Much of the anticipation for Cincinnati's offseason surrounded the offense with a new quarterback, new superstar wide receiver, new offensive coordinator implementing a new offensive system and Jerome Simpson having a full offseason with a mad amount of confidence after an explosive two-game stretch to end last season. By the time Cincinnati's offense had possession of the football, the Lions had taken a 14-point lead, largely thanks to a fumble by John Griffin during Cincinnati's kickoff return.
Yet on that first play of the game, obviously designed to give quarterback Andy Dalton a boost and perhaps a little excitement for the team, it was unfair to blame any player for the failure of the first offensive play. Obviously its preseason and the development process, which was stalled without offseason minicamps, will be twice as critical as other years. Yet with a month remaining before the regular season, the team will have time to set things right.
With 9:53 left in the first quarter, the Bengals offense took their first snap of the game at their own 20-yard line. Cincinnati lined up in I-formation, strong side to the right (where Jermaine Gresham lined up) with A.J. Green wide right and Jerome Simpson on the left.
The designed play had both wide receivers running vertical routes, Gresham running a hook route seven yards beyond the line of scrimmage and Chris Pressley popping out in the flats as an outlet receiver. Three linebackers and the Lions strong safety covered short zones underneath, so Gresham was covered. Pressley was open, but his gain would have been minimal with those four defenders covering the short zone.
Yet none of that would have mattered. For the most part the pass blocking was decent. Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith pushed their guys outside opening a natural pocket for Dalton. Cook held his own over the middle while Nate Livings assisted Whitworth on the left. Pressure on Dalton came from Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who took a false step outside, turning inside once Williams committed. Now with the team's right guard stationary, unable to match Suh's inside move, the defensive tackle had a free shot on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
With that pass rush baring down on Dalton, his progressions were interrupted that forced him to either take a sack or throw a prayer to his favorite receiver A.J. Green down the right sidelines. By the time he choose, it was too late. Suh was close enough, preventing Dalton from stepping into the throw which generated virtually no strength behind it. Cornerback Chris Houston, covering Green, easily picked off the pass with no resistant from the wide receiver.
We expect these things to happen and it's good that they happen now rather than during the regular season. Yet while Green could learn to fight for a contested ball and while Dalton could learn not to turn the ball over, the Bengals pass rush can't allow defenders in his face. Veterans or not, that's just not now the passing offense works.