The Cincinnati Bengals came into Sunday's game, gearing up to face one of, if not the best pass rushing duos in the game today. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have a combined 176 career quarterback sacks. Freeney alone was 1.5 sacks short of reaching 100 for his career coming into the game. Andre Smith had his work cut out for him against Robert Mathis; a game that many pointed anticipated to see if he had really grown into that first round pick we expected him to be. When the game was over, neither defensive end had even an assisted tackle (much less a quarterback sack) and only one Colts defensive player (Jamaal Anderson) even hit Dalton during the course of the game, who wasn't sacked the entire afternoon. Freeney never showed up on the NFL.com Gamebook sheet, whereas Mathis had a pass defensed and an offsides that was declined.
It was impressive how the Bengals, using a combination of trust with the tackles, quick passes and screen plays, were able to neutralize Freeney and Mathis. And everyone, from offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to the offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith, deserve recognition for that.
With 9:25 remaining in the first quarter, the Cincinnati Bengals lined up on the Indianapolis Colts 11-yard line with four yards needed for a first down. Andy Dalton scans the field with Jermaine Gresham outside of Andrew Whitworth, Donald Lee outside of him and Brian Leonard flanking the quarterback's left. A.J. Green stood inside on the line of scrimmage with Jerome Simpson outside of him, standing a yard behind with both on the same side.
Robert Mathis cocked inward in his three-point stance towards right tackle Andre Smith as Dwight Freeney readjusted and stretched outside of Gresham on the line of scrimmage to Whitworth's left.
Kyle Cook snaps the football and Cincinnati's two offensive tackles shifted their quick feet to mirror the pass rush of Freeney and Mathis while Dalton monitored Green's route. Just as the rookie wide receiver broke towards the sidelines in the end zone, Dalton floated the pass to his right, enabling Green to out-talent the coverage of cornerback Jerraud Power. Touchdown.
However the play was largely enabled thanks to a perfect pocket created by Whitworth, Smith, along with the brick interior wall with Bobbie Williams, Nate Livings and Kyle Cook.
Yet Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden played it smart. Gruden admitted earlier this week, when responding to a question regarding Andre Smith's task of blocking Mathis, that he needed to give Smith some help. Chip blocks, quick passes and a plethora of screen passes.
With 5:43 remaining in the third quarter and nine yards needed for a first down, Kyle Cook snaps the football in shotgun. Andy Dalton grips the football as the Bengals offensive line initially stabs their opposition before releasing upfield, allowing Indianapolis' defensive line to press towards Dalton. With upfield designs to sack the quarterback, the defensive line was toast while Dalton set his feet and lobbed the screen pass to Andy Dalton to Brian Leonard near the Bengals 45-yard line.
Leonard wasn't even threatened, much less touched, as he crossed the first down marker, helping to sustain a drive that eventually led to a field goal giving the Bengals a 20-7 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
When Cincinnati lined up on their own 45-yard line with 4:22 remaining in the game, my nervousness drew enough concern of spillage that I had to put down my beverage. Indianapolis scored 10 points earlier in the fourth quarter to reduce their deficit to three points and the obvious momentum was building for the Colts. No. Freaking out was a more accurate description. Though admittedly momentum appeared to return (briefly) into Cincinnati's corner after Nate Clements blocked Adam Vinatieri's 52- yard field goal attempt to tie the football game at 20.
Bernard Scott had just posted two yards combined on consecutive rushes during the first two downs, leaving eight yards needed for a third down conversion. Andy Dalton lined up in shotgun with trips to the right (Jermaine Gresham was in a two-point stance two paces to Andre Smith's right with Andre Caldwell in the slot and A.J. Green flanking wide right). Jerome Simpson stood wide left while Brian Leonard flanked Andy Dalton's left. Mathis and Freeney stood posed as their usual spots with Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth, respectively targeting them. Indianapolis called a three-man rush, pushing their defensive tackle into coverage whereas the entire secondary and linebackers back-pedaled into coverage.
Again the offensive line briefly stabbed their blockers at the line of scrimmage, while Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth stayed behind to block and neutralize their respective pass rushers. Nate Livings, Bobbie Williams and Kyle Cook exited stage left with Brian Leonard sneaking into the flats. Andy Dalton floated the pass over the defenders' heads and started reading his blocks.
Livings and Cook wiped out the blocks on the left with Bobbie Williams sealing the inside block on outside linebacker Phillip Wheeler, opening a lane for Leonard to explode through. Defensive back Chris Rucker stepped into Leonard's lane, becoming the fourth defender and therefore unblocked. Leonard avoided the tackle by the old school football move of stepping to the right. Leonard would go on to pick up another 18 yards after the missed tackle, angling towards the left sidelines. It was a huge play but the Bengals offense were unable to capitalize on it after Mike Nugent missed a 43-yard field goal attempt wide right.
Cincinnati lived with screens to wide receivers and running backs and quick three-step drops that largely neutralized Indianapolis' pass rush, allowing Dalton to complete the full game without being sacked once.