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Film Review: Cincinnati's Third Down Defense Used Pressure And Gap Control Against 49ers

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CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25:  The Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers square off at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 13-8.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: The Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers square off at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. San Francisco defeated Cincinnati 13-8. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Headlining into last week's game, leaking like a rusty pipe into Cincinnati's week two outing against the Denver Broncos, we're looking at the Bengals offense and their terrible third down conversions. It's become, somewhat, the sexy story recently, only because losses tend to drive the stories that largely result in how the game turns out.

That being said, it would be a shame if we didn't point out the defensive effort against the San Francisco 49ers, where the defense allowed three of eight third down conversions in the first half (and two of seven in the second half, which we'll choreograph later Tuesday afternoon). Through three games this year, the Bengals rank as the league's third overall defense and sixth scoring defense. Complain about the offense we might, but we should focus on how well the defense is playing.

+ When Thomas Howard concerned Frank Gore that much... With 7:39 left in the first quarter and ten yards needed for a first down, the Cincinnati Bengals defense showed three down linemen and brought six to face five blockers from the San Francisco 49ers 25-yard line. The 49ers called a screen, but because of Cincinnati's speed, blockers were unable to leave for their spots quick enough. Additionally running back Frank Gore, the intended target, remained as a blocker against Thomas Howard. When Alex Smith released the football, Gore was still engaged. 49ers punt.

+ Sometimes pressure is just as good as a quarterback sack... With Cincinnati leading 3-0 and only 1:11 remaining in the first quarter, the 49ers offense had yet to cross midfield. From their own 43-yard line, San Francisco needed ten yards to record a first down, all the while facing a standard four-man rush. And that's all the Bengals would need. After Alex Smith grabbed the shotgun snap, defensive tackle Geno Atkins showed right guard Chilo Rachal a bull rush, causing the offensive lineman to prepare for the power of the Dark Side of a head-on collision, setting his base. Instead Atkins sidestepped to his left, leaving Rachal off-balanced with a clear shot on Smith. The quarterback stepped up into the pocket avoiding the sack, narrowly colliding with Jonathan Fanene. Smith sidestepped to his right while throwing an inaccurate pass while on the run, approaching the line of scrimmage. Incomplete. 49ers punt.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Chilo would be pulled from the game for Adam Snyder, after the guard allowed two sacks and committed three penalties in the first half.

+ Pressure on the mind leads to inaccuracy... Now we're in the second quarter, with the Bengals holding onto a three-point lead. The 49ers called a timeout with 14:12 remaining in the first quarter, then picked up five yards on a second down pass to Vernon Davis (nice play by Maualuga to prevent a bigger gain after Davis' reception). With 13:25 remaining, the 49ers line up at their own 17-yard line with five yards needed to convert the third down.

Alex Smith in shotgun, flanked on both sides, with two receivers wide left and another to the right. The Bengals defense shows four down linemen with Rey Maualuga and Thomas Howard showing blitz -- both linebackers back off into coverage. Three steps after receiving the shotgun snap -- and Michael Johnson invading the quarterback's peripheral vision -- Smith overthrows Josh Morgan at the first down marker near the left sidelines. Failing to convert their third consecutive third down pass, the 49ers punt.

+ Jonathan Fanene responds after San Francisco records the first third down conversion of the game... The 49ers finally converted their first third down of the game with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter. From their own 17-yard line, the Bengals defense brings six, all of whom are picked up. Now the pocket is nice and stable and Alex Smith can step into his throw, targeting Michael Crabtree's out pattern a yard beyond the line of scrimmage. Nate Clements, a step late on breaking with Crabtree, makes the tackle but not after the wide receiver gained eight yards and the first down.

Even though they picked up a new set of downs, the San Francisco 49ers struggled to move the football. Domata Peko stuffed a Frank Gore run on the following play and an unblocked Carlos Dunlap pressured Smith into a wildly inaccurately throw on second down, leading to a false start by offensive tackle Anthony Davis, putting the 49ers into third-and-14, not four yards passed where they picked up their original third down just a minute ago.

Now 7:41 remained in the first half with 14 yards needed for a first down. The 49ers flanked both sides of the quarterback in shotgun, with two wide left and another right. The Bengals played more preventive coverage, with only five guys in the box and Rey Maualuga nearly 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Geno Atkins bull-rushed guard Chilo into the quarterback, just as Jonathan Fanene used Michael Johnson and two 49ers linemen as a pick to find an open shot on Smith, forcing an eight-yard loss on the quarterback sack. 49ers punt.

+ Bengals don't fall for tricksy draw on third and two... The 49ers would eventually run 28 offensive plays in the first half. None of which passed midfield. However with 4:31 remaining in the first half, the 49ers did put a small charge into the momentum jewel that converted two third downs on the drive. Third-and-three from their own 24-yard line, the 49ers call trips to the left with Vernon Davis at tight end on the right. Cincinnati brings five with Chris Crocker tracking Davis crossing the middle of the field. Smith completes the three-yard pass to the tight end near the left sidelines for the first down. Chilo committed a false start, pushing the 49ers two yards behind their line of scrimmage at their own 22-yard line.

With eight yards needed and only 2:42 remaining in the first half, Smith takes the shotgun snap with both running backs flaring out of the backfield; neither of whom were close to being accounted for by the defense. Smith completes his three-step drop from shotgun and fires to Kendall Hunter, who practically faded backwards with his body facing Smith, hauling in the pass at the 49ers 31-yard line. After hauling in the pass, Hunter turned and ran. Manny Lawson and Chris Crocker made contact with Hunter one-yard short of the first down, but the back's momentum sent him surging for the first down.

Oh, no. The 49ers are driving and the two minute warning is upon us. Fortunately the Bengals weren't fooled this time on third down. With two yards needed to convert and 1:50 remaining in the first half, Smith hands off to Frank Gore on a draw from shotgun. Pat Sims completely neutralized the point of attack, fighting off a block by the left guard and driving Gore into the ground one-yard short of the line of scrimmage.

As a sidenote, the whistle blew with 1:46 remaining in the first half. This is the best argument for Marvin Lewis' mistake in the first quarter. A timeout here would have given the Bengals an additional 40 seconds with two timeouts to put together a late drive before half time. He elected not to do either and the eventually the first half comes to a close.