THE DRIVE OF BENGALS TIGHT ENDS. The beauty of having quality tight ends on this roster is highly beneficial to any offense. And it was more so on the Bengals opening drive of the game, starting with Reggie Kelly's great blocking that freed up two of Benson's runs, picking up 15 yards rushing that was capped by Jermaine Gresham's first preseason touchdown.
On 2nd-and-9 at Buffalo's 46-yard line with 14:09 left in the first quarter, Reggie Kelly lined up as the fullback in a three-wide I-formation. At the snap, Reggie Kelly bolted through the right side of the line, colliding into Buffalo's outside linebacker Bryan Scott. The block enabled Benson to run off Kelly's block, picking up an additional five yards on the 11-yard run. First down. A few plays later, after Buffalo was called for a defensive holding, the Bengals called off-tackle to the right with single-back formation and Kelly lined up as the tight end on the right side of the line. With Scott on the line of scrimmage aiming to rush upfield, Kelly locked into the linebacker and kept him on the outside while Benson rushed into the natural lane to Kelly's left picking up another four yards.
After that, it was all Jermaine Gresham. Chad's 17-yard reception brought Cincinnati to the Bills' nine-yard line with 12:15 left in the first quarter. Jermaine Gresham lined up as the left Tight End. Nothing glittery. Nothing special. Gresham simply ran vertically into the endzone, thanks to busted coverage, turned around and caught Carson Palmer's touchdown pass.
Impressions of the drive. Great blocking by Reggie Kelly with a drive capped by Jermaine Gresham catching his first preseason touchdown.
THE DRIVE OF THAT SPILLED BACKWARDS. On Buffalo's first play of the game, Leon Hall was covering Lee Evans on the left sidelines. After a 10-yard in-route, Evans positioned himself for Trent Edwards' pass. Hall, having been boxed out, generated contact, fighting through bad position, forcing an incomplete. However, since the contact arrived before the pass, he was flagged for pass interference. On the next play, Keith Rivers sprinted upfield from the weak-side as C.J. Spiller, who originally collided with a collection of bodies finding limit running lanes, picked up two yards. It was then a pursuing Rivers pulled him backwards from behind.
With 10:57 left in the first quarter, Spiller got the handoff to the left. Antwan Odom blew up the block on the right, forcing Spiller to step backwards and stretch the play out. Leon Hall bolted up from his cornerback spot and forced Spiller to stretch it out even more, losing seven yards as he runs out of bounds. On third-and-15, Michael Johnson sped rushed past the right tackle, getting a hand on Edward's waist, forcing him up in the pocket where Jonathan Fanene had just shed his block, sacking Edwards for a seven-yard loss. With the pass interference, the Bills actually gained seven yards on the drive. But in truth, the offense lost 12 yards.
Impressions of the drive. Bengals pass rush worked early with aggressive play from Leon Hall, pass interference or not.
HOLDING STALLS A DRIVE THAT ENDED WITH A FOURTH DOWN RUN. With 10:26 left in the first quarter, Palmer dropped back on a five-step drop, finding Terrell Owens running a crossing pattern, picking up 16 yards on the pass. In truth, Owens caught the football, fought through two tackles, needing another two tacklers to bring the wide receiver down. Palmer quickly lined the Bengals up at the line of scrimmage, disrupting television's replay (uncool, man) and received the snapped the football, launching a pass down the left sidelines. The pass, while close to Owens, fell incomplete with two Buffalo defenders breaking up the pass.
Then a Nate Livings holding call stalled the drive. Have we seen that before?
After Benson picked up five yards on a draw, the Bengals were left with third-and-15 at their own 43-yard line when Cincinnati took their first timeout. Palmer lined up in shotgun, with Owens flanking left, Chad Ochocinco on the right, Jordan Shipley in the slot, Jermaine Gresham at tight end a step behind the line of scrimmage and Cedric Benson on Palmer's left. Gresham ran to the Bill's 48-yard line, turned and caught Palmer's bullet, spinning around and taking on three Bills defenders. The first cut out Gresham's right leg, forcing him to place his right hand to propel himself forward while the remaining Bills defenders fell on Gresham, who was stretching out as far as possible, coming up .000000001 yards short of the first down.
With half-a-yard to go for a first down at Buffalo's 43-yard line, the Bengals elect to go for it, lining up with two tight ends on the right, I-formation with Chad flanking out wide on the left. Kelly motioned left, stopping outside of Andrew Whitworth. The initial contact by the offensive line was solid, taking on a man, stalling them. It was linebacker Paul Posluszny that bolted through a lane on the left side of the line, disrupting an unexpected Joe Tronzo, who missed the block. Posluszny didn't make the stop, but did force Benson to stretch the play out further outside. Outside linebacker Andra Davis followed Posluszny into the hole and made the first contact on Benson, forcing him to stumble with safety Donte Whitner finishing Benson off before reaching the first down marker.
After a measurement, the Bengals turned the football on downs.
THE BILLS PLAY DINK AND DUNK FOOTBALL WITH LINEBACKERS COVERING RECEIVERS. With 7:56 left in the first quarter, the Bills kicked off a drive at their own 43-yard line that would end up with a game-tying touchdown. But it didn't start out so nicely. Taking the football on first down, Bills running back C.J. Spiller ran to the left on a misdirection. Rey Maualuga blitzed off the left side, closer to the quarterback than Spiller was. Rather than taking a bee-line shot and disrupting the exchange -- he probably would have missed it by a step or two anyway -- Maualuga redirected down the line of scrimmage. By this time, Keith Rivers found his lane to shoot with Pat Sims badly owning the left guard, forcing Spiller to keep stretching the play out. Unblocked, Rivers made contact about nine yards behind the line of scrimmage. Maualuga over-pursued and missed the tackle while Antwan Odom come from behind to get Spiller out of bounds. If you can't make the tackle, hold up the ball carrier and someone will connect with the winning shot.
The loss setup up a second-and-21. In shotgun, Edwards throws a quick pass to receiver David Nelson running a simple crossing pattern with Dhani Jones covering. Since a wide receiver will beat a linebacker mostly every time, Nelson caught the pass at the right hashmarks, picking up 14 yards and giving Buffalo a manageable third-and-seven. Lining up in a similar shotgun formation with two wide receivers flanking both sides of the line of scrimmage, the Bengals secondary played soft coverage on their right and tight on their left. At the snap, the slot receiver on the right ran vertical, likely trying to press the coverage backwards, while Lee Evans cut underneath with Johnathan Joseph still back-pedaling. Once Lee caught the pass at the Bills 49-yard line, Brandon Johnson turned, squaring up directly at Evans with Joseph twisting around to track him. Evans cut upfield with Johnson tackling him at the Bengals 48-yard line, twisting around picking up another two yards.
Bengals defense goes from second-and-21 to allowing 22 yards on two plays. Buffalo first down.
After a quick out pass to Roscoe Parrish with Leon Hall diving Matrix-like through the air, missing completely, picking up eight yards, Spiller took the hand off and ran into the right side of the line where guys like Jonathan Fanene, Chris Crocker, Antwan Odom and Keith Rivers stuffed the line of scrimmage, only allowing the running back two yards.
Thanks to a six-yard dump pass to tight end Jonathan Stuper, a five-yard run with a Fanene personal foul attached, the Bills lined up at the Bengals 12-yard line with 4:18 left in the first quarter. Lee Evans and Parrish lined up on the right with the Bengals, in nickel formation, with the corners and safeties covering deep and Keith Rivers, Dhani Jones and the nickel back covering underneath. Evans ran a seem route, pushing two defenders back while Parrish cut underneath. Jones, already sitting at the five yard line, was late seeing the crossing pattern and too slow to respond to Parrish, who was already running at full speed. Naturally a slower linebacker won't catch up with a receiver. Parrish caught the football at the eight-yard line during his crossing route. Here's the greater problem: No Bengals defender remained on the left side of the field with Hall already in the endzone and Rivers having his back to the play, covering the tight end's wheel route. Parrish had no problems out running a linebacker with no one else on the field to cut off his progress into the endzone.
Bills tie the game at seven.
It was about now that I realized with a greater degree that Mike Zimmer isn't likely to call anything that would give opponents like Bill Belichick's Patriots anything to study on film. Would Jones always cover a receiver running a crossing pattern with no help on the other side of the field? God, I hope not. While it would be nice to blame this on Jones' slow legs, you have to consider that no one else stopped Parrish's progress after catching the football. No one was prepared for the route, and Zimmer didn't put his guys in the best position to succeed on the play. Blame Jones if you'd like. Otherwise, blame everyone else, including the play-calling.
Note on Fanene's penalty: While at first I would have argued that Fanene was unfairly called for a personal foul because the whistle had just blown while Fanene was greco-roman throwing Eric Wood, Fanene did give a shove into Wood's head as the lineman was laying on the ground which prompted the flag.
...AND THE DRIVE THAT THE BENGALS OFFENSE RESPONDS. It's one thing to give up scores on defense. That's going to happen no matter what sport you watch; defenses will give up points. However, the more relevant question you should ask after a team scores is how the offense responds. You can't control what has already happened. You can control how you respond. Good words to live by, eh?
After a good 39-yard return by Adam Jones, nearly giving him 100 return yards in the first quarter on kickoff returns, the Bengals line up at their own 37-yard line with 4:04 left in the first quarter. With Shipley lined up as a slot receiver, the Bills' coverage disrupted his 10-yard out-route as he jumped for the pass that was slightly off target. On the next play, the Bengals lined up in single-back three-wide receiver formation with Shipley back in the slot. Benson gets the handoff and aims for the right side of the line. The entire offensive line shoved Buffalo's front seven out, leaving no Buffalo defender covering the cut-back lanes. Benson cut behind Gresham's dominating block on defensive end Alex Carrington. Note: Gresham's block literally knocked Carrington to his knees. Benson cut to the right, sprinting down the right sideline as safety George Wilson knocked him out of bounds after Benson picks up 20 yards.
Now Palmer had a crack at it. Five-yard completion to Jordan Shipley, in the slot, running five yards upfield and turning around. Typical Houshmandzadeh route. On second-and-five, Palmer hit Owens running a square-in route with two defenders covering, picking up seven yards. Palmer found Owens again, running 15 yards down the right sideline, hooking back -- 12 yard gain. At the Bills 19-yard line, Palmer found Gresham picking up another nine yards with two Bills defenders covering. Boom, boom, boom, that quick and efficient with no pressure on Palmer.
At the Bills 10-yard line, the Bengals line up in their big package formation with Andrew Whitworth as a right tight end and Jermaine Gresham lining in Whitworth's left tackle spot. Benson gets the handoff and runs behind the right side of the line. While everyone was holding their blocks, driving the defenders a yard or two off the line of scrimmage, Jermaine Gresham's block on the backside cleared a massive running lane, at least 3-4 yards wide, allowing Benson to cut back, picking up six yards before any defender made first contact, finally tackled at the two-yard line.
After a one-yard gain, Gresham was called for a false start, pushing the Bengals back to the six-yard line as the first quarter comes to a close.
On the first play of the second quarter, Palmer faked a handoff to Benson, literally causing most of Buffalo's defense to take a false step forward. Most of the secondary, save for a player or two, hadn't made it beyond the two-yard line while Palmer rolled out left. One of Buffalo's outside linebackers redirected after the fake handoff and tracked Palmer down, nearly forcing the quarterback to take a sack. However, Palmer while rolling out left, was forced to make an awkward throw to Chad Ochocinco, running across the back of the endzone, catching the touchdown pass near the back left pylon.
CONCLUDING THE BENGALS OFFENSE. This would be the last time we'd see the Bengals entire first team on the field together Saturday night. Cincinnati's offense led by J.T. O'Sullivan wouldn't pick up a single first down in the first half, going three-and-out on four consecutive possessions, dealing with several penalties in the process. Cincinnati would go on to have two drives of 10-plays or more that picked up a combined three points. However, once Palmer's first team offense left the game, the Bengals would only score two more field goals the rest of the way.
THE DRIVE LINEBACKERS DOMINATED UNDERNEATH IN PASS DEFENSE. Leodis McKelvin, the Bills kickoff return man, was deciding where to run when he approached the 10-yard line after Chad's touchdown reception. Just as Abdul Hodge approached the return man inside the 15-yard line, McKelvin ran left, where guys like Brandon Johnson, Kyries Hebert and David Jones were bearing down on him. But it was Jerome Simpson, who was to Hodge's right, that wrapped McKelvin, dropping him at the Bills own 14-yard line. If Simpson shows up on special teams, it will go a long way to giving him a roster spot when the final cuts are announced.
C.J. Spiller's first second quarter run was nearly blown up as he took the handoff and ran towards the right side of the line, where the entire Bengals front-seven was sliding down to greet him at the point of attack. Problem is, the entire Bengals front-seven was sliding down to greet him at the point of attack. Keith Rivers and Antwan Odom didn't fill in the cutback lanes, allowing Spiller to freely run down the left sideline. Kyries Hebert taking a terrible angle of pursuit, was quickly trailing Spiller just as Rico Murray greeted Spiller at the 34-yard line, having the form tackle of the game.
Luckily, the Bengals defense rebounded. On first-and-ten at the Bills 34-yard line, Edwards completed a sneaky pass to fullback Corey McIntyre in the right flats. Rivers had tracked the fullback since leaving the backfield, exploding towards McIntyre as he caught the pass, picking up no yards. On second down, with Edwards in shotgun, the quarterback completed a pass over the middle to Steve Johnson, who ran two yards past the line of scrimmage, running horizontally across the field. Rey Maualuga tracked Johnson and as the pass was caught, Maualuga smothered Johnson for a limited two-yard gain. With 13:28 left in the second quarter, Edwards took the shotgun snap and quickly threw the pass down the left sidelines to Lee Evans. The pass was a step overthrown and the Bills are forced to punt.
CONCLUDING THE BENGALS DEFENSE. About this time, the Bengals starting defense began rotating out, while the Bills kept most of their starters in the game. Cincinnati would go on to give up two more touchdowns in the first half and two more touchdowns in the second half; a half in which the Bills second/third string players clearly dominated the Bengals second/third string players.