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After Further Review: Bengals First Half Against the Cowboys

The following is an assortment of plays, organized by drive, pointing out the plays that either killed the drive or enabled its success.

BENGALS FIRST OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. Bengals lined up in single-back formation, with two wide receivers on the left, one on the right and Reggie Kelly at the right Tight End spot. Kelly sprinted up three yards and turned; while Palmer threw a fastball before Kelly broke. The pass was about a yard to Kelly's left, who was likely unprepared for the pass -- or Palmer expected Kelly to go up three yards and then out. Unfortunately, Kelly got a hand on the ball tipping it slowly to Greg Ellis to intercept the easiest pass in his career.

COWBOYS FIRST OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. After the Bengals offense threw a pick on the first play of the game, the Bengals defense prevented the Cowboys from picking up a first down. Plus, I wanted to showcase Dhani Jones on the first two plays, and point out the missed third down conversion that was an efficient pass away from being a touchdown.

On the first play (a three-yard run by Marion Barber), Dhani Jones lined up five yards deep over the left guard. The Cowboys ran a Power-O with a pulling left guard. Jones followed him meeting Barber, standing him and dropping him after a three-yard gain.

The Cowboys lined up in shotgun formation, with Jason Witten at the left Tight End spot, two wide receivers on the left and a third on the right -- Barber lined up in the backfield. The draw play included a pulling right guard, who targeted a penetrating Dhani Jones. The guard whiffed and Jones made an ankle tackle for only a two-yard gain.

On third-and-five, the Cowboys lined up in shotgun, two wide receivers on the right, Barber and Witten flanking Tony Romo, and a Tight End on the left. Romo dropped back, looked over the middle and then intended a pass to Tight End #80-Bennett. The pass was a bit out of Bennett's reach falling incomplete; Jamar Fletcher was covering, a single step behind. Cowboys kick a field goal and take the early 3-0 lead.

BENGALS SECOND OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. After T.J. Houshmandzadeh was called for a false start, the Bengals start first-and-15 at their own 17-yard line. The Bengals went three-and-out.

On the first play of this possession, the Bengals lined up I-formation, strong side to the right (where the TE lines up). Chris Perry picked up five yards on an off-tackle to the left, between Levi Jones and Andrew Whitworth. Initially, the blocking was good, with offensive linemen putting a hat on someone, opening the lane. However, the lane closed after #96-Spears got position on Reggie Kelly swarming down the line of scrimmage, and #98-Ellis shed off Levi Jones' block limiting Perry's pick up to only five yards.

On second-and-ten, the Bengals lined up single-back formation, with two wide receivers on the right (another on the left) and Kelly lined up at the right TE spot. Palmer took a three-step drop and fired a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by #96-Spears. Rather than rushing the passer, Spears watched Palmer and jumped once he threw the pass.

On third-and-ten, the Bengals lined up in shotgun, with Trips on the right, another WR on the left and Perry to Palmer's left. Palmer looked to the right, kept looking to the right and hit T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The pass was a bit high, and Houshmandzadeh juggled the pass on the way down, landing on his gut for the completed nine-yard pass. Bengals are forced to punt.

COWBOYS SECOND OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. The Cowboys ran 10 plays for 80 yards scoring on a 33-yard touchdown run by Felix Jones. After allowing successive three-yard runs by Barber, the Cowboys lined up third-and-four at their own 31-yard line. Romo lines up in shotgun, with two tight ends on the left, two receivers on the right and a running back flanking the quarterback. With absolutely no pressure, Romo confidently sits in the pocket waiting for Witten to open up. At the first down marker, a massive hole in the Bengals defensive zone opens up, allowing Witten the space and conversion on the accurate throw. First down. Brandon Johnson was the closest defender, two yards behind Witten.

After a quick seven-yard pass to Felix Jones, who motioned to the left lining up at the receiver spot, Barber is limited to a short two-yard gain with Geathers shedding off his block and Chinedum Ndukwe flying up to the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys lined up super-big on third-and-one at their own 45-yard line. With two tight ends lined up on the right, the Cowboys ran a counter to the short-side, while the Bengals defense anticipated and sold out with momentum (by design from the likely play-calling) towards the Cowboys strong side. So the Bengals had no contain on the weak-side, sealed by the Cowboys left tackle pushing the Bengals right defensive end inward (I think it's Rucker, but not 100% sure). All three linebackers shifted to the left, reacting to their keys, unprepared for a counter to the left (the weak-side). As a result, Barber picks up 16 yards with a really good block by Terrell Owens on Leon Hall.

After an incomplete pass to #34-Anderson -- who was wide open, however Robert Geathers hit and dropped Romo) -- the Cowboys are called for a false start. On Second-and-15, Dhani Jones sniffs out a tight end screen on the right (helped out by David Jones). The Bengals limited Terrell Owens to a 10-yard reception; thankfully because Owens falls and worries about the football.

So the Cowboys lined up, fourth-and-four at the Cincinnati Bengals 33-yard line. This is the play that Felix Jones records a 33-yard touchdown run with a pitch to the right. Cowboys lined up Trips to the left, with a WR on the right and Jones in the backfield; Witten motioned to the right. Geathers lined up outside the right tackle, with Witten motioned to Geathers outside shoulder; Witten stunned Geathers just enough to slow our defensive end from containing the edge. Ndukwe lined up outside of Witten, inside the WR on the right; the WR easily turned Ndukwe inside. The two blocks are significant, because it removes two guys that should have contained the edge, instead of relying on Johnathan Joseph who had a big pulling right tackle to deal with. Joseph nearly avoided the block, but missed his dive at Jones' feet. Felix Jones was untouched down the right sidelines for the 33-yard touchdown run.

BENGALS THIRD OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. After an eight-yard completed pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Perry rushes for three yards and then defensive back, #42-Henry was called for pass interference giving the Bengals their first first-down of the game with 4:57 left in the first quarter.

On first-and-ten, at their own 40-yard line, the Bengals line up in single-back formation, strong side to the left, with two receivers on the right, and a third receiver on the left. Antonio Chatman, lined up outside on the right, ran up 12-15 yards, turned and came back to the pass for an 11-yard gain, recording the first first-down by the Bengals offense (not by way of defensive penalty). That was the last time the Bengals picked up a first down on the drive.

Perry recorded a three-yard loss on the next play, with a stupid play-call that had Levi Jones pulling to the right. With #56-James being Jones' target, he was too slow and James ran into Perry deep in the backfield. Just a bad design. After being called for having 12-men on the field, Palmer tosses two incompletes (a 20-yard pass to Utecht who didn't go all-out for the pass and a poorly thrown timing pattern going up and out about two yards short of the first down to Chad Johnson). Bengals punt.

On the Punt. Kyle Larson kicked a great punt that rolled to the Cowboys three-yard line, downed by Kyries Hebert. Hebert was lined up as the gunner on the right, pushed out of bounds by two Cowboys defenders at the snap. He recovered and sprinted towards the rolling football, downing the ball at the three-yard line. Once a player goes out of bounds, he can not be the first one to touch the ball. Hebert was the first one, giving the Cowboys offense a 17-yard gift.

COWBOYS THIRD POSSESSION. On this possession, the Cowboys ran 10 plays for 80 yards; eight of which were running plays 49 yards. The two passing plays were completed passes to Jason Witten for 31 yards, including a four-yard touchdown pass on third down (the only time the Cowboys were forced to run a play on third down).

The first play, Marion Barber picked up 16 yards to the left. Cowboys lined up double TE formation with Barber being the lone back. Like the first 16-yard run, this is a lazy counter play to the right. Witten easily sealed Antwan Odom, while the entire Bengals defense flowed to their left (away from the counter play's point of attack). Barber wasn't touched for 15 yards when David Jones made the tackle. Afterwards, Barber takes a pitch to the right and Ndukwe flied to the line of scrimmage, dropping Barber for a one-yard loss.

On second-and-11, at their own 35-yard line, the Cowboys lined up in shotgun formation with four receivers on each side of the line; Witten lined up inside on the left. Brandon Johnson lined up over Witten, trying to slot his route. Witten brushed Johnson aside and ran a simple seam route, perfectly hit by Tony Romo's accurate pass for the 29-yard gain. Not that Johnson's coverage was horrible; rather with no pass rush, Witten simply being a step faster and Romo making a good throw, there was little Johnson could do.

Owen picked up eight yards on an end-around, and Felix Jones picked up 20 yards on three attempts. Anderson added three yards and Barber picked up another setting up the Cowboys touchdown.

On third-and-goal at the Bengals four-yard line, the Cowboys lined up in shotgun with two backs in the backfield, two receivers on the left (Witten in the slot) and a receiver on the right. The Bengals only rushed three, dropping Peko into coverage around the goal line. With three pass rushers, the Bengals put six guys at the goal line, with two defensive backs covering wide receivers. This allowed Witten to go unmolested to the back of the endzone, momentarily waiving erratically for Romo's attention. It was too easy and the Cowboys took a 17-0 lead.

BENGALS FOURTH OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. This is the Cedric Benson drive; Benson picked up 25 yards rushing on six straight rushing plays. In all, I got the impression that he's a forward leaning running back, more aggressive powerful than Perry; ala younger Rudi Johnson with more attitude. After the six straight rush attempts (would have liked a play-action mixed in deep to Chad, but what do I know), the Bengals are forced to pass on third-and-six at the Dallas 23-yard line. Palmer pressured out of the pocket, starts rolling to the right. He finds Ben Utecht running parallel to Palmer hauling down the 21-yard reception at the Cowboys two-yard line. The Cowboys challenged and the play was reversed after Utecht failed to get his second foot inbounds. The Bengals get on the board with a 41-yard field goal, still down by 14 points.

This is the first of 16 unanswered points, and an obvious shift in momentum.

COWBOYS FOURTH POSSESSION. After an incomplete, and a two-yard gain by Barber, the Cowboys are left with a third-and-eight at the Dallas 22-yard line. Romo, in shotgun, looks for Witten over the middle, who lined up at the left slot. Witten ran a 10-yard hook route, hit perfectly by Romo. The Bengals ran a zone, with Ndukwe hitting Witten off the line, running with him but (for some reason) drifted towards the middle of the field, opening up a big passing lane to Witten for the 10-yard gain. The Cowboys were called for unsportsmanlike conduct after a swan-pile-dive by #65-Gurode, losing 15 yards but still picking up the first down.

After Harris was called for defensive holding, Felix Jones picks up nine yards running off the left edge. Let me say this. Antwan Odom has been a severe disappointment, not for just his lack of pass rushing, but his failure to contain the edges on his side during running plays; this was Justin Smith's biggest strength and it shows.

After an incomplete pass, the Cowboys line up on third-and-one at their own 34-yard line. Barber got the handoff and failed to convert the first down. The Bengals defensive front buried the gaps at the point of attack, thanks to Jonathan Fanene, who split the double team, and crawled about a yard deep into the backfield, tackling Barber and forcing the Cowboys to punt.

BENGALS FIFTH POSSESSION. Palmer three on the drive's first three plays, finally completing an 18-yard pass Antonio Chatman. However, the Bengals wouldn't pick up another first down and eventually punted.

After two straight incomplete passes, the Bengals line up empty backfield (five WR set) with Chatman lined up in the slot. A simple crossing pattern over the middle ends up with an 18-yard completion and a first down.

Perry is stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no-gain, after DeMarcus Ware shed off Reggie Kelly's block forcing Perry out of bounds. So what do the Bengals do when it doesn't work the first time around? They call Perry's number again, picking up five yards this time with quality blocking from Eric Ghiaciuc and Bobbie Williams. Related to the consistent problems by the Bengals offensive line, they still fail/struggle to get to the linebackers, giving Perry and the Bengals running backs larger gains.

On third-and-five, Palmer looks left and throws to Houshmandzadeh, who was picked off when the secondary blew the coverage. Alternatively, Chad Johnson was wide, wide open as a result of the bad coverage. Bengals punt.

COWBOYS FIFTH POSSESSION. After a dinky two-yard pass to Barber, and a six-yard run by Barber, Frostee Rucker forces a Tony Romo fumble; who scrambled and ran up field, even picking up the first down. Barber gave the Bengals another 7 yards after a 15-yard face mask.

BENGALS SIXTH POSSESSION. After a quick, short pass to Chatman (running up and then hook) for nine yards, Palmer hits Utecht for another three-yard pass setting up a Chris Perry run with 1:02 left in the first half on the Dallas 17-yard line.

The Bengals line up in I-formation with three wide receivers. When Palmer handed the football off to Perry, the Bengals offensive line simply dominated. Bobbie Williams took the defensive tackle out to the right. Eric Ghiaciuc and Andrew Whitworth doubled the other defensive tackle, and Ghiaciuc chipped off to the outside linebacker. The full back, played by Ben Utecht this time, destroyed the middle linebacker. At this point, only the secondary has a chance to stop the run; which they almost did. However, Houshmandzadeh was called for a holding call that no one in the world saw.

It sucked the wind out of the Bengals momentum. After a four-yard pass to Chatman, Palmer throws two incomplete passes and the Bengals ends the half with a 31-yard field goal; reducing the deficit to 11 points, 17-6.