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Cedric Benson Takes Charge of Offense: Scores Both Touchdowns In Route to The Bengals' 20-7 Win

It's really hard to pass judgment on Carson Palmer Sunday, who threw with a slippery football on a slippery football field for the supporting cast around him. Even though you can't excuse two first quarter interceptions, along with about five passes that could have been picked off, Palmer watched receivers lose their footing while throwing a slick football and an offensive line that struggled to hold their footing in pass protection. My god. Does that sound like another excuse? Against New England, we found some positive that Palmer and the passing offense recorded 345 yards passing. Yet, when Palmer threw for most of those passing yards, New England was already in a prevent-like defense. Baltimore is perhaps one of, if not the toughest defense we'll see this year with Pittsburgh still on tap. And during Cincinnati's 20-7 win over the Carolina Panthers, Palmer and the passing offense was dealing with terribly slick conditions.

Really. Are we excusing this? Are we passing the blame off to the conditions or the opponent?

In truth, here's how the world works. Winning football games isn't always about the quarterback for Cincinnati. We're not like the Colts, the Saints or even the Chargers; teams that live and die by the pass. Cincinnati is completely capable scaling back their offense to a conservative-run mode with guys like Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard. In the first half, Cincinnati passed the football on 53% of their 45 plays. In the second half, Cincinnati went into their 2009 sure-win mode, flipping the run-pass ratio. Of their 30 second half offensive plays, Cincinnati ran the football 53% of the time. And while Benson's yard/rush average was a miserable three-yard average, he increases his 2.6 yard/rush average in the first half, averaging 3.5 yards/rush in the game's final 30 minutes, when the Panthers were in the throes of the football grim reaper. Ced "The Grim Reaper" Pred. You get my point.

While Benson did his part, the Bengals rookies continue to impress. Carson Palmer targeted Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley nine times (combined) and both rookies hauled in seven passes for 96 yards receiving.

  Target Rec. Yards Avg
Shipley / Gresham 9 7 96 13.7
Ochocinco / Owens 21 8 76 9.5

This, of course, is slightly misleading. While the rookies were more efficient in their receptions, hauling in 78% of the passes intended for them (compared to 38% of the passes intended for Ochocinco and Owens), Chad and Terrell spent most of the game double-covered. This isn't an excuse, the passing offense clearly struggled. But as BeerRun points out, gives us more Shipley and Gresham. If that's what the defense wants to give us, why not take it?

And when Cincinnati's offense stumbled, which it did frequently on Sunday, it was the defense that stepped up. Actually, I think "stepped up" is the wrong phrase anymore. We should be saying, the defense played up to par again on Sunday. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 77 yards rushing on 18 carries. Steve Smith caught his first pass with nine minutes remaining in the game. No passing touchdowns from a rookie quarterback who fell below 50% efficiency and only 188 yards passing. Check that. We beat a freaking rookie quarterback, giving us a .500 record against rookie quarterbacks during the Marvin Lewis era. After allowing 10 points against the Ravens, the Bengals defense limited Carolina to less than 300 yards of total offense for the second straight week. Yes, New England was an aberration.

The Bengals' win improves their record to 2-1. With Baltimore and Pittsburgh winning, that leaves Cincinnati in second place (by way of a tie-breaker against Baltimore) with Cleveland and Tampa Bay on tap before the Bengals hit the bye week.

CEDRIC SAYS WE NEED IDENTITY; THEREFORE LET'S PASS. During a week in which running back Cedric Benson complained about lacking an identity, Bob Bratkowski -- the much loved area offensive coordinator -- promptly called three passing plays to start Cincinnati's first offensive possession. On first down, Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer weren't on the same page, with Palmer trying to link up with Chad on a quick slant. On second down, Palmer, under pressure, attempts a throw to Terrell Owens, who was blanketed by linebacker Jon Beason on the right hashmarks. On third down, Palmer expected Ochocinco to cut inside on a route that went 15 yards; the receiver slipped and Palmer completed a pass to the Panthers' Munnerlyn for the game's first turnover.

And when the Bengals did run the football, on the first play of the second possession, the left side of the offensive line took the play off, forcing Benson to stretch the play out and lose four yards. Palmer would eventually complete a pass to Terrell Owens on a crossing pattern for the team's first down.

Through the first two drives, the Bengals called five passes and three runs. Benson had two of those runs, losing two yards. I wrote, "oh boy, here we go again" in my notebook. Not the lyrics to the Whitesnake song. Yikes.

MIKE NUGENT GETS MAD AT FOOTBALL, KICKS THE HELL OUT OF FOOTBALL. Bengals place kicker Mike Nugent is having a tremendous start to the season, going eight for eight in field goal attempts this year. Against New England, Nugent converted a 54-yard field goal and against Baltimore, he was the team's lone offense, converting five field goals. Against Carolina, during sloppy conditions, Nugent easily converted a 50-yarder to give Cincinnati a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Would saying, "Nugent is the team's biggest offensive weapon" be that much of an overstatement?

What was really entertaining was Nugent Nugent's appetite for kicking the living hell out of the football once he converted his 50-yard field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Nugent crushed the football out of the back of the endzone. After Palmer completed a seven-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Benson to give Cincinnati a 20-7 lead, Nugent permanently reshaped the football on the following kickoff. Before the 50-yard field goal, Nugent's kickoffs went to Carolina's six, two and two yard lines. After that, Raleigh.

BAD ROY WILLIAMS | GOOD ROY WILLIAMS. During Carolina's initial possession, the Panthers offensive line split the Bengals defensive front, creating a massive seem for running back DeAngelo Williams. Dhani Jones took on (aka destroyed) the fullback, naturally knocking him out of the play. Keith Rivers stood stationary like the Rocky statue a gap further down the line, containing any cutback lanes. Roy Williams filled the hole, but whiffed like a bad deodorant commercial on the tackle. DeAngelo Williams picked up 26 yards on the run.

On the following play, Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Kalil fumbled the snap exchange; not terribly surprising during a rainy day between a rookie and center. Roy Williams recovered the fumble, repaying the loan he took after DeAngelo's 26-yard run earlier on the drive.

LEAPING REY MAUALUGA. With 10:16 left in the first quarter, the Panthers tried to run DeAngelo Williams up the middle from the Panthers six-yard line. Maualuga, tired of having to deal with blockers because blockers only get in the way, decides to hurdle the offensive line and tackle Williams for a no-gain. Michael Johnson would help finish the Panthers' drive by stopping Williams for another no-gain on the following play, forcing the Panthers to punt.

After two series, DeAngelo Williams recorded 29 yards rushing on five carries -- three of those carries went for a yard or less -- a face full of perfectly braided Samoan hair coming from the heavens.

BENGALS GET ON THE BOARD FIRST. With 8:54 left in the first quarter, Owens ran a crossing pattern underneath with Chad about 10 yards further upfield down the left sidelines. The pass went between both receivers, nearly picked off by safety Sherrod Martin. By this point in the game, Palmer had already thrown one interception and was nearly picked off an additional three times. Why was Cincinnati trying to throw the football, with an eight to five passing to run ratio and a slippery ball? On the next play, Palmer fakes a throw right, then dumps the pass off to Jermaine Gresham on a tight end screen. With blockers in front, Gresham was able to shed a tackler and pick up 28 yards on the pass. Touche, Bengals passing game. Touche.

Benson would go on to pick up nine yards on his next five carries, with a seven-yard third down reception by Terrell Owens that picked up a first down in between. On third-and-six with 5:10 left in the first quarter, Palmer tried to get the football to Andre Caldwell running a skinny route over the middle. Jordan Pugh grasped Caldwell's jersey, preventing him from recording a touchdown reception on a play identical to his game-winning receptions against the Steelers and Ravens last season.

Spoiler Alert: This would be the final moments in which Cincinnati wasn't winning the game.

Cincinnati lined up at the Panthers' one-yard line, Palmer dished the football to Benson, stretching out left, slipping through two attempted tackles and scoring the touchdown near the front left pylon. Bengals take a 7-0 lead with 4:21 left in the first quarter.

DEFENSE FORCED TO MAKE A PLAY AFTER PALMER INTERCEPTION, PART II. With 25 seconds left in the first quarter, Palmer takes a snap from the Bengals 32-yard line. With pressure coming up the middle, Palmer unleashes a really, really, really ill-advised pass over the middle, severely underthrowing Terrell Owens. Charles Godfrey intercepts the football and returns it to the Bengals 21-yard line. This was Palmer's second interception of the quarter with his should-have-been-picked count nearly reaching five.

On the following play, Panthers' receiver Steve Smith runs a post from the left with Leon Hall trailing. As the pass is thrown, Hall dives in front of Smith, picking off the pass, giving Cincinnati the ball back. Essentially swapping interceptions gave Carolina a 27-yard swing, though giving Cincinnati possession again.

On third down of the Bengals ensuing possession, Bratkowski called the only passing play that's working, a tight end screen to the left. Palmer completes the screen and Gresham picks up 10 yards for the first down.

THE LONGEST DRIVE NOWHERE. Cincinnati's drive made possible by Leon Hall's interception began with six seconds remaining in the first quarter at Cincinnati's five-yard line. After converting two third downs, the Bengals were left with a third-and-two that ended with another incomplete pass. Cursing took place and a puppy cried. The Bengals punt formation lines up with Kyle Cook at center. Sometimes these things don't register. Not with me. Not with the announcers. Not with the opposing players. Clark Harris is the long snapper, dummy. Cook snaps the football to the up-back Brian Leonard, who swings out wide right. Gap. Leonard bursts through the line and picks up four yards. At this point I'm asking, "did I just see a fake punt?" The question was worth repeating with an amendment. "Did I just see a fake punt... work?"

It's not that Cincinnati isn't capable of converting fake punts -- they did it last year against the Broncos. But I have to admit, Cincinnati's offense lulled me into a sense of boredom similar to the middle of a NASCAR race. Sure things are happening, and some are good, but not much action is going on here.

The fake punt would eventually go for naught. Even though Cincinnati consumed seven minutes and 21 seconds, the 16-play drive ended with a punt.

OPPOSING QUARTERBACKS NOT HAVING FUN. For the second straight week, opposing quarterbacks recorded less than 25 yards passing in the first half. Clausen had 14 yards passing in the first quarter and none in the second. And they did that with a limited pass rush.

BRIAN LEONARD CONVERTS SECOND FOURTH DOWN. With 4:02 left in the first half, the Bengals elected to go for it on fourth down on Carolina's 33-yard line on a wet field. At this point, we're wondering why would Cincinnati risk Nugent's tender groin and give Carolina optimal field position if the field goal is missed. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Nugent's leg isn't tender at all. In fact, I'm now partially convinced that Nugent could roundhouse kick the country of Iran and end nuclear development any time he wanted.

But they went for it on fourth down anyway. Palmer, in shotgun, tosses to Brian Leonard on the left with two pulling offensive linemen. Leonard easily picks up the first down for his second fourth down conversion of the game on a six-yard gain.

Label this as brilliant Bob Bratkowski play-calling. In other news: Twenty readers at Cincy Jungle were just sent restraining orders, protecting the author of this posting.

The Bengals would go on to pick up another first down on an 11-yard Cedric Benson run before Jermaine Gresham's holding call stalled the Bengals drive. Mike Nugent caps the nine-play drive (that only went 27 yards) with a 33-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead with just over a minute left in the first half. Iran takes notice.

OFFENSIVE LINE IMPLODES WHILE THE BENGALS THREATEN TO END HALF. This has to be the most embarrassing end to a first half in the history of embarrassing ends. With :59 seconds left in the first half and Carolina working their two minute magic to get points before the half, Frostee Rucker lines up on the left side of the defensive line. Along with five other defensive players, the Bengals pressure Clausen with Rucker sweeping around Carolina's Geoff Schwartz, burying Clausen for an eight-yard loss and his first quarterback sack of the season.

On the very next play, Clausen hands off to running back Mike Goodson. By hand off, we actually mean rocket propelled football that launches 10 yards away. Morgan Trent recovered the fumble and the Bengals line up at Carolina's 27-yard line. Alright, so we're going to get some points, right? I can't fricking wait to cheer a possible 17-point lead with an offense that's look horrific throughout much of the first half. I'm pumped because we're avoiding disaster here.

After Palmer finds Jordan Shipley for a 22-yard pass, the Bengals line up, apparently agreeing to snap the football on one. Cook, however, didn't like that idea. Not one damned bit. Snapping on one is too much of a Twitter trend, so he'll snap the football on two. Everyone, except for Cook, was called for a false start, penalizing Cincinnati five yards and a timeout to prevent the automatic 10-second run off because of an offensive penalty before the half. Not only is this the third time Cook has forgotten the snap count in the past two games, this comes back to burn them.

With 15 seconds left, Palmer completes a five-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham while Dennis Roland slowly picks himself off the ground; which is kind of a theme with Roland. With the clock ticking, Roland suddenly realized the urgency of the situation -- like the second you realized that you accidentally slept in during a work day -- and sprinted as only 6'9" beasts sprint. Five... (still sprinting), four... (still sprinting), three... (still sprinting), two... (slowing down beasty sprint), one... (finally lines up) and the half is over.

Great work Cook, for forcing us to use our final time out. Great work Roland, for not getting on the line of scrimmage before the half ends. Cook and Roland: As inspirational as gout on both of my feet.

AND THE PANTHERS GET ON THE BOARD. Let a team like Carolina stick in the game, and they're bound to burn you. Cincinnati sporting massive weapons with absolutely no gun powder, watched as the Panthers offense came to life. After a no-gain, Jimmy Clausen would go on to complete three of four passes on Carolina's second possession of the second half, picking up 42 yards.

Jonathan Stewart would take the handoff at the Bengals one-yard line and put Carolina on the board, closing the deficit to three points on a drive that went 75 yards on eight plays in 3:23.

Spoiler remainder: Cincinnati never loses the lead since scoring in the first quarter.

Along with a Pat Sims roughing the quarterback, Cincinnati's defense elected to take this drive off while the struggling Bengals offense showed absolutely no hope, no reason to be excited with some holding onto quiet thoughts of entertaining a new quarterback in 2011. No, you're not. Are you?

BENGALS RUSHING SO GOOD. SO LET'S THROW THE FOOTBALL. Cedric Benson wasn't picking up chunks of yards, but he was running effectively, rarely dropped for a loss and simply wearing down the Panthers defense. With roughly eight minutes left in the third quarter, the Bengals decided to run the football, calling Benson's number on five of the drives' six plays, picking up 30 yards and two first downs.

Keep running the football right? Of course not. Let's do the super-risky play: Palmer passing wildly and receivers slipping, on two. With 4:07 left in the third quarter and Cincinnati lined up at Carolina's 42-yard line, Palmer aired a second-down pass about two feet over Chad Ochocinco's head. On third down, the Panthers brought three defensive linemen. Dennis Roland took on the defensive end. Because it looked so awesome, Roland spun around in mid-block, even using the wildly successful "butt blocking" the defensive end. As a result of said awesome block, Palmer is forced up into the pocket and throws a "holy crap I'm going to get hit again" lame duck skip pass to Andre Caldwell. Bengals punt.

THERE YOU ARE. With 10:01 left in the game, Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith caught his first pass of the game.

THEN THE BENGALS SEAL THE GAME. With just under nine minutes left in the game, Clausen hands off to Jonathan Stewart. Linebacker Dhani Jones punches the football out with the top of his helmet. Robert Geathers lowers his big left mitt and picks up the fumble at the Panthers' 37-yard line.

After two passes that went for 30 yards to Jermaine Gresham and Terrell Owens, the Bengals lined at Carolina's seven yard-line. Palmer fakes the hand and hits Cedric Benson in the right flats, while three Panther players defended Terrell Owens, freeing up Benson for the receiving touchdown.

Just as the Bengals were getting ready to go for two, Kyle Cook was called for a false start and the Bengals went for the extra point instead. Cook = Gout.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: We didn't really address the team's defense much because we really didn't need to. They are the anchors of this team. While Cincinnati's offense does anything from being really bad to being disastrously smelly -- like raw fish sitting in room temperature for a week smelly -- the defense did exactly what the Bengals needed. At some point, guys like Carson Palmer, Dennis Roland, Chad Ochocinco, Dennis Roland, Andrew Whitworth, Kyle Cook, Bobbie Williams, Dennis Roland and Dennis Roland should give the defense a portion of their checks. No way is this team 2-1 if they're not for this defense.

KEVIN HUBER LIKE GOLF, DECIDES TO PLAY GOLF: We could give a Special Teams Player of the Game to Mike Nugent. But we don't have to. Kevin Huber, the Bengals' 2009 fifth round draft pick, was tremendous. Of his six punts that averaged 38.2 yards/punt, three feel inside the five-yard line with no punts, I repeat no punts, being returned by Carolina. With 11 minutes left in the first quarter, Huber punts the football to Carolina's four-yard line. The Panthers go three-and-out. With 7:45 left in the second quarter, Huber punts to Carolina's two-yard line. Panthers go three-and-out. With 3:56 left in the third quarter, Huber punts the football to Carolina's 11-yard line. Panthers go three-and-out. With 11:41 left in the game, Huber punts to the Panthers' 16-yard line. Panthers pick up several yards before Stewart loses the football and Robert Geathers returns the fumble to the Bengals 37-yard line. Three plays later and the Bengals take a 20-7 lead. Huber punts to the Panthers' two-yard line. Carolina moves the football on a drive that ends with an incomplete pass on fourth down.

Bengals win.

ITS NOT THAT THE OFFENSE IS TERRIBLE. All things considered, the Bengals offense wasn't that bad. Honestly. They picked up 21 first downs, 120 yards rushing and consumed nearly 40 minutes of the game. They are struggling in the redzone and on third downs. But the truth is, Cincinnati's offense isn't losing football games. They're sure as hell not winning them. But three weeks in, the Bengals are 2-1 and that's reason enough to cheer and party all night. Well, until 11 PM at least -- because I have to work tomorrow.