Earlier this week we broke down the team's penalties against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and how they stalled drives, putting the offense into long third down opportunities. Question: Is a long third down really an opportunity or a consequence? From now on we'll call it a third down consequence, rather than opportunity. Terrell Owens' offensive pass interference pushed Cincinnati back into a third and long consequence, eventually leading to an interception. Reggie Kelly's holding on the Bengals end of the field led to a pick-six (though it's not totally fair to say that his penalty led directly to an interception). Leon Hall's defensive pass interference gave Tampa Bay a new set of downs. Penalties hurt most teams, creating difficult scenarios from a consequence that either kills offensive possessions, or extends an opponent's possession if a defensive penalty is called.
As we've pointed out before on this site, 33% of the team's total penalties this year are false starts alone. Dennis Roland leads the team with three false starts. Bobbie Williams is the only other player with multiple false starts this year. Jermaine Gresham, Chad Ochocinco, Andrew Whitworth, Carson Palmer, Kyle Cook, Andre Caldwell and Nate Livings round out the team's culprits this year on false starts. Though you have to believe that a consequence of Kyle Cook's preference of snapping it on two, when ten other offensive players charged out of their stance on one could be unfairly charged onto another player. Regardless, twelve penalties, all pre-snap fouls, is a bit much to be overcome every drive, shooting their feet with automatic weapons and forcing the defense, who aren't playing to their 2009 levels with consistency, kindly returns to the football to the offense with no damage.
Cincinnati's propensity for penalties dates back to the preseason, committing at least 10 fouls in four of the team's five preseason games. This time it wasn't the pre-snap fouls that hurt Cincinnati; it was offensive holding, which accounted for 40% of the team's total flags. And in truth, offensive holding during the preseason tends to be more understanding. False start? Not so much. If you know the snap count and you're still called for a false start, the only explanation is the lack of concentration; an attribute that are killing the Bengals this year.
Moving on to the team's performance against Cleveland, the Bengals committed eight penalties for a season-high 79 yards lost. We're going to examine how the team's penalties hurt certain drives. We're not going to refer to every penalty, like a neutral zone infraction with 49 seconds left in the first quarter that pushed Cleveland out to their own 18-yard line. You can't always blame penalties when the defense gives up seven yards on a Peyton Hillis pitch on third-and-one. And admittedly, we mostly focusing on the offense, who accumulate a majority of the team's penalties.
Even so, unlike against the Buccaneers, the penalties against Cleveland weren't entirely damaging. For instance Andrew Whitworth's hold with 3:48 left in the first quarter, nullified an incomplete pass to Cedric Benson. On the next play, with 13 yards to go on second down, Carson Palmer found Terrell Owens down the left sidelines, wide open and exploding past the Browns' secondary for a 78-yard touchdown. However, with 20 seconds left in the first half, Seneca Wallace completed a 21-yard pass over the middle to tight end Benjamin Watson pushing Cleveland to the Bengals' 32-yard line. Chinedum Ndukwe put a monster hit on Watson, generating an unnecessary roughness penalty -- whether or not you think it should be called, in the end, it was. This pushed Cleveland to the Bengals 17-yard line, allowing Phil Dawson to convert an easy 31-yard field goal to take a three-point lead heading into half time.
Cleveland took the kickoff to start the second half at their own 36-yard line. On third-and-six, with 14:01 left in the third quarter, Wallace tried to hit tight end Evan Moore over the middle, but the pass fell incomplete. Dhani Jones, trailing Moore, was directly in the path of the pass, prompting officials to call defensive pass interference, giving Cleveland a new set of downs near midfield. The Browns would eventually score a touchdown. No, we shouldn't completely blame penalties on this drive -- it's not like the defense prevented the 17 yards receiving by Watson on successive plays, or Hillis' 17 yards rushing, two third down conversions or three first downs on the drive. But if that third down pass doesn't result with a pass interference on Jones, the Browns go three-and-out and punt, rather than finishing the 11-play, 64-yard drive with a touchdown to give the Browns a ten-point lead in the third quarter.
The Browns had just gone three-and-out while holding onto a 23-20 lead, punting the football back to the Bengals at Cincinnati's 14-yard line with 9:34 left in the game. Palmer completes a 14-yard pass to Chad Ochocinco and Cedric Benson followed that up with a 12-yard run behind Andrew Whitworth. Palmer was flagged for a false start, which was eventually canceled out when Palmer hit Owens on a crossing pattern near the right hashmarks for a seven-yard gain on third-and-five. Benson picked up another 10 yards on first down when eventually the Bengals were looked at a third-and-three with 5:20 left in the game. Chad Ochocinco runs a quick curl, pushing off the defender before turning around for the pass, which feel incomplete. Called for a pass interference, Ochocinco's flag pushed Cincinnati to Cleveland's 41-yard line, knocking the offense outside of a possible 48-yard field goal attempt with just over five minutes left in the game. Instead, Dennis Roland was dominated by Matt Roth, sacking Palmer on third-and-13, forcing Cincinnati to punt. They wouldn't see the football again.
It would be stupid of us to completely blame all of the Bengals' issues on penalties. There's other issues hurting this team that's been listed on this site time and time again. But penalties do factor heavily into the team's struggles, forcing them into situations they shouldn't put themselves in, which, if they didn't, would make moving the football easier, or for the love of god, preventing 11-play drives that end with touchdowns.