CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 25: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs for a 1-yard touchdown in the first half of an NFL preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
After Carolina opened the game with a kickoff through the endzone, the Bengals offense jogged onto the field with purpose and a slight chip on their shoulder after displaying an ineffectual offense through the first two preseason games of the year. And for this offense to work, like any offense in the NFL, it requires a team effort. That means fullbacks taking out the defender in a position to make the first hit on the running back. That means the offensive line holding their blocks long enough for the running back to squeeze through. That means an effective passing game that's promoted with quality pass blocking. It's a team effort.
So it makes sense that Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden would start the game with an unexpected call. Rather than your standard Cedric Benson run between the tackles, or the quick slant to one of the team's young receivers, Gruden surprises God himself with an end-around to start the game. Off-Set I formation, strong side right with A.J. Green flanking wide right. The entire Bengals offensive line zone blocked right, with Nate Livings pulling from the left, showing a Power run to the right with a fake handoff to Benson. Green popped around and after the fake to Benson, receives Dalton's handoff. After following the blocks of Fui Vakapuna and Jerome Simpson, Green picks up 10 yards on the play.
That was how the game began. The team's following two possessions, more conventional in their design, set the tone for Cincinnati's first-team offense.
The Nate Livings Experience
With 12:17 left in the first quarter, soon after Andy Dalton's hard count drew Carolina offsides, the Bengals lined up in I-formation with Chase Coffman and Jermaine Gresham on the right with one yard to go on third down. The power run to the right, led by Fui Vakapuna, was succeeded largely due to Nate Livings' block. Pulling from his left guard spot, Livings wrapped around Bobbie Williams (destroying the defensive tackle with Andre Smith) to seal linebacker Dan Conner inside. Jermaine Gresham drove his block five yards inside well away from the point of attack. Benson picks up three yards and the first down.
On the next play with the Bengals in off-set I (strong side right), Livings pulls again on a power run to the right. Andre Smith and Kyle Cook fire out of their three-point stances and neutralize defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua respectively. Bobbie Williams blocks down, finding any poor sap willing to cross the field and locks into Charles Johnson. Jermaine Gresham, with another great block, turns Everette Brown towards the backfield and out of the play. Fullback Fui Vakapuna launched into Thomas Davis. While the linebacker was knocked backwards, he recovered enough to limit Benson to only a five-yard gain.
Yet the Nate Livings happy hour is still serving key blocks to open lanes for running back Cedric Benson. On second-and-five from Carolina's 39-yard line with 10:56 left in the first quarter, Livings fires into McClain, with a nice chip from Andrew Whitworth. Livings pushes his guy down the line of scrimmage almost entirely to the right tight end spot, helping Bobbie Williams and Chase Coffman seal their blocks by blocking any thought that defenders may have had to bring Benson down.
Kyle Cook's block on Dan Conner was deflected by the linebacker, making the stop on Benson six yards past the line of scrimmage. Eventually the Bengals offense would fumble on a handoff, with Dalton stepping to the right and Benson going left. The quarterback tried to handoff, but the two were far too separated to complete the exchange. Carolina recovered the fumble, which led to a Carolina score.
The Cedric Benson Experience
After Cam Newton scored the game's opening touchdown, giving Carolina a seven-point lead, the Bengals offense took the field from their own 20-yard line with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter. Of the 15 plays that the Bengals would record on this drive, Benson touched the football 12 times (one reception) for 68 yards from scrimmage (15 yards receiving). But where the Jay Gruden offense represents the biggest change -- besides the short rhythm passing plays and the fact its not Bob Bratkowski calling them -- is how involved the running backs are in the passing game.
With five yards to go on second down and just under six minutes left in the quarter, Benson is the sole back in the backfield in double tight end formation. Dalton takes the snap, fakes to Benson drawing Dan Conner towards the line of scrimmage. Due to the pressure, Andy Dalton scrambled left and found Benson with good separation from Conner running towards the left sidelines. Benson hauled in the dump pass, turned the corner, passed the first down marker as he angled towards the sidelines. The secondary eventually came up and forced Benson to slow up for Conner to recover, but long after the 15-yard gain.
How Chris Pressley and Bobbie Williams turned a sure-loss into a 12-yard gain... On the next play Benson would pick up another 12 yards, but it was close to being a big loss. Defensive back Charles Godfrey closed down on the line of scrimmage, showing blitz outside of Everette Brown's shoulder. The play, an off-tackle to the right, was perfect for Godfrey to drop Benson for at least a four-yard loss.
Bengals fullback Chris Pressley, fired out of his three-point stance and completely neutralized Godfrey in the backfield. As great as Pressley's block was, it wasn't the end of the threat. Defensive tackle Terrell McClain fired out of his stance and nearly split Kyle Cook and Bobbie Williams. Cook moved onto the second level while Williams worked to regain the advantage over McClain. Between the blocks from Pressley and Williams, a lane small lane opened allowing Benson enough breathing room to split the blocks. Andre Smith landed on top of a poor defensive end and Andre Caldwell's block on a cornerback allowed Benson to pick up another five yards and the first down.
Chris Pressley domination continues... With 4:21 left in the first quarter at the Bengals own 48-yard line, Cedric Benson drops to his two-point stance with his good buddy Chris Pressley directly in front. With the football in Dalton's hands, the Bengals offensive line fired from their stances. Kyle Cook, Andre Smith, Nate Livings easily secured their blocks. Chris Pressley passed the quarterback, found Thomas Davis aiming towards the point of attack. Was there a massive collision that rocked Cincinnati more than Virginia's earthquake? No. Pressley easily pushed the linebacker outside of the play opening the lane for Benson. Even long after Benson passed, Pressley kept popping the linebacker until the whistle was blown and Benson picked up eight yards.
The Easiest Fourth Down Conversion... Ever. Cincinnati would stick with the running game throughout the rest of the first quarter, eventually left with a fourth-and-one and a full 15-minute compliment in the second quarter. Cincinnati gathers their wits, draws inspiration from the gods of awesome and line up at Carolina's 13-yard line in double-tight formation. Dalton takes the fourth down snap and hands off to Benson up the middle. Nate Livings is pulling from left to right while Bobbie Williams and Andre Smith demolished their blocks inside. Chase Coffman and Jermaine Gresham contributed with blocks that enabled Benson to cutback and pick up nine yards on the fourth down play.
The Easiest Touchdown Run... Ever. With 13:00 remaining in the second quarter, after tough consecutive runs by Bengals running back Cedric Benson, Cincinnati lined up at Carolina's one-yard line on third down. The offense called for a jumbo formation with Livings, Anthony Collins and Whitworth outside of Kyle Cook. Pressley launches out of his stance and aims left with Cedric Benson following. Livings and Cook sealed the inside with three Panthers defenders to deal with; two of which were linebackers. Benson strung out the play, aiming towards the front left pylon, naturally making it far too difficult for Carolina's linebackers to make a play. Defensive back Jordan Pugh was all that remained. And if Chris Pressley didn't drill the defensive back that led to Benson's easy touchdown run, it might have been competitive. Cincinnati ties the game at seven.