards lost, the starting offensive line was responsible for only one. And it was ticky-tac at best. With 2:13 left in the first quarter, the Bengals lined up second-and-14 at their own 40-yard line. Cedric Benson gets the handoff and picks up 16 yards up the middle. The blocking itself was phenomenal. Everyone had their guy and buried them. Even Kyle Cook, who was called for offensive holding. In truth, this was one of those penalties that color commentators can't quite justify but refuse to make comments on questionable calls, simply saying, "but they'll call it every time." Cook fired out of his stance and took on the middle linebacker. As the two met, the linebacker shifted to his left with Cook's arm wrapping around the linebacker's chest. It didn't appear that Cook's phantom hold caused any noticeable advantage against the linebacker's progress and Cook removed his arm as quickly as it started wrapping around him. However, from the way it looked, the referees call this every time.
Other observations re-watching the Bengals game against the Rams.
- Abdul Hodge has played excellent when given playing time. He's big and quickly reads against the rush. There's no doubt in my mind he's the team's backup middle linebacker and overall special teams guy.
- The Bengals were far better tackling than they were against the Patriots. Everyone improved -- except for Michael Johnson, whose missed tackles that led to first downs.
- Jonathan Fanene had a really good game, overpowering the left tackle nearly sacking the quarterback. On the Rams' first possession in the second half, Fanene held his ground against a Tight End. With the point of attack coming right at Fanene, he easily discarded the Tight End and dropped Darby.
- On second-and-13 with 12:58 left in the second quarter, Cedric Benson picked up 12 yards. Daniel Coats, motioning to the right and becoming Benson's lead blocker, made the critical block that freed Benson up for the big gain.
- Jeremi Johnson got the handoff on the next play, falling forward for three yards, converting on third-and-one. More of that please.
- J.P. Foschi made several good run blocks.
- I lost count how many times running back Bernard Scott made tacklers miss. Scott was the team's leading rusher, picking up 54 yards on eight carries, including a 22-yard run on third-and-21, forcing two missed tackles and a burst of speed that will never cease to be impressive.
- On Brian Leonard's one-yard touchdown run, the Bengals lined up BIG, moving Andrew Whitworth to tight end on the right and Scott Kooistra at right tackle. Both buried their guys. Daniel Coats took out James Laurinaitis and Jeremi Johnson took out #37-Butler, who was sprinting up-field for the tackle.
- On Jordan Palmer's interception, Chris Henry was running a seam down the right sidelines. Palmer just underthrew the pass and #36-Butler, trailing Henry by a step, made the lone interception in the game.