The whole concept of second-half adjustments tends to be a foreign entity with Cincinnati Bengals fans due to the inexperience of such a phenomenon actually happening. Specifically the idea of adjustments before The Triumvirate of Marvin Lewis, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer joined forces to fight evil as the team's three primary coaches. Tennessee was clearly in control of the game in the first half, posting 233 yards of offense. Chris Johnson averaged 6.1 yards/rush on nine carries and Matt Hasselbeck completed 14 passes for 166 yards passing and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 122.3. Cincinnati's defense tried blitzing, throwing the veteran quarterback off rhythm.
It didn't work.
Hasselbeck is a veteran who was clearly seeing the blitz in the first half, well versed with years of experience on how to react. With 1:24 remaining in the first half, the Titans needed 11 yards to convert the third down from their own 30-yard line. Thomas Howard showed blitzed from Hasselbeck's left and Michael Johnson stood in a two-point stance on his outside. When Hasselbeck received the shotgun snap, the declaration of the blitz from his left dropped into coverage. Chris Crocker, Kelly Jennings and Brandon Johnson blitzed from Hasselbeck's right. The Titans picked it up and Hasselbeck completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook, with Michael Johnson covering, for the first down.
On the very next play the Bengals brought five, dropping Carlos Dunlap into coverage with Crocker and Brandon Johnson blitzing up the middle. Titans pick it up and Hasselbeck squeezes an 11-yard pass to Cook within a small gap and three Bengals defenders, including Carlos Dunlap, surrounding the tight end. With 26 seconds remaining in the first half, the Titans had a third and nine from the Bengals 30-yard line. Brandon Johnson blitzes once Javon Ringer stayed in to block (we imagine that Brandon covers Ringer, but blitzes if he the running back stays in) before sneaking out. By the time Johnson decided to blitz, Ringer escaped with two offensive linemen on the screen pass, picking up 14 yards and the first down.
The Titans would score a touchdown with 14 seconds remaining to give them a ten-point lead.
Cincinnati changed their strategy at half time. While trying to keep Chris Johnson in the box, Domata Peko explains why the Bengals decided to limit their blitzes in the second half.
"Yeah, because we noticed that Hasselbeck is a smart guy," said Domata Peko after the game. "He’s been to a few Pro Bowls, he’s been to a Super Bowl and he’s a really smart quarterback. He saw the blitzes coming and was throwing it away from the blitz, and (they) were running away from the blitzes. We made some adjustments and were able to get after Hasselbeck and just play man-on-man and win the game."
Matt Hasselbeck's performance broken down by halves.
Much like Tennessee's passing offense, the rushing offense was virtually nonexistent in the second half on Sunday. Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer combined for 66 yards rushing on 13 carries in the first two quarters. In the second half Johnson ran five times for nine yards, Ringer touched the football once on a no-gain reception and the Titans didn't call a single running play in the fourth quarter.
Now that's adjustments.