Paul Brown stadium is fired up.
A.J. Green hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton -- the combination's first touchdown in their professional careers during game conditions -- over veteran cornerback Chris Gamble. Not only that, but within seven minutes of the second quarter, Cincinnati already equaled their total offensive output from the previous two preseasons combined. Cheer my Bengal comrades. Cheer.
In the meantime the Bengals defense had more work to do.
Robert Geathers forces James Stewart into a choice when none existed... With 7:38 left in the second quarter, the malicious and intimidating Bengals defense jogs onto the field at Carolina's 16-yard line. Cam Newton takes the snap and hands off to Jonathan Stewart between the left guard and tackle (aka, the B-gap). As Stewart approached the line of scrimmage, he watched Rey Maualuga taking out the fullback with Manny Lawson and Domata Peko congesting the point of attack. Stewart stalls three yards short of the line of scrimmage as Robert Geathers kept tight end Greg Olsen at arm's length, in a proper position to disengage once Stewart makes the choice to drive into the pile developing at the point of attack or cutback.
Stewart cutback... for a second. However with Geathers holding contain to Stewart's right and Michael Johnson collapsing the left side by throwing off Jordan Gross, Stewart's only option is to cut up the middle into a wall of bodies because Cincinnati's defense wasn't about to give ground. Geathers finally shed his block and pulled Stewart away from the collection of bodies for a limited two-yard gain. Granted Geathers made the play, but this defense thrived because they simply didn't move, preventing any lanes from open and limiting the running back to a small gain.
If the field was the intended target, then it was a perfect pass... Back to our Football 101 class, if you're forced into a limited gain on the ground, then try to pick up yards through the air for a manageable third down conversion. The thing about Football 101 class is that not only did you attend class, but so did your opponent. Cam Newton in shotgun with Stewart flanking his left.
When Newton faked the handoff to Stewart, it brought Manny Lawson and Rey Maualuga closer to the line of scrimmage. Yet Leon Hall, Nate Clements, Thomas Howard and Chris Crocker covered their guys well. Stewart stayed into block allowing Maualuga to roam free underneath and Lawson a delayed blitz (due to Stewart's decision to stay in to block).
Newton completed the pass with the turf at 46-yard line, over five yards beyond Naanee, the intended receiver.
Cam Newton's 26-yard run could have been a bad defensive call... With just under seven minutes remaining in the first half, Cam Newton and the Panthers offense lined up at their own 18-yard line. The Bengals rush six as Newton takes the shotgun snap. For a quarterback like Newton, who made a name for himself using his legs, watching the left side completely collapse opening a lane that any of us could run through to pick up a first down, it was a moment of blissful excellence.
While it would be easy to suggest that the players failed to contain, that might not have been the case. Michael Johnson lined up inside Jordan Gross, taking an inside step, suggesting that someone else was responsible for his outside gap. Jonathan Wade, outside Johnson, covered Greg Olsen while Rey Maualuga, who remained inside five yards of the line of scrimmage, shadows Jonathan Stewart and blitzed towards the middle after realizing the running back wasn't departing for a route. Geno Atkins, lined up at left defensive tackle, stunted around Jonathan Fanene at right tackle, but not Johnson, severely opening a hole to Newton's left.
This could have just been a bad play by the Bengals defense; it seems more likely to be a bad call by Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and good recognition by quarterback Cam Newton. Obviously we don't know the call, or what was supposed to happen. Either way what did happen was that Newton exposed the gap in the pass rush and picked up 26 yards on the ground.
Now it's time for a three-and-out... On the following play, outside linebacker Manny Lawson easily ditched Greg Olsen's pass block with just under six minutes remaining in the second quarter. Quarterback Cam Newton felt the pressure from behind and tried taking off. Lawson was able to trip Newton at the line of scrimmage. As we've pointed out at various points in our review, when Carolina throws on first, they run on second. When they run on first, they throw on second. What do they say about trends?
With 5:20 left in the second quarter, Carolina is closing in on midfield from their own 49-yard line. Newton takes the second down snap under center and pitches to Stewart in the backfield. After receiving the football, Stewart looks for a lane to his left. Geno Atkins was cut down, Michael Johnson took an inside rush that helped Greg Olsen's down-block. Domata Peko, often preparing for two blockers, simply stood his ground away from the play before realizing the pitch outside.
But then Domata Peko is something else. Once he saw Stewart with the pitched ball taking an outside run to Peko's right, the defensive tackle easily pushed off Ryan Kalil's block. Nate Clements sprinted towards the line of scrimmage against Stewart's outside. Though his momentum took him beyond Stewart, Clements was able to slap one of Stewart's legs knocking the running back off-balance just as Peko wrapped Stewart from behind. Amazing job by Peko and Clements.
Cam Newton attempted a pass to Brandon LaFell, with excellent coverage from Leon Hall to deflect the pass. Newton was pressured with a six-man rush and Rey Maualuga delaying his blitz. Once the separation opened over the middle and Jonathan Stewart helping the right side, Maualuga had a free shot on Newton. And the quarterback saw that, throwing a quick inaccurate pass to LaFell that went incomplete.