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Bengals Week 1: Observations and Film Review

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A handful of observations from the Bengals' 23-16 victory over the Ravens, including a comprehensive film review of various interesting moments from the game.

Oh, so it was you who made that awesome TD catch on my perfectly thrown deep ball?
Oh, so it was you who made that awesome TD catch on my perfectly thrown deep ball?
Rob Carr

First, great pregame prediction, Brennen: "Close defensive game with a lot of field goals"

Offense

As I noted before the game, the Bengals weren't alone in having a first-time starter on the O-line. The Ravens started Ricky Wagner at RT, who had the job essentially by default with Michael Oher's departure and Jah Reid getting into trouble on and off the field. Wagner fell apart in the final drive, giving up consecutive sacks to Wallace Gilberry to end the game.

Meanwhile, Bodine held his own for the most part. He had one high snap that Dalton luckily corralled (and a few more mildly errant snaps) and had one holding call, and had a few negative blocks, but he kept Dalton clean and generally continued his success in pass-blocking, which was great to see against a tough NT in Brandon Williams. Bodine didn't allow a single pressure on 43 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. I was also impressed by his second-level blocking on multiple screen passes.

On the 77-yard TD pass, Bodine actually got matched up on Haloti Ngata one-on-one and took him out of the play. I was impressed with Bodine after rewatching that block on Ngata; it helped create the touchdown. Bodine has redirected Ngata well over to Dalton's blind side (see the red highlight), and Dalton has a clear view to throw the deep ball. One has to give Bodine major kudos here:

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In general, our O-line did very well against a good front seven. I'm especially happy about Boling, who frequently held his own against Ngata with Whitworth taking on Terrell Suggs (Whit was outstanding). That's great to see, considering Boling tore an ACL last December. Andre Smith made Elvis Dumervil irrelevant, so he seems to be at full strength too. Zeitler did fine against Chris Canty. Moving forward, I'm very upbeat about the entire O-line.

The wackiest formation of the day was Hue Jackson lining up Whitworth and Andre Smith at WR, and running it up the gut with Gio Bernard on a draw, called the "Dual Triple Stack" formation:

Chip Kelly used it at Oregon, and has used it with the Eagles:

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I thought Hue's play-calling was a mixed bag. I loved the screen passes to convert third downs, but he overused Gio in terms of between-the-tackles running. Gio isn't meant to run up the gut and take so many hits like that; it just wasn't effective. This was obvious when the Bengals had to repeatedly settle for field goals, when it likely would have been more effective to use Jeremy Hill on third-and-shorts and/or in the redzone. Hill looked great on his few touches. He should have been generally used more in the second half to churn out yards while running down the clock.

Another odd thing Hue did was put Sanzenbacher on the outside (and not exclusively the slot), which made Dane essentially a non-factor:

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Another thing that I want Hue to stop using is Dalton on the read-option or otherwise sneaking the ball via design. That can happen every now and then, but it shouldn't happen as often as it did Sunday. For one thing, it's not very effective. Also, it can lead to the opponent taking cheap shots on Dalton, as we saw Terrell Suggs do here, aimed at Dalton's knees, even though Bernard has already well secured the football:

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That said, Dalton's running wasn't completely ineffective: he probably would have scored a TD on that draw play near the goal line had Bodine simply kept his block.

Alex Smith (red) lined up at WR on one play. Given that he is our best blocking TE and not much of a receiver, it was predictably a sweep with Bernard (blue) to the left side, where Smith is:

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(I haven't played it in a while, but here's useful Madden advice: on designed stretch and sweep runs to a particular side, be sure to replace the TE on that side with the opposite-side starting OT, and replace the WR on that side with a blocking TE. It always works better.)

Hewitt had one nice block for Jeremy Hill. Hewitt lines up in a dual TE set with Gresham and adjacent to Green, but pulls from the strong side to the weak side as Hill gets the carry (also note Green is going to fake an end-around, in blue):

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Whitworth doesn't really block well here, but Hill gets past Whit's guy anyway. Otherwise, Alex Smith, Boling, and Bodine all do a good job of blocking here. A hole in the weak side has been cleared for Hill, with Hewitt leading the way and getting a second-level block. All in all, it's a nice run for a first down.

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It stinks that Eifert is out, but I'm optimistic he'll return perhaps sometime in November. An injury like that is what you save IR-return for. I expect Alex Smith and Hewitt to get more looks at TE and H-back alongside Gresham. We will likely be seeing more of this type of thing from Hewitt.

Speaking of Gresham, he was his classic self with ups and downs. He had a nice third-down conversion on a screen pass. But he also had a false start, and then later shied away from contact against a Ravens CB one-on-one near the sideline. If he had been more physical, then he probably would have caught the ball for another third-down conversion. On another occasion, Gresham dropped what should have been a first down on a pass across the middle.

Hewitt got only 3 snaps (I believe) at FB; most of his snaps were at TE. Interestingly, Peerman saw a snap at FB out of the triple-option, with Gio at halfback:

Later, we saw the Bengals motion from a shotgun 3-WR formation to the triple-option. It is initially just Dalton and then Hill at HB in the backfield. Hill transitions to FB and then Sanu motions from slot WR (from the strong side, where the red star is) to triple-option HB:

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Dalton (purple) then fakes a handoff to Hill (blue) toward the strong side, runs it himself to the weak side, then pitches to Sanu (red), with Green (green) blocking his man.

That was a rare exception of the WR stopping in the backfield. Otherwise, it was either Sanu or Tate motioning into the backfield and catching a swing pass on the run. Many thanks to our film guru, muertedeatenas for the following 3 examples:

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The main recipient of screen passes was, of course, Gio Bernard, usually either by a curl route (whether as a slot WR or out of the backfield) or by a flat route. These led to multiple third-down conversions.

On the Hewitt pull-blocking play above, there's a fake end-around to A.J. Green. Earlier in the game, there was an actual end-around by Green. Here, we see Dalton faking the handoff to Bernard (blue) with Green (green) coming around to the weak side. Instead of a dual TE set and a separate WR like in Hewitt's play above, this was more of a trips formation on the strong side. Eifert pulls from the trips formation to block:

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Then Dalton pulls the ball back and hands it to Green. Eifert and Whitworth block the edge. Green hurdles the pileup of Eifert and Courtney Upshaw for a decent gain:

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What I am most pleased about is Andy Dalton. Over 300 yards, a 66 percent completion rate, 1 TD, and most importantly no turnovers. This was arguably the best performance so far of his career against an AFC North divisional opponent, and it happened against the Ravens on the road. It doesn't just reflect on the stat sheet, it reflects on the game tape too. The game-winning TD pass was a cannon of a deep ball that realistically couldn't have been thrown better.  He seems to be continuing his success from the preseason, in which he had similar awesome deep balls against the Chiefs and Jets.

These weren't anything like his 82-yard TD pass against the Lions last year, which looked great in the stat sheet but which was a feeble, relatively short throw that Green had to come back for to corral. After an initial period of jumping and yelling after the juggling 77-yard TD (euphoria after being demoralized by the Steve Smith TD), my friends and I were literally on our knees with outstretched arms bobbing up and down in front of the TV screen. "Bow down to the greatness that is Andy Dalton to Adriel Jeremiah Green" was all we could think.

Besides the deep ball for a TD, the play I was most impressed with by Dalton was when there was a total breakdown and miscommunication in blocking by Gresham, Whitworth, Boling, and Bodine early in the second quarter, leading to the Ravens coming in hard and fast on Dalton from the blind side. After a play-action to Bernard, Dalton shows great awareness. Instead of handing the ball to Sanu for a disastrous end-around attempt, or simply taking a sack, he is somehow able to get the ball off to Bernard (blue), leading to a late hit by C.J. Mosley (purple) and a first down. It was a magic act, especially considering his back was to the Ravens blitzers for most of the time:

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Dalton wasn't perfect on Sunday - he missed a few wide open targets. But overall, you can't ask for much better against a divisional opponent on the road.

Defense

Congrats to Paul Guenther on his first victory as D-coordinator. Obviously the D bent at times in the second half, but boy, was it great in the first half. And LOL at Flacco:

Vinny Rey got extended looks at nickel LB, and Taylor Mays got some time there too. With Mays almost exclusively a LB at this point, and Shawn Williams being mainly a special teamer, we are really counting on Iloka and Nelson to be iron men at safety.

Rey at nickel LB was because of Burfict being out. Clearly, our D loses a major step without him. He'll be fine - he suffered a concussion, but was conscious and aware enough to do this:

Besides the forced fumble and recovery of Bernard Pierce, Vontaze has another great play. He's a heat-seaking missile here, utterly decleating Kelechi Osemele before dropping Pierce for a 3-yard loss:

I thought the CB group was pretty shaky. Hall was burned by Jacoby Jones on a deep ball which Jones somehow dropped, Newman and Kirkpatrick oftentimes seemed to be in the wrong position, and Adam Jones obviously had a tremendous blunder against Steve Smith. The CB's were also bailed out a handful of times by drops by Ravens receivers. Also, there were a handful of would-be INT's that our defense missed. It'll be very nice to have Dennard back soon.

The run defense will need to improve. You can't have a journeyman like Justin Forsett run like that against you.

Atkins' single best play was running a stunt with Gilberry in the third quarter. Atkins simply runs over Eugene Monroe:

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With Atkins out, Thompson's biggest play was stuffing the Ravens ballcarrier on the failed two-point conversion attempt.

Just like in preseason, Hunt had an arm tackle:

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Last season, the Bengals' nickel 3-3-5 defense (often used on third down) included a rush LB, someone bigger than a typical LB but not a down lineman. Last year, it was James Harrison. This year, it looks to be Geathers:

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Lamur had a few missed tackles, and had questionable coverage on occasion (though I suppose the Ravens just made great plays at those times), but was overall very productive with 11 tackles and a diving INT. He played the coverage perfectly, baiting Flacco to throw to the TE.

Dunlap's arm tackle of Flacco. Wow.

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Gilberry was a beast on the final drive. Many have lauded him for the consecutive sacks to end the game, but just before that, he made another great under-the-radar play. He is in at RDT (before switching to LDT), being blatantly held by Kelechi Osemele. The refs missed it, just like they missed Steve Smith's facemask on Pacman, and Terrell Suggs' cheap shot at Dalton's knees. You can see the stretching of Gilberry's jersey here:

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Osemele stops holding Gilberry and lets go in order to start blocking for the screen pass. Gilberry is then able to perfectly anticipate Flacco's screen to Forsett even before Flacco has gotten the pass off:

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While trying to flee from Gilberry, Forsett runs into the wrecking ball that is Reggie Nelson for a 4-yard loss. Of course, this was a foreshadowing for the final meaningful play of the game, with Gilberry and Nelson teaming up to sack Flacco.

Overall, even with the inconsistencies in run defense and pass rush, it's tough to argue with three sacks, four tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, seven QB hits, a forced and recovered fumble, an ugly stat line from the opposing QB, and a clutch game-ending stop.

Special Teams

It was Alex Smith's missed block which led to the blocked FG. He's our best blocking TE, so I'm sure he'll be fine, but he has to be kicking himself for that. Marshall Newhouse is already occupied with a guy, and it is Smith who lets Jeromy Miles slip through:

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Great placekicking by Nugent. He went 5-6, and would have probably been 6-6 if not for the block. And he was probably so angry that his streak was broken, that he himself pushed the Ravens ballcarrier out of bounds, eventually leading to Lamur's INT!

Observing the PR rotation of Jones and Tate, it's clear that Jones gets the call whenever there is a likely opportunity for a return (i.e. the opponent is deep in their own territory), and Tate gets the call whenever it's likely going to be a fair catch inside the 20 (i.e. the opponent is close to midfield) and not much of an opportunity to return. The rotation makes sense, considering Tate is more sure-handed but Jones is a more explosive returner. Tate had nothing but fair catches inside the 20, except one time when he had a fair catch at the 35-yard line after a very poor punt by Sam Koch.

Great punt return by Jones. Look at everyone blocking: Peerman, Hunt, Vinny Rey, Flowers, Williams, McCalebb, and especially Hill (on the right), and Kirkpatrick, DiManche, and Mays (out of view). They are doing what they should do: getting their hands on the opponent's shoulder pads while driving their feet. Your pupils have learned well, Darrin Simmons.

All of the kickoff coverage players are either linebackers, defensive backs, tight ends, running backs, or wide receivers, except one: Margus Hunt. He's a giant at 6'8", 290 pounds, yet in college he had an average of a 4.53 40 time. The dude is an athlete. After the eventual game-winning TD by the Bengals, the Ravens are trying to make a comeback. Jacoby Jones takes it deep out of the end zone. Hunt meets him at the 12-yard line and flings Jones around like a rag doll before throwing him to the ground. Hunt does a 360-degree whirl, and is in mid-air at one point:

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Funniest Observation of the Game

At one point in the middle of the broadcast, Solomon Wilcots was talking about Dalton struggling at times last year. He refers to the interception by "Rick Grimes" of the Dolphins, which was returned for a TD; it was a bad throw by Dalton. I'll have to re-listen to the broadcast to find the exact moment, but I guarantee he said "Rick Grimes."

It seems that Wilcots is in eager anticipation for Season 5 of The Walking Dead, coming next month. That Miami CB is actually Brent Grimes, of course.

What makes this mind-blowing is that people often jokingly refer to Dalton, who is a ginger, as having no soul - just like the zombies on The Walking Dead who Rick Grimes has to deal with!