By the time Cincinnati received the football with 7:50 left in the first quarter, the Bengals had turned the football over twice, which led to three Lions possessions and a 14-point deficit. And even though Cincinnati was facing a disastrous start, the first team defense eventually came around forcing a three-and-out that led to a Nick Harris touchback. Yet it didn't immediately resolve the need to panic, even with the team playing their first preseason game of the year.
The rule of thumb is that when facing adversity, always revert to your comfort zone. And it was clear in Cincinnati's case, that comfort zone was led by Cedric Benson and the Bengals rushing offense.
With 7:50 remaining in the first quarter, the Bengals setup in single-back formation at their own 20-yard line with Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman on the right. Dalton takes the snap and hands off to Benson, aiming for the right side with the offensive line zone blocking to their right and Chase Coffman pulling from right to left, picking up the backside defensive end that would have cut off Benson's run. Jermaine Gresham held his own on Lions defensive end Cliff Avril while Bobbie Williams and Kyle Cook doubled Ndamukong Suh into the ground -- actually Cook was chopping his legs until Suh was on the turf. Andre Smith cut off outside linebacker Justin Durant, who eventually cut back across Smith to make the tackle six yards downfield. Mark that down as a successful run.
On the next play at the Bengals 26-yard line, Cincinnati lines up in I-formation, strong-side to the left (where Jermaine Gresham lined up). Dalton takes a one-drop step and fakes a throw while Chris Pressley drives in the A-gap with Cedric Benson following; though with a delay to let the blocking develop. Andre Smith contained the defensive end, keeping his back to to the running back. Andrew Whitworth designed his block as a pass block on a draw, while Nate Livings blocked enough of Corey Williams to prevent the defensive tackle from disrupting the play. Bobbie Williams took on Suh, with an assist by Kyle Cook before chipping off onto a linebacker. Jermaine Gresham, and eventually Pressley, attacked the remaining linebackers. Durant, who was shed off Cook's block by using Williams and Suh as a natural pick, circled around and tackled Benson after picking up five yards. Mark that down as a successful run.
Two runs, 11 yards rushing and a first down. Not bad.
Now let's set the scene for Cincinnati's biggest run of the night, one of the few plays on the night that generated a loud shout of awesome. And it had nothing to do with Cedric Benson.
With 6:44 remaining in the first quarter at their own 31-yard line, the Bengals showed double-tight formation with Chase Coffman on the left and Jermaine Gresham on the right (both in a two-point stance).
At the snap the Bengals offensive line zone blocks to the right with Cedric Benson asked to find the open lane. Jermaine Gresham took on Lions defensive end Cliff Avril at the point of attack. Bobbie Williams, Kyle Cook, Andrew Whitworth and Chase Coffman prevented the defensive line from shifting down the line of scrimmage which allowed some protection to Benson's left.
But the block that sprung Benson came from Andre Smith. After a brief assist for Gresham by chipping Avril, Smith tracked down the next body in his way, which happened to be linebacker Justin Durant hovering around the numbers on the field. Smith engaged. Smith drove. Smith buried Durant onto his backside. Not only did Smith impressively take out the linebacker, the block actually prevented cornerback Chris Houston from making a play on Benson. Beautiful.
We'd be remiss if we didn't point out A.J. Green's block on Amari Spievey, holding the Lions safety in check preventing him from the tackle; though he did the whole fall on the tackle thing after Louis Dalmas, unblocked because the Bengals are only allowed nine blockers on the field (quarterback and running back obviously are not blocking on the play), finally made the stop after a 16-yard gain.
After a Benson four-yard run that pushed the Bengals past midfield, the Bengals approached the line of scrimmage at Detroit's 49-yard line with 5:36 left in the first quarter. Again the Bengals line up in double-tight formation with Chase Coffman on the left and Gresham on the right. At the snap Gresham did his best holding his own against Lions' Avril while Bobbie Williams and Kyle Cook double-team Ndamukong Suh into irrelevancy. Livings held on for dear life against Corey Williams while Andrew Whitworth roamed against the linebackers and Chase Coffman looking for any backside pursuers.
Andre Smith fired out into the linebacker level, locking onto outside linebacker Durant and easily pushing him out, which opened a brief lane for Benson; if not for Corey Williams shifting down the line of scrimmage, barely stalled by Livings' effort. Benson picked up four yards on the play setting up a third-and-two that the Bengals would be unable to convert.
Things were going very badly for the Bengals before this possession, prompting offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to slow things down, calling Benson's number five times in a row for 35 yards rushing. And as much as we could praise Benson, it was the brilliant blocking of Andre Smith that opened the door for most of those yards. It was the consistency of Jermaine Gresham holding his own against a good defensive end in Avril. It was Coffman shutting the door for backside players. It was Kyle Cook and Bobbie Williams working together to neutralize one of the league's premiere defensive tackles. It was just another example how football is such a team sport because if any of those guys fail, the play fails.