DETROIT - AUGUST 12: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals drops back to pass during the second quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 12, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
At one point early in the game, Cincinnati's defense forced consecutive three-and-outs on the Detroit Lions offense. The first followed with a Cedric Benson 35-yard effort on five rushes that stalled after an incomplete pass to Chris Pressley out of the backfield. The second three-and-out effort by the Bengals defense was followed with an Andy Dalton storyline completing three passes for 16 yards receiving, but also suffering a quarterback sack (Nate Livings) while also the victim of a dirty hit by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Cincinnati would convert their first and only points of the night on this drive with a successful 27-yard field goal by Mike Nugent. Detroit would respond with an 11-play drive that began at their own 23-yard line and ended with a seven-yard scramble by Shawn Hill, resulting in a touchdown and a 21-3 lead over the Bengals.
Yet when the Bengals received the kickoff with 9:12 left in the first half, it didn't start well thanks to the depreciating value of John Griffin on kickoff returns. Already with one fumble in the books and a touchback a yard shy from the back of the end zone, Griffin takes his third kickoff attempt (well, second really) halfway deep in the end zone. By the time he reached the 10-yard line, defensive back Erik Coleman penetrated the wall (aka, he wasn't blocked at all) and easily wrapped Griffin at the Bengals own 11-yard line. Now in order to have a successful return game, you still need blockers. But you also need guys that make people miss, which Griffin just didn't do. As much as we'll clamor to the whole preseason argument, Griffin is a big-time bubble player and unless he impresses, he could be out of job by this time next month. And yes, if he's applying for the job as the fourth running back, he'll have to impress on special teams just as much.
Cincinnati's offense comes out onto the field to take their first snap from their own 11-yard line with 9:07 left in the first half. With the running game established earlier in the game, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden likely wanted to revert back to the original intention of a quick passing offense. Three step drop and a quick slant by A.J. Green resulted with a five-yard gain on first down. After a Brian Leonard no-gain, the Bengals were forced into another third down situation with five yards to go at their own 16-yard line. Jordan Shipley lines up in the slot on the right with Jermaine Gresham in his customary three-point stance on the left. A.J. Green flanked wide left with Jerome Simpson on the right when Andy Dalton received the shotgun snap. After Dalton completed his five-step drop with the support of quality pass blocking, the quarterback stepped into his throw on an attempt to A.J. Green, who ran a comeback three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. With the pass thrown a little high, Green jumped into the air to haul in the pass and the first down.
Still keeping the running game involved, hoping to keep the Lions defense off-balance at the very least, the Bengals offense ran trips right (Green, Shipley and Bo Scaife) with Simpson along on the left. Brian Leonard, who just picked up three yards on the previous play, lined up in the backfield with 6:41 left in the first half. Dalton takes a three-step drop and attempts a pass to Simpson, running a slant from the left. The laser-pass hit Simpson in stride, though a little high, completing the ten-yard play for the second first down on the drive; Coleman was called for unnecessary roughness, attaching another 15 yards on the play.
Dalton was quickly finding his rhythm for the first time in the game. On the very next play the Bengals lined up with double-tight formation, Shipley replacing Simpson wide left due to a slight ringing of the bell on the previous play -- that was the play Simpson laid on the turf as if he were in deep pain then suddenly got up and ran to the sidelines as if everything is cool. After Dalton completes his five-step drop, the quarterback threw a pass intended for A.J. Green, running a vertical off the line of scrimmage. When the football left Dalton's hand, Green finally stopped and flipped around, recording the reception for an 11-yard gain; seven of which was picked up after the catch.
After a four-yard run and a no-gain screen to tight end Scaife, the Bengals lined up with third-and-six on Detroit's 34-yard line with 4:32 left in the game. Green goes wide left with Shipley occupying the slot. Simpson, back in the game, lines up wide right with running back Brian Leonard flanking the quarterback in shotgun. Dalton takes the snap and a three-step drop while watching the left side of the field.
Jordan Shipley takes off from the line of scrimmage, runs vertical until he makes contact with defensive back Prince Miller. Shipley shrugs off the attempted disruption and cuts inside. Dalton began his throwing motion just as Shipley and Miller were in contact, splitting the gap of five yards between Lions defenders. Just as Shipley battled off Miller's collision, the football arrived for Shipley to catch what could be considered Dalton's best throw of the night (even though it was slightly behind the receiver) picking up 10 yards on the play. Dalton would make another a high-risk attempt due to pressure (Andre Smith) on the following snap, throwing the football a handful of yards short of the end zone. The pass didn't have a lot of zip on it, allowing a Lions defender to cut off John Standeford's route; though the receiver did have his hands on the football.
With 3:50 left in the first half, the Bengals line up in three-wide formation with Brian Leonard to Dalton's left in shotgun. After initially blocking in pass protection, Nate Livings, Bobbie Williams and Kyle Cook release to their left with Leonard turned to the quarterback behind them. Leonard catches the screen pass and turns to follow his blockers. Nate Livings dives and completely misses linebacker Chris Carpenter, who ironically stepped away from the play to avoid the collision (hey, even if you don't make contact, that's still a block). Leonard leapt over a defensive player before violently colliding with safety Amari Spievey. Nate Livings was called for offensive holding that negated the 10-yard gain before the starting left guard released into the screen pass.
After a one-yard Jay Finley reception, the Bengals were forced into a third-and-19 with 2:41 left in the first half. Cincinnati lined up three-wide with Shipley in the left slot, Chase Coffman in at tight end to the left and Jay Finley flanking Dalton's right. The quarterback takes the shotgun snap and completes his five-step drop while surveying the field over the middle. Dalton finds and hits Coffman around the 25-yard line, inches between two Lions defenders. The nine-yard gain was ten yards short of the first down. Nugent would go on to send his 42-yard field goal attempt wide right.
If we wanted a taste of what this passing offense can do this year, it should be noted that this series of passes would be the successful side of it whereas the polar opposite would be Cincinnati's previous possession. The offense moved the football, converting consecutive third down passes and sustaining a drive, if not for Livings' holding call, could have put the team in position for a touchdown.