At first, I thought last night's offensive problems was a total and complete failure on the offensive line to protect Carson Palmer. There's some truth to that, but not totally. After watching the game again Sunday morning, I realized that the sum of the failure to protect Palmer, was mental mistakes (like missed assignments) and flawed protection schemes (major problem here). It wasn't like the line was manhandled (some were, we'll get to that later). The Saints did a good job overloading with schemes and stunts, while Bob Bratkowski failed at adjusting the protection schemes to STOP exposing Palmer to massive hits. Several times when Palmer was hit, the Bengals sent five people into routes, leaving Palmer alone with the offensive line, who weren't able to prevent the Saints from passing rushing, mostly by over-loading blitzes and adding confusing stunts. I agree with the assessment that 100% of the blame can't be put on the offensive line.
The following is broken up; first pointing out the the times that Palmer was knocked down and the second showing just out awful of a time Eric Ghiaciuc had run blocking. I tried to keep it clean, but I couldn't get it to flow. There's a lot of data here that kind of requires your imagination (at least the ability to see what I'm describing) and ability to go back and forth through the first half. In other words, I didn't go from the start to finish in the first half, instead I'm all over the place.
HIT ON PALMER #1
On third and seven at the Cincinnati 47-yard line with 3:00 left in the first quarter, Palmer lined up in shotgun. The Saints brought five, sending their right defensive end into zone coverage. Perry picked up the blitzing safety off the right edge while Stacy Andrews locked up with the defensive end. Bobbie Williams and Eric Ghiaciuc worked on one defensive tackle while Whitworth and Levi Jones worked on the other. The blitzing linebacker sprinted through a gap between Ghiaciuc and Whitworth. Sadly, neither player made a move on the linebacker and Palmer was blown up as a result. In truth, Ghiaciuc was locked up with his tackle (Bobbie Williams was behind Ghiaciuc watching) while Andrew Whitworth had his hand on Jones' back watching the tackle totally ignoring the blitzing linebacker.
ANALYSIS: I put this one on the offensive line. This wasn't a defeat physically, as much as it was a missed assignment, mental error type of thing. Ghiaciuc should have called something to prepare for the blitz and Whitworth should have kept his eyes up field. Blitzes happen, and in a lot of cases, they are hidden before the snap. Not only did the Bengals fail to see the blitz before the snap, but the line failed to react when he came.
HIT ON PALMER #2 (and near hit)
On first-and-ten at the Cincinnati 34-yard line with 12:00 left in the second quarter, Palmer and the offense lined up off-set I-formation, strong side right (Reggie Kelly at tight end off the right tackle) with Daniel Coats at fullback and Chris Perry at running back. At the snap, Coats ran a pattern into flats to the right. Perry ran to Palmer's right, which was a horrible effort at play-action, helping the offensive line block two guys up the middle -- likely a reaction to the earlier hit with a blitzing linebacker up the middle. The right outside linebacker blitzed, picked up by Levi Jones while the defensive end stunted to his left, picked up by Andrew Whitworth. Essentially, no one was left to block Kevin Kaesviharn, blitzing off the edge. You can blame Palmer on this one, not seeing the blitz coming and adjusting so there's a hat on Kaesviharn. The hit was just a good defensive call, blitzing where no Bengals were left to block him. Palmer didn't see it coming before the snap and the play was dead before ever starting.
ANALYSIS: You can easily credit the Saints, as you could blame Palmer for not recognizing the blitz. I'm not blaming the line on this one. The Saints overloaded the right side, and the offensive line put a hat on someone -- of which, no one came close to Palmer. If you want to blame Palmer, you can, for not recognizing the blitz and calling a hot read. At the same time, it's awfully difficult to recognize a blitz by a safety unless they are on the line of scrimmage, which Kaesviharn was not. Therefore, it's probably best to conclude that the Saints called the perfect defensive play on the sack that lost six yards.
On the next play, Palmer, with plenty of protection, hit Perry on a quick pass up the middle. On third-and-ten, Palmer lined up in shotgun with Utecht on his left and Perry on his right. The Saints brought six, two blitzing linebackers with the front four. Andrews and Jones pushed their defensive ends out and Palmer was cleared once he stepped up in the pocket. Whitworth picked up one of blitzing linebackers. The play only called for all five offensive linemen to protect Palmer -- everyone else went into routes. The last blitzing linebacker found a gap between Ghiaciuc and Williams, sprinting through the lane and almost hitting Palmer. Luckily, the linebacker just missed. Bengals punt.
ANALYSIS: Even though Palmer wasn't knocked down, the blitzing linebacker still penetrated to Palmer forcing the incomplete.
PALMER BECOMES MORE AWARE OF RUSHERS INSTEAD OF RECEIVERS
On third-and-ten at the Cincinnati 12-yard line with 7:00 left in the first half, Palmer in shotgun had over four seconds to make a pass. On that fourth second, Charles Grant hit Palmer's peripheral vision and forced an odd throw (Palmer did some scissor-like thing with his legs) to Perry over the middle, picking up five yards. Bengals punt. At this point, you get the impression that Palmer is more aware of the pass rushers than his receiver's routes.
PALMER HIT #3
The Bengals fourth possession start at the Bengals 23-yard line with 4:29 left in the first half. Palmer drops back, while Reggie Kelly and Chris Perry (in I-formation) run off Palmer's left side into routes. This was the death of this play resulting in another hit on Palmer (and sack). Though that's questionable if it was a sack because Palmer's knee never hits the ground (OK, it was totally a blown call by the refs, but it's pre-season and the refs are likely trying to protect the players). Still, Palmer was rushed, nearly brought down and forced to run -- and Palmer can't run.
The Saints rushed their front four and the Bengals offensive line couldn't keep them from getting to Palmer. Levi Jones had his guy, pushing him deep into the backfield -- as most good tackles do to an end that wants to sprint around them. The problem appeared when the two Saints defensive tackles stunted. The left defensive tackle, in the gap between Bobbie Williams and Eric Ghiaciuc, ran to his right to Ghiaciuc's left shoulder while the other waited momentarily, then looping around. Whitworth chased his defensive tackle, whereas he probably should have let the tackle go, picking up the one that hit Ghiaciuc's left shoulder -- and Ghiaciuc picks up the man that looped around.
In truth, this sack was just a miserable failure with the communication and cooperation of the offensive line working together.
ANALYSIS: On this play, I came to realize that the Bengals offensive line (mostly the guards and center), are having a hell of a time picking up stunts and blitzes. Man on man, the line is just fine. But they are easily getting confused, failing to communicate with each other.
On the next play, Utecht picks up ten yards on a quick pass to Palmer. The Saints blitzed the linebacker off the left tackle and no one picked him. This was poor design by the Bengals offense with Jones picking up the defensive end and Chris Perry running a route in the right flats. Unless Eric Ghiaciuc picks up the defensive tackle and Andrew Whitworth drops back behind Jones to pick up the linebacker (which only happens in video games), this play was doomed. And that's by design. Palmer saw the blitz coming and let the pass go on his third step.
Analysis: Bad design.
On third-and-eight, Palmer in shotgun with Utecht and Watson flanking him, threw a beautiful pass to Antonio Chatman fading on the right for a 19-yard gain. Palmer had plenty of time.
PALMER HIT #4
After a minimal Perry rush up the middle, Palmer threw a pass that wasn't picked off after Jerome Simpson molested the defensive back. It was a good play by Simpson to become the defender, preventing the turnover with just over two minutes left in the first half.
Palmer was hit on the play. Under center, with Perry the lone back in the backfield, Palmer fakes the handoff and throws deep to his left. The blitzing linebacker came from the Palmer's right side, where Reggie Kelly lined up and left for a pass route. Perry ran to Palmer's right, also running a route.
The Saints' left defensive end and left defensive tackle ran a stunt. The defensive end ran around the defensive tackle, picked up by Williams. The defensive tackle ran straight for Willie Anderson to free up the blitzing linebacker of the edge. The stunt worked primarily because the tackle occupied Anderson. With only five blockers, two occupied after a stunt where the blitzing linebacker attacked, Palmer was forced to throw a rainbow pass that was nearly picked off. The offensive pass interference on Simpson forced the Bengals into a second-and-17, which the Bengals couldn't pick up and were forced to punt.
SUGGESTION: The Bengals need to keep more men blockers in for Palmer.
PALMER HIT #5 AND BLOODY NOSE
Bengals get the ball back after a three-and-out by the Saints offense, with 1:06 left in the half at the Cincinnati 36-yard line. After a quick pass to Utecht, Palmer spikes the ball to stop the clock.
On second-and-ten at the Cincinnati 48-yard line, Palmer lined up in shotgun, with two wide receivers on the left, another on the right, and no tight ends. Utecht lined up to Palmer's left and ran a route. Reggie Kelly, lined up to Palmer's right, stepped up in the pocket to help block. The linebacker and safety (Kaesviharn), targeted their blitz between Ghiaciuc and Anderson. Williams pushed the defensive tackle to Ghiaciuc, who was a non-factor. Williams turned to the blitzing linebacker, already picked up by Reggie Kelly. Willie Anderson took the defensive end out. This created a MASSIVE gap for which Kaesviharn to make his assault (and sack) on Palmer. The defensive end on Anderson made the hit on Palmer that forced the bleeding.
ANALYSIS: Kelly likely should have taken Kaesviharn (or the outside blitzer) while Williams, already free after handing off the tackle to Ghiaciuc, picked up the blitzing linebacker.
Levi Jones false started on the next play and flipped out at Eric Ghiaciuc (segue comes next). After a handoff and punt, the half was over.
GHIACIUC CANT BLOCK ON RUNS
On the first offensive possession, Antonio Chatman had the ball stripped with a soft tap from Indiana rookie Tracy Porter on an end-around. Glenn Holt dove on the ball after a horrible effort by Chatman to secure the ball. On the second play, the Bengals lined up double-TE and run behind Andrew Whitworth for a minimal two-yard gain. Kendrick Clancey (the guy Eric Ghiaciuc was blocking) spun around and made the first contact with Perry. After Stacy Andrews was flagged for a false start, Palmer overthrew Jerome Simpson and nearly had the ball intercepted by Mike McKenzie. The Bengals were force to punt. Note on the first possession that Palmer wasn't hit and the pass he three on third down, he had plenty of time because the Saints only brought the front four.
After the Saints took a 10-point lead, Perry rushed the ball behind Bobbie Williams with 5:57 left in the first quarter. Well, he tried to. Perry ran into Ghiaciuc, going backwards where Perry was forced to redirect to the left. Kendrick Clancey (the guy Ghiaciuc was blocking), shed off the block and made the tackle. On Perry's first two runs, Clancey was credited for both tackles. On second and seven, Palmer in off-set I (strong side right), called an audible (likely forcing the called run from left to right), and handed off to Perry running off-tackle to the right. Clancey made the tackle again, but it was Andrew Whitworth's guy this time. Whitworth was forced to take a large step to his right to cut off Clancey who was lined up in the gap to Whitworth's right. Clancey just shed to his right and filled the gap for the stop. You could blame Ghiaciuc (kind of the theme going on here) by not impeding Clancey's first step, one way or another. But that's simply a perception you can make for yourself.
On third down, Palmer completed a 16-yard pass to Ben Utecht for the first down. The Saints only brought their front four and never touched Palmer. On the next play, Palmer hit Perry running in the flats to the left; Palmer was untouched. On second down, Kendrick Clancey stood up Eric Ghiaciuc, threw him to the ground and stuffed Perry at the line of scrimmage.
The Bengals third possession started with 7:33 left in the second quarter with first-and-ten at the Cincinnati 12-yard line. Standard I-formation, Perry took the handoff and ran right-side of the center. When the play was over, Eric Ghiaciuc was laying on his back four yards down field.
On first-and-ten at the Cincinnati 14-yard line with 13:11 in the second quarter, Chatman lined up on the left, took two steps back, caught the quick pass and picked up nine yards. The Bengals called the same play, instead passing to Ben Utecht on the right for an 11-yard gain. This was about the closest thing the Bengals offense had for momentum in the first half.
All in all, that was one of the worst games I've ever seen during the Marvin Lewis era Bengals. Pre-season or not, that's just horrible. Exactly what are we supposed to get excited about with that offense? The defense played as well as they've been asked to. After giving up 10 points in the first two possessions, the Saints were shutout.
Still, the story of the game was Palmer's bloody nose, and the inability to get anything going. The second half wasn't much better, but we didn't much care anyway because the focus now is that the first team offense is playing so awful. You can claim injury to the starting wide receivers, if you want. And this team takes a huge hit when both go down.
Either way, if this is a dress rehersal of things to come, then this season will be long and painful.