Our quick view of the first-team offensive line in the first quarter wasn't that bad. Kevin Zeitler looked far more comfortable and confident with several impact blocks during the running game that should promote the predraft hype we've heard. Clint Boling was solid enough that he wasn't a liability with minimal impact from the players he blocked. In fact most of his "bad" blocks could have just been the result of inexperience with the failure to expect something to happen -- such as a linebacker run-blitzing while Boling transitioned. There's work to be done at the left guard position, but it's work that can be accomplished. Kyle Cook struggled at times, as did Andrew Whitworth. Andre Smith was strong, especially in the running game. In fact there were several plays that we noted with Smith being so dominate sometimes, he made it look entirely too easy.
During Cincinnati's first play Thursday evening against the Falcons, Andy Dalton completed his five-step drop on first down and hinted at Donald Lee in the flats on the right. Though initially wide open, a lingering linebacker quickly arrived that caused Dalton to hesitate with exploding instincts to escape the pocket. It was a wise decision because defensive tackle Peria Jerry, playing an inside gap, generated pressure by forcing Kyle Cook to sharply bend the defender around the pocket. Left guard Clint Boling patrolled his gap of vacancy while rookie Kevin Zeitler doubled defensive end Louis Nzegwu with Andre Smith. When Dalton scrambled out of the pocket, Nzegwu broke off the block and nearly sacked Dalton, but the quarterback slithered out of the tackle to step out of bounds at the line of scrimmage.
Now Dalton could have completed the pass to Lee if not for the hesitation, but it's more likely he was checking the coverages in relation to A.J. Green.
But Dalton is a smart quarterback who knows and sees a hell of a lot more than we do. On second down Dalton completed a nine-yard pass on a quick hitch to Green setting up a third-and-one from Cincinnati's 28-yard line. Dalton caught the shotgun pass and rolled out to the right with a massive wall of white jerseys escorting their quarterback.
Eventually Dalton outran the wall of awesome, which allowed pressure to leak, forcing Dalton to throw the football away. Cincinnati was given a new set of downs anyway after a roughing the passer on Jerry. But then the flag wouldn't hurt Atlanta either.
On the following down the Bengals called the first called run of the game with I-formation, strong-side to the right. Check out the blocking of Kevin Zeitler, Andre Smith sealing the left side with Jermaine Gresham forcing the defender on his outside shoulder and Clint Boling knocking linebacker Mike Peterson down just enough that it allows Leonard through the lane.
Unfortunately safety William Moore appears out of nowhere, colliding with the football and forcing the fumble. Atlanta recovered at Cincinnati's 48-yard line.
The Falcons went three-and-out and punted the football back to Cincinnati, allowing the Bengals offense resume with 7:56 remaining in the first quarter at their own 12-yard line. The Bengals called Brian Leonard and an off-tackle to the right. Left guard Clint Boling was initially slow on the backside block against Jonathan Babineaux. Though as the defensive tackle penetrated, Boling cut Babineaux legs neutralizing him before making an impact on the play.
Zeitler on the other hand had no issues, firing out of his stance with enough force that Atlanta's defensive tackle upper-body bent backwards. The Bengals right guard kept blocking Jerry momentarily while Kyle Cook positioned himself to pick up the block.
When Cook picked up Jerry, Zeitler moved to the second level to take out linebacker Mike Peterson.
The play ended after Leonard's four-yard gain because John Abraham was allowed to roam free without a blocker; supposedly by design because typically a play off-tackle or near the edges is designed to leave the backside defensive end alone. However some teams take account the league's quicker defensive ends as to not allow what happened on that play.
Several plays later with 6:29 remaining in the first quarter, following Jermaine Gresham's 25-yard reception, Brian Leonard ran a pitch to the left. Zeitler fired out of his stance, quickly reaching the second level and neutralizing linebacker Stephen Nicholas.
The rest of the offensive line? Not so good. John Abraham crashed inside, forcing Clint Boling to lose his balance. Thankfully Abraham's penetration was out of control, allowing Boling enough of an advantage to push Abraham to the turf. Andrew Whitworth stretched to the left before curling inside to pick up any pursuing defenders. Sean Witherspoon's speed was too much for Whitworth, who was still maneuvering around (see screen grab above, top middle). Finally Dunta Robinson powered through an Andrew Hawkins block, taking out Leonard's legs for the stop.
Following the easter egg hunt for a facemask against Jonathan Babineaux, the Bengals had a new set of downs on Atlanta's 46-yard line with 5:22 remaining in the first quarter. Zeitler fired out of his stance, helping Andre Smith take on Peria Jerry at the point of attack.
He didn't stay there. His awareness, to me at least, has been one of his more impressive qualities. Linebacker Sean Witherspoon blitzed through a gap near the point of attack. Zeitler noticed, shedding off the block with Andre Smith and nudging Witherspoon around a pulling Clint Boling and Brian Leonard.
Neither Witherspoon nor Jerry affected the play. Patterson completed the tackle on the three-yard run after bouncing off a Colin Cochart attempted block.
Three minutes remain in the first quarter with the Bengals calling Brian Leonard's number again from Atlanta's 36-yard line. The backside blocks of Andrew Whitworth and Clint Boling were solid, standing between the defender and ball-carrier away from the play. Andre Smith easily pushed defensive end Kroy Biermann away from the play, which should have generated a natural hole for Leonard to exploit.
Kyle Cook and Chris Pressley didn't look as impressive. Kevin Zeitler too, depending on the assignments of the play called.
Peria Jerry lined-up outside Kyle Cook's right shoulder in the A-gap. Perhaps a chip block by Kevin Zeitler would have helped Cook position himself to make a stronger block. Ultimately Perry, had superior position. Zeitler went immediately to the second level, tapped linebacker Mike Peterson and curled in.
Now it's entirely possible that Chris Pressley's job was to block Peterson, while Zeitler monitored any pursuing backside backers. If that's the case then Zeitler did a fine job, pushing Stephen Nicholas upfield and neutralizing any chance of affecting the play.
Pressley followed Zeitler and collided with Peterson, with a massive impact sending Pressley onto his backside.
The Bengals' Mike Nugent converted a 54-yard field goal to give the Bengals a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.