CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 25: Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers gets tackled by Thomas Howard #53, Manny Lawson #50, Brandon Johnson #59 and Domata Peko #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals during an NFL preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals won 24-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
With 12:49 left in the second quarter, the Bengals defense jogs onto the field after Cincinnati's offense consumed over eight minutes on a drive that lasted 15 plays. Well rested would be an understatement. Carolina's offense began their second drive of the game from their own 11-yard line, after Cam Newton scored a touchdown with their first possession. What should be highlighted isn't so much the final part of the play (where players make tackles), it's the unsung contributions by players that are rarely mentioned in post-game recaps or your generic statistical gamebook.
Carolina's first play of their second possession starts with I-formation, DeAngelo Williams in the backfield. Newton takes three steps after receiving the snap and resists his initial reads to the right with Chris Crocker covering underneath, causing enough hesitation to prevent the quarterback from hitting Legedu Naanee in the flats towards the right sideline. Newton turned to his left, skipping a pass to Steve Smith running a hook route about eight yards from the line of scrimmage. Leon Hall, covering Smith, smothered the receiver enough to disrupt the timing on the route -- though because Newton's pass wasn't very accurate, it wouldn't have been completed anyway.
Frostee Rucker cares nothing for attempted blocks by tight ends... As per your football 101 class, if a first down pass goes incomplete, then run the football. DeAngelo Williams flanks Newton's left in shotgun just as the quarterback hands off to Williams with the point of attack up the middle. Greg Olsen, who motioned from left to right, pulled back to the left to take out defensive end Frostee Rucker. Olsen blocked low on Rucker, who shed the block as if a bug tried to stop a car on the highway, wrapping Williams' upper thighs a yard past the line of scrimmage. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, after repelling his initial assault (read: instincts to just blow shit up no matter where the ball is) into a wall of bodies up the middle, redirects to his right to finish the tackle, limiting Williams to a five-yard gain.
This leaves Carolina with a third-five from the Carolina's 16-yard line with 12:02 remaining in the second quarter. Cam Newton sets up in shotgun with Naanee and Brandon LaFell wide right and Steve Smith wide left. Cincinnati shows blitz, bringing Reggie Nelson to the line of scrimmage along with Thomas Howard and Rey Maualuga. Nelson and both linebackers drop back with the snap while Jonathan Wade, covering the slot receiver, blitzes from Newton's right. Michael Johnson creates pressure while Wade approached unblocked. Newton releases the football just as pressure arrives, targeting Naanee on a crossing route that was run a yard short of the first down (John Madden just had a panic attack). Catching the football at the 19-yard line, between the hashes, Naanee twists around to limit Thomas Howard's hit on the wide receiver. Rather than an impact that prevented another yard gained, Howard was forced to wrapped Naanee's ankles together for the tackle -- a yard beyond the first down marker.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, Carolina picked up a first down. Fortunately for the Bengals, Carolina wouldn't pick up another.
Jonathan Fanene's unnoticed play should be noticed... Carolina lines up from their own 22-yard line in I-formation with 11:14 left in the first half and Jonathan Stewart as the deep back. Newton hands off to Stewart, targeting wide right. The defense's domination on the play began with Jonathan Fanene, firing out of his stance and quickly shedding the initial assault from tackle Garry Williams. Fanene then took on Greg Olsen's block, who lined up in the backfield.
The result didn't give Fanene a tackle, or a stat in the stat column; it's just one of those unsung plays that people disregard because they don't show up with statistic nor are they watching that particular moment. The result of Fanene taking on two blocks, including the one against Olsen, forced running back Jonathan Stewart to slow and redirect. Frostee Rucker, lined up at defensive end away from the play, ran down the line of scrimmage unblocked making the tackle on Stewart. Without Fanene's participation on the play, Stewart doesn't stall and Rucker doesn't arrive in time to make the play.
Bengals defense forces a one-yard loss... On the following play with 10:35 left in the first half, Carolina initially calls a single-back formation with Stewart in the backfield. Olsen motions out from his right tight end spot, transforming into a fullback when Newton receives the snap. After pump faking Newton gives the football to Stewart on a delayed handoff up the middle. Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross shows pass protection, initially forcing Frostee Rucker to launch into a pass rush upfield. When Newton completed the handoff, Rucker cut behind Gross forcing the running back to weaken his approach towards the line of scrimmage by shifting his body where his shoulders no longer pointed at the sidelines.
Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was free to roam, with great appreciation for Domata Peko, whose top-rate swim move on guard Travelle Wharton forced Greg Olsen to redirect at Cincinnati's defensive tackle, preventing either from moving to the second level. By consuming two blockers near the point of attack, Maualuga was free to slam, with reckless abandon, into James Stewart for a one-yard loss. Thomas Howard and Reggie Nelson completed the tackle.
Pressure from Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson ends Carolina's possession... On third down with 11 yards to go for a first at Carolina's 21-yard line, Newton lines up in shotgun with DeAngelo William's flanking the quarterback's left and Olsen on his right. Cincinnati's defense, in nickel, brings four with Robert Geathers and Michael Johnson at defensive end and Jonathan Fanene and Geno Atkins at defensive tackle.
Atkins launched into Wharton (Carolina's guard) with Johnson colliding into Jordan Gross. Atkins disengages and tries to loop around Jordan's block on Johnson when the excellent left tackle pushes Johnson into Wharton and collides with Atkins who would have had an open shot on Newton. By this time Johnson found an advantage on Wharton and pressured Newton's left, forcing the quarterback to scramble to his right. Robert Geathers, to Newton's right, prevented the quarterback from taking off by keeping contain, forcing Newton back into the pocket, with Johnson and Atkins five yards deep in the backfield.
Newton looks downfield again just as Atkins disengaged from Gross, tracking the quarterback from behind. Newton released the pass, aiming towards the left sidelines just as he's hit by Atkins, throwing a dangerous floater towards Steve Smith around Cincinnati's 45-yard line. Smith didn't offer for the football while Reggie Nelson's attempted interception carried him five yards out of bounds.