The Bengals 33-24 win was filled with positives and improvements after a not-so shocking effort against the Dallas Cowboys raised unwarranted concerns; based on the fact that the team hadn't practiced very much before that game. The positive during last week's loss is that it generated several specific points in which the Bengals coaching staff could focus on. Such as the pass protection. It also gave Jermaine Gresham another week to work after signing late in Training Camp. What's more encouraging is that you saw glimpses of how good this offense could be with Terrell Owens, Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley. Many of the packages included double tight end formations early, with Gresham playing the role of a two-point receiver, even hinting in the slot at times. After a while, the offense transitioned into three wide formations, especially on obvious passing plays, featuring Shipley much more. No matter what package the Bengals put on the field, they literally could have 3-4 threats to make a play anywhere on the field. That's, of course, after you're certain that Cedric Benson isn't going to pick up a 21-yard gain behind a wall of maulers in the running game.
Even players like J.T. O'Sullivan improved after a disastrous outing against the Cowboys. After throwing four straight incompletes to start, O'Sullivan would go on to complete seven of his next 11 passes for 118 yards passing. No, not great. But better than last week. The offensive line showed a dramatic improvement, allowing Carson Palmer to complete 12 of 15 passes for 105 yards passing. Geno Atkins, the team's rookie defensive tackle, would tie with Rey Maualuga, David Jones and Clinton McDonald as the team's tackle leaders with four. Atkins would also go on to record 1.5 sacks, a tackle-for-loss and two additional quarterback hits. Michael Johnson deflected a pass and knocked down the quarterback, recording three tackles on his own. Rookie Carlos Dunlap had two hits on the quarterback in his preseason debut Sunday night. Cornerback David Jones returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown.
Penalties are still a problem, with the team committing seven fouls for 104 yards loss. This includes a 40-yard pass interference against Leon Hall and a roughing the quarterback foul on Tank Johnson, both of which converted incomplete third down passes into first downs. However, four of those penalties came against the offense; two false starts (Matt Jones, Darius Hill) and two holdings (Nate Livings, Reggie Stephens).
Both Shipley (we'll examine later) and Bernard Scott had great games. Scott recorded the Bengals two longest offensive play; both 46 yards or more -- a 48-yard run in the second quarter and a 46-yard screen pass early in the third.
|Bernard Scott||Jordan Shipley|
All that being said, let's hit a few key things with the first team offense on Sunday.
JERMAINE GRESHAM MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE. It's first-and-ten at the Bengals own 36-yard line when Palmer faked a handoff to Benson, looked down the field and turned to his left. Jermaine Gresham, after releasing on delay and running into the flats, caught Palmer's pass where cornerback Andre Goodman dove through Gresham's knees. This is important to note after Gresham missed his senior season at Oklahoma with a bad knee injury. He quickly popped up without issue. On the ensuing play, Gresham held the block that freed up a lane for Cedric Benson to pick up 21 yards. Outside linebacker Robert Ayers tried to come off the edge, but Gresham grabbed the linebacker and twisted him around. Maybe it was a hold, but who cares. It's not a holding if they don't call it. Ironically enough, Ayers was called for a personal foul; maybe he didn't like the block. However, the best block came from Nate Livings, who chipped off a defensive lineman that Andrew Whitworth was dominating, with Benson cutting inside and Livings turning an inside linebacker out. But Gresham's blocking still needs work. After motioning to the right, Gresham struggled against Mario Haggan, who shed off the block and dropped Benson for a three-yard loss on the outside soon after.
On third-and-ten at the Bengals own 44-yard line with 5:39 left in the first quarter, Gresham made a great reception to keep the chains moving. After Palmer found Gresham, who sat about two yards behind the first down marker on the right hash, he tried to squeeze the pass through two defenders. The first, safety Darcel McBath nearly knocked the pass down, diving in front of Gresham. With superior concentration, Gresham momentarily bobbled the football just as linebacker Wesley Woodyard made the tackle. First down.
With :16 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the first team unit still in the game, Palmer dropped back on second-and-six at their own 26-yard line. Gresham going into motion from right to left and back to the right, ran a skinny post, catching the beautiful pass in stride for a 19-yard reception.
In his routes, Gresham appears much more like a wide receiver than a tight end. Several times the Bengals put Gresham in motion with Reggie Kelly being the natural tight end, sitting in a three-point stance, often with both on the same side of the field. That being said, he still needs work on his blocking; especially against stronger and quicker linebackers. But we imagine that will take some time for a rookie tight end. More importantly is that Gresham's threat opened routes for receivers like Owens, who found open lanes over the middle, or Jordan Shipley, would would cut underneath Gresham while the tight end cleared out the zone.
JORDAN SHIPLEY SAYS, "I'LL BE THE NEW T.J.". Palmer takes the third-and-six shotgun snap at the Broncos 38-yard line with 11:52 left in the second quarter. With at least four, if not five, seconds of great protection, Palmer unleashes a beautiful pass to Jordan Shipley, who ran down the right hashmarks, breaking out 15 yards catching the pass in stride. The 17-yard pass converted a first down. After Nate Livings was called for a holding setting up second-and-17, Shipley literally saved Livings ass.
On second down, Shipley lined up in the left slot with Gresham back in motion. The Tight End ran upfield, clearing out the area, while Shipley cut underneath. With the linebackers focusing on Gresham, running upfield, Shipley was able to cut underneath. After making the reception, the receiver forced a linebacker to miss the tackle, picking up nine yards. On third-and-eight, the Bengals lined up Trips to the left, with Shipley in the middle, up on the line of scrimmage. Gresham, inside in the trips formation, runs out and Terrell Owens ran upfield. Shipley ran to the first down marker on a choice route, faking out and running in. With a ton of separation, Shipley caught the pass in stride and picked up another eight yards after the catch for a first down. The Bengals would score a touchdown later in the drive.
Shipley would go on to record a team-high five receptions for 50 yards.
LEON HALL HAD A ROUGH DAY. On the first play of the game, Leon Hall lined up outside of Jabar Gaffney's shoulder. The veteran receiver ran a seem before breaking off inside, a few steps behind Chinedum Ndukwe, who we suspect was there to support Hall. About two yards to his left, Hall was unable to cover any ground on Gaffney, who caught the football for 31 yards. However, four plays later, while Kyle Orton was under pressure from Antwan Odom, Hall limited Gaffney's separation by using the sidelines, preventing the receiver from making any real threat on the pass that flew threw the back of the endzone.
On third-and-ten at the Broncos 32-yard line, Orton threw a prayer down the left sidelines for Jabar Gaffney. Leon Hall covering, forced an incomplete, but was called for pass interference. Hall, making brief contact a millisecond before the pass reached Gaffney, never turned to the football. Many might rightly complain that the pass interference was a bad call. A play later, Orton threw a ten-yard pass to Lloyd on a hook route with Hall giving soft coverage. When the pass was thrown, Hall exploded towards the receiver but arrived too late to break up the pass.
With 1:04 left in the first quarter, Orton threw a quick pass, like an extended running play, at Lloyd standing close to the left sidelines. Hall came up and dove for Lloyd, who simply moved out of the cornerback's way, easily scoring the touchdown.
ADAM JONES KEEPS IMPRESSING. With 6:55 left in the first quarter, Jones lined up outside with Brandon Lloyd on the left. Jones, pressing in coverage, ran step-for-step with Lloyd, who ran ten yards, turned and tried to catch the shoulder pass. Jones turned just in time to breakup the pass, forcing the Broncos to punt. Jones stayed on the field to return the punt. After catching the punt, Jones juked left, then right, then faked left, and ran right. At about this time, he had already forced three missed tackles. Running along the sidelines, forcing more missed tackles, Jones was forced out after a great 28-yard return.
SOLID PROTECTION GIVES PALMER TONS OF TIME. On the first pass attempt of the game, Palmer took a three-step drop and quickly released to Terrell Owens about five yards down field on third-and-four, converting the first down. While protection becomes less of an issue during quick three-step drops, Palmer did go down on the play. However, we wonder, why was there no flag called. Defensive tackle Justin Bannan clubbed Bobbie Williams aside, quickly dispatching the right guard. However, this caused Bannan to lose his balance, then crawl three yards into Palmer's legs, using his shoulder just below Palmer's knee. On third-and-11 with 7:49 left in the first quarter, Palmer took the shotgun snap and was forced up into the pocket after Robert Ayers pressured him from the outside and Andrew Whitworth barely holding on; though the block wasn't a bad one, with the tackle creating a natural pocket by forcing the pass rush around Palmer, who avoided the hit by stepping up in the pocket.
However, the team's first-unit pass protection, comparatively speaking from last week and even last year, was great. Palmer mixed in three-step drops with deeper steps and he was relatively protected, even as some point having five seconds to throw the football.
TERRELL OWENS. While he caught four passes for only 23 yards, Owens' fly in the ointment showed up. On third-and-11 at the Broncos 26-yard line, Owens lined up wide left, running a 15-yard comeback route. Owens let the pass slip through his hands forcing Dave Rayner to miss a wobbly attempt that went wide, wide, wide left. Owens would have several passes broken up by Champ Bailey, who really proved that he's still one of the best in the game. During a deep pass in which Palmer had five seconds to throw, Bailey leapt in front of Owens, knocking down a pass that would have gone for a big gain. On the following play, Owens ran a quick slant. Bailey dove and broke up the pass.
THIRD AND ONE NOT CONVERTED. The Bengals were decent last year on third-and-short. However, with 4:12 left in the first quarter, Benson was dropped for a one-yard loss which forced the team to take a timeout and go for it on fourth down. Within two seconds of the snap, Dennis Roland at right tackle, followed his man inside and quickly dropped to his knees. The guy he was blocking shed off Roland's block and supported McBath, who came off the edge unblocked and made the initial hit. The Bengals tried to go for it on fourth down, but the pass to Owens feel a yard short, thanks to a great tackle by Bailey. However, you could argue that instead of going forward, Owens took a step back to avoid Bailey, knocking himself out of a possible first down.
YOU CAN'T RUN THE SCREEN AGAINST TANK JOHNSON. With 3:15 left in the first quarter, the Broncos attempted a running back screen to the right. Recognizing the play, Johnson broke off his pass rush, sitting in Ball's hip. Seeing no shot at the play working out, Orton threw the pass into the ground for an incomplete.