DETROIT - AUGUST 12: Paul Pratt #36 of the Detroit Lions runs for a short gain as Dan Skuta #51 of the Cincinnati Bengals makes the stop at Ford Field on August 12, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
One of our offseason storylines surrounded Rey Maualuga's transition as the team's inside linebacker (and defensive leader), after playing strong-side throughout his first two seasons. Generally speaking the reviews were favorable, making good plays that helped limit the Lions rushing offense to only ten yards rushing on six plays throughout Detroit's first three possessions. Though the general reviews for the Bengals hinged on disaster, the Bengals rushing defense only allowed 31 yards rushing and a 2.4 yard/rush average during Cincinnati's 34-3 loss Friday night.
On the first play from scrimmage, the Lions lined up with a three-wide formation forcing the Bengals to go with nickel. Matthew Stafford, in shotgun takes the snap and hands off to Jahvid Best, running a counter to the right. The point of attack had a nice hole between the guard and tackle, with Geathers pushed out (though holding contain) and Geno Atkins and Domata Peko sealed inside. Brandon Johnson tried to seal the running lane but collided with the pulling guard that escorted Best through the hole. Rey Maualuga shed off the backside block and wrapped Best for a seven-yard gain; the biggest gain by a Lions running back on the night.
With just under 14 minutes left in the game, Best takes the first down handoff on a misdirection to the left from the Bengals 49-yard line. Maualuga takes a quick studder-step to the left, allowing enough time for an offensive lineman to engage. The middle linebacker immediately shed off the block but by this time, Michael Johnson and the right side of the defensive line completely collapsed, turned inward by the Lions offensive line. When Thomas Howard shot into the gap, he left himself off-balance trying to protect the outside, which allowed Best a lane inside right that was filled by Maualuga for a five-yard gain. Eventually the Lions would score a touchdown a couple passing plays later taking a 7-0 lead.
Rather than the Bengals offense taking the field for the first possession of the preseason, the defense watched running back John Griffin fumble the ensuing kickoff, forcing the unit back on the field already in scoring position inside the Red Zone.
With 11:22 left in the first quarter, the Lions employed a double tight end formation with both lined up on the right. The Bengals brought eight in the box with Chris Crocker settling in to Manny Lawson's left. Stafford gave the ball to Best with the running lane developing over the middle. Yet by the time Best received the handoff, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins pushed the Lions offensive guard two yards deep into the backfield, forcing Best to lose his balance during a cutback to the left. Maualuga found the backfield and smothered the falling running back, who wasn't officially tackled because he tripped over the guard, not Atkins.
Yet while Maualuga appeared as a magnet for the football this weekend, some of the same issues of over-pursuit resurfaced; yet it was still a good play based on the great reaction from his defensive teammates. With 9:44 left in the first quarter, the Lions offense lined up in double tight end formation with a single back and backup quarterback Shawn Hill coming into the game. Cincinnati responded with a base 4-3 formation. Hill hands off to running back Jerome Harrison, running an off-tackle to the left. The defensive line played brilliantly here, completely occupying the entire offensive line and allowing Bengals linebackers to roam free. Maualuga shot the open lane, but fell once Harrison stopped dead in his tracks to search for a cutback lane. Geno Atkins prevented Harrison from cutting upfield, forcing the running back to run on an east-west plane. Chris Crocker shot into the cutback area, forcing Harrison to finally cut upfield. Atkins at full speed, tracked Harrison down from behind while Crocker wrapped Harrison's ankles. Maualuga initially clogging the hole -- even though he fell down -- which forced the running back to search for a cutback lane. His result allowed his teammates to bring Harrison down with a limited gain.
With 8:32 left in the first quarter, the Lions called a bunch formation close to the line of scrimmage on the right with Harrison in the backfield. Hill takes the snap and tosses to his running back on a sweep to the right. The play was immediately sniffed out by the Bengals defense, mostly thanks to a run blitz by Chris Crocker who destroyed the point of attack taking out two blockers. Cornerback Nate Clements and linebacker Thomas Howard sealed the edges forcing Harrison to cut upfield with Rey Maualuga, Robert Geathers and Geno Atkins forming a semi-circle around the running back. Clements made the initial hit to bring Harrison down, with Howard and Maualuga doing their part.