CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals breaks through the line in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 13-8. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
+ The Bengals posted only two possessions that accumulated more than 18 net yards on offense. It was that rough on Sunday. Yet like so many movies with great trailers and a promising introduction, the Bengals offense was oddly at their best during the game's opening drive, picking up five first downs on 12 plays and 76 yards of offense. Additionally Cincinnati's first play of the game wasn't your standard run up the middle. What the hell is going on around here?
From the 20-yard line during Cincinnati's opening possession, Jay Gruden wanted to throw on first down, likely for the purpose of targeting Andre Caldwell, who replaced Jerome Simpson as a starting wide receiver. Wide left with the Bengals in offset-I formation, Caldwell's route takes him to the 30-yard line before breaking out towards the left sidelines. Dalton's accurate pass is secured at the Bengals 30-yard line for a first down. At the time it was a good omen, with the first play being a first down completion. Sadly, this would become Cincinnati's sixth longest offensive play during the afternoon. That rough.
Dalton handed off on second down with Chris Pressley leading Cedric Benson behind the right side of the offensive line. Benson, a glutton for punishment and beating on helpless defenders (no pun intended), chugged his legs after slamming into a wall, picking up five yards. Andy Dalton completes an eight-yard pass to Andre Caldwell, who ran a hitch at the 40-yard line and picking up another first down. Someone shouts Who Dey, the Bengals offense is moving as if San Francisco's defense were nothing more than a fly inside the car but you're too afraid to swat at it because you're stuck on northbound 75 with a driving rain... moving on.
Things we notice: Bengals lined up in offset I on their first three plays of the game.
So far on Cincinnati's opening possession, the offense picked up two first downs, setting up at their own 43-yard line with 13:30 left in the first quarter. And for the second time during the team's first three first down plays, Dalton hands off to Benson; this time out of single back formation with Donald Lee in motion. Benson aims for Andre Smith, colliding with defensive end Ray McDonald for the stop because the Bengals right tackle couldn't sustain the initial block at the line of scrimmage. Not that it mattered. Donte Whitner tripped Benson near the line of scrimmage and whenever Benson gets slightly tripped up, there's no other direction Benson goes other than straight down.
After the two-yard gain, Andy Dalton huddled his guys, called the play and returned into their trendy offset-I formation. McDonald provided pressure on Dalton for two reasons after the snap. Andre Smith chucked at the defensive end momentarily before sliding to his right to stall linebacker Ahmad Brooks blitzing from Dalton's right. Clint Boling tried picking up McDonald, but was a step late stretching out, allowing McDonald the advantage. With San Francisco's defense end immediately in Dalton's peripheral vision, the quarterback needed to get rid of the football. Caldwell, wide right, makes a diving catch at San Francisco's 41-yard line, picking up 14 yards on the play.
First down must mean another Cedric Benson run. Nope. The Bengals offenseses is tricksy. Dalton fakes the handoff from single back formation and throws down the middle of the field, finding Caldwell (again) on a post, sliding at the end of the reception to avoid a big hit while picking up 18 yards on the play.
And thus on the seventh play of the third game during the year of 2011, Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson made his first appearance in the game. And thus the Bengals runneth from the 49ers 23-yard line and 11:37 remaining in the first quarter. And if not for Isaac Sopoaga tracking Benson down from behind, the Bengals running back could have picked up more than the six yards he did; thanks to Kyle Cook neutralizing the nose tackle, Clint Boling easily blocking linebacker NaVorro Bowman out.
Four yards to go on second down, Dalton fakes the handoff and throws down the left hashmarks for Donald Lee, who beat linebacker Patrick Willis by a step. The team's newest tight end picked up 11 yards, setting up Cincinnati's offense from the 49ers six-yard line.
And here we go.
First and goal from the 49ers six-yard line... Bengals return to offset-I formation with two tight ends on the right. Dalton hands off to Benson up the middle, fighting through an Ahmad Brooks tackle -- if trying to trip up Benson with an arm bar around the lower legs is an attempted tackle. Why yes. Yes it is, because Benson lost his balance and fell to the ground at the two-yard line. Nice four-yard pickup though; but if Benson keeps his balance, he scores. But it's unfair to lay all of the blame on Benson, who had to deal with a linebacker that blew through the offensive line completely unblocked (Gresham whiffed).
Second and goal from the 49ers two-yard line... Ideally, as some "experts" like to hint, the chances for teams to score inside the five-yard line improve if the offense usees at least one play-action on either first or second down. Considering that they tried a power-run on first down, this would be it, right? Not the Bengals, who have this obsessive need to prove that they're stronger than anyone, ridiculously proving that they're often not (read: three-straight failed third and one attempts against the Broncos). Again Ahmad Brooks put a stop to this madness, driving Jermaine Gresham directly into Benson, stalling his progress for a two-yard loss. And in fairness, Gresham wasn't the only one that failed to make a block. Andre Smith initially hit Ray McDonald, whose swim move knocked Smith off the block and freeing McDonald.
Third and goal from the 49ers four-yard line... I don't have the statistics or the knowledge of probability, but passing inside the opponent's five-yard line is perhaps one of the hardest tasks to complete when trying to score a touchdown. And when Andre Smith massively fails to block Ahmad Brooks, forcing Dalton to rollout to his left, it's even more disastrous. Three defensive backs were covering Jerome Simpson and A.J. Green around the left quarter of the endzone, increasing the odds for a tipped pass. The football fell incomplete and the Bengals took a 3-0 lead on a Mike Nugent field goal.
This would be Cincinnati's best offensive possession of the afternoon. It was that kind of day.