DETROIT - AUGUST 12: Jay Finely #33 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs for a short gain as Brandon McDonald #33 of the Detroit Lions makes the stop during the second quarter of the game at Ford Field on August 12, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
One area of interest for me personally is the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line; more specifically how the core backup players look. We have to focus on guys like Reggie Stephens, Anthony Collins, Dennis Roland, Clint Boling and Max Jean-Gilles; any one of whom could be called on to replace a starting lineman due to an injury or (god-forbid) ineffectiveness. The first team was already plagued with issues on the pass rush, specifically at both guard positions. This time we'll break down the third quarter and paint a picture on how the offensive linemen performed.
Since the reading would become entirely too tedious (more than it already is), we have to point out that we're not judging every linemen here; only the players that affect the respective plays, both good or bad. By not mentioning a player doesn't mean he was bad, nor does it mean he was good; mostly likely it's because no matter what he did, it wouldn't have changed the outcome of the play. Finally we're not using graphs, formulas, charts to paint an easy picture. The best way I know how to describe something is to write about it, paint a picture that's definitive without presenting a view of bias, hoping to avoid both favoritism and antagonism, though sometimes even I can admit it's a difficult point of view to achieve. That being said, let's get on with it.
Since the team deferred the game's opening kickoff, the Bengals were set to receive the kickoff to open the second half; which resulted with your run-of-the-mill touchback that we might as well get used to. Cincinnati's offensive line starting the second half consisted of Anthony Collins at left tackle, Clint Boling at left guard, Reggie Stephens at center, Max Jean-Gilles at right guard and Dennis Roland at right tackle, all of whom would play a significant portion of the third quarter, save for Jean-Gilles who would be pulled in favor of Andrew Gardner late in the quarter.
Jay Finley's one-yard gain on first down, stalled mainly for two reasons. There was no push on the left side of the offensive line and after making contact with linebacker Ashlee Palmer, Fui Vakapuna was unable to clear the lane which essentially clogged the lane. Finley, more of a scat-bat than a power rusher that could run into a pile and move it, was shutdown after the backside defensive end wheeled around establishing first contact while Willie Young, the guy Collins initially engaged, shed the block to complete the tackle. The best block on the play came from center Reggie Stephens, who was slightly delayed with his engagement on Lions' Rob Callaway, which caused him to momentarily lose his base of power. However he quickly recovered by chopping his legs until he completed the two-point takedown.
On the following play, Bruce Gradkowski takes the second-down snap and before he can look for receivers downfield, he's forced to rollout to the right. Detroit's Callaway drove right guard Max Jean-Gilles as if he were on skates, filling the quarterback's vision. Gradkowski unsuccessfully tried hitting wide receiver John Standeford on the run towards the right sidelines.
The pocket collapsed again on third down forcing Gradkowski to attempt a high-risk pass to Chase Coffman with a triangle of defenders closing in on the tight end. Pressure came from two spots on the third down play. Callaway successfully bull-rushed Jean-Gilles into Gradkowski's face while defensive end Lawrence Jackson (we think) pushed Anthony Collins into Gradkowski's left side during his throwing motion.
Right guard Max Jean-Gilles struggled to hold his own against a powerful bullrush from Callaway on two passing plays, which caused disruptions during both passes. Clint Boling and Reggie Stephens held their own during the Bengals first possession in the second half.
The knock on running back Jay Finley is that he's best served running outside the tackles. By the 12 minute mark in the third quarter, Finley ran twice, both inside for limited gains. Yet it wasn't so much a detriment with Finley's running ability as it was the lack of open lanes to run through. Is Finley the type of back that will look for contact and pick up five yards after the initial hit? Not likely. However, get him on the outside and he might get something done.
After a three-yard gain on first down, the Bengals lined up at their own 27-yard line with over 12 minutes remaining in the third. The Lions defensive end Keyunta Dawson on the right side (from the Bengals point of view) largely contributed to Jay Finley's success on the play, crashing inside; the easiest block that Dennis Roland will have during his entire career. Yet Finley still had to avoid linebacker Ashlee Palmer, who was likely assigned the outside gap that Dawson abandoned during his stunt. A slight burst of speed, while stretching the play outside did the trick and Finley gained eight yards before being pushed out of bounds. While away from the play, Boling had a tremendous effort. Initially making contact with the defensive tackle that allowed Anthony Collins to slide over to resume the block, Boling released upfield to attack and successfully block Detroit's Bobby Carpenter.
On the following play, again the Bengals designed a run up the gut with Finley. And again, the play resulted with a minimal gain after Max Jean-Gilles was blocked by Callaway into the rushing lane that stalled Finley's progress.
A defensive offsides and offensive holding later, the Bengals lined up second-and-13 with 10:31 left in the third quarter at their own 32-yard line. Shotgun with three wide receivers and Finley to Gradkowski's right. Finley takes the unexpected handoff while Reggie Stephens takes Callaway out of the play. Guard Clint Boling successfully (and easily) similarly ended Quinn Pitcock's chances. The issue here was mostly the two tackles. Collins ran into the second-level tracking down Bobby Carpenter, who was already in a position to make a play. By this time Collins' best move was to shove Carpenter, who already had Finley wrapped after the three-yard gain. Dennis Roland initially engaged Dawson but it was a weak effort. The Lions defensive end just slapped Roland away with a swim-move, knocking Roland momentarily off-balance and drilling Finley from behind to complete the tackle.
Bruce Gradkowski takes the third down snap from shotgun and hooks up with Jordan Shipley, who found a hole in the zone coverage for the 12-yard gain and the first down. But let's not forget about our boys in the trenches. Clint Boling, Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland blocked their guys around Gradkowski, forming that natural pocket that allowed Gradkowski to step up into the pocket with a wide-open look for the open receiver. Brilliant blocking.
As well as the offensive line blocked on that play, they were just as poor on the next. Bengals line up I-formation on first-and-ten at their own 47-yard line with 9:15 left in the third quarter. We could say that this was merely miscommunication; someone missed their assignment type of thing. But it wasn't. After snapping the football, Reggie Stephens exploded into the second level, even though a defensive tackle lined up in the A-Gap. As a result Clint Boling needed to take a wide first step to his right, just to engage with the defender. Max Jean-Gilles eventually came over to help Boling out, but that was well after he failed miserably in his effort to block Callaway (Detroit's defensive tackle), who dropped Finley for a four-yard loss.
On the following play the Bengals called a screen to Jay Finley on the left. Assuming the fact that Clint Boling was the only Bengals offensive lineman assigned to escort Finley, the running back only had one blocker. Boling easily engaged and silently removed linebacker Ashlee Palmer from the play. What's also of note here is that when the Bengals had a long 14 yards to go on second down, they called a very effective screen pass to make third down manageable. During the Bob Bratkowski era, this would have been a run up the gut all of the way.
That left a third down situation with six yards to go at the Lions 49-yard line and eight minutes left in the quarter. Jordan Shipley, wide right, runs vertical for ten yards and turns just in time to jump and bring down Gradkowski's pass for a first down. The blocking was strong enough to keep pressure off Gradkowski for consecutive third down receptions to Jordan Shipley on the drive. Well done.
Brian Leonard took the first down handoff and narrowly avoided Callaway, who easily established position over center Reggie Stephens. Bobby Carpenter, who was unblocked on the play, and Brandon McDonald, who was run blitzing from the right, limited Leonard to only a three-yard gain.
With 6:45 remaining in the third quarter at Detroit's 35-yard line, the Bengals call a pass. Gradkowski fakes the hand off and looks downfield with defensive end Willie Young releasing upfield from the quarterback's right. Dennis Roland, whose ultimate nemesis is named speed, was a step slow getting to Young forcing Gradkowski to throw sooner than he wanted on a skip-a-rock-across-the-lake incomplete pass. On the following play, Young pushed Roland, who is standing entirely too upright, into the quarterback, forcing Gradkowski to quickly release the football to Jordan Shipley close to the right sidelines for a four-yard gain, leaving three yards for the first down.
Because of the amount of pressure that Gradkowski faced on the previous two plays, the play disastrously broke down on an attempted fourth down pass. Roland was the first, pushing Young just behind Gradkowski, who already faced intense pressure in the preceding two passing plays. Max Jean-Gilles replaced his cleats for roller skates and went for a ride, this time thanks to Quinn Pitcock. Finley stood in to take on blitzing linebacker Ashlee Palmer, who pushed the running back into the quarterback and dropping Gradkowski just as he passed the football into the ground. Turnover on downs.
After an 18-yard reception by John Standeford and an incomplete to Bo Scaife (both of which featured good blocks), Finley was limited to a two-yard gain on the Bengals third play during their third possession. The Lions' Rob Callaway forced an inside move that easily beat the slow-footed Roland, single-handedly tackling Finley for a limited two-yard gain. Gradkowski faced intense pressure on third down with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter, forcing him to dump the pass off to Finley for a five-yard gain, three yards short of the first down. Before the start of the play the Bengals pulled Jean-Gilles for tackle Andrew Gardner, who subsequently allowed Callaway to bullrush him into Gradkowski, who actually braced for the impact by laying a shoulder into Gardner's back before dumping off the football. Yikes. Bengals punt.