“New Beginning” – Pre-Season Week 1
By Editorial Staff
In the opening preseason game of Marvin Lewis’ “New Beginning,” the Cincinnati Bengals demonstrated they still have a long way to go toward becoming competitive in the NFL, though the final score spoke little of how the Bengals’ first teams performed overall. The Detroit Lions took the opening kickoff and scored on their first possession. Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford gave the Bengals front 7 little time to apply any pressure at all, completing 3 short passes before Calvin Johnson turned Leon Hall around to haul in a long pass in the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bengals’ rookie running back, John Griffin, fumbled the ball and the Lions recovered it on the Bengals 16 yard line. After Rey Mauluga stuffed a Javed Best run for a one yard loss and Stafford threw incomplete to Best, Stafford went to Best again for a 10 yard gain, setting up 4th and 1 from the Bengals 7. Rather than kicking the sure field goal, the Lions went for it, and Stafford found Nate Burleson, who just barely got his feet in bounds for Detroit’s second touchdown. It was the last action Stafford would see for the night.
Before Andy Dalton would ever take his first NFL snap, he found his team down 14-0.
Bengals fans got a taste of new Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden’s aggressive play calling when on Dalton’s first play from scrimmage, he attempted to hit rookie wide receiver A.J. Green on a deep ball down the right sideline. Unfortunately, Dalton was hit by Ndamukong Suh just as he released the ball, causing him to underthrow the pass by 7-10 yards, giving Lions’ cornerback Chris Houston made an easy interception.
Detroit’s second string offense made no progress against the Bengals’ starting defense, netting only 2 yards on three running plays. When the Bengals got the ball back, Gruden took the pressure off Dalton by calling a series of running plays to Cedric Benson. Led by the outstanding blocking of Andre Smith over the right side, Benson gained 45 yards on 5 carries, leading the Bengals into Lions territory. On a key third and two play, however, Dalton overthrew Chris Pressley on a short pass in the left flat. The Bengals were forced to punt.
This time, it was the Bengals’ second string defense that forced a 3-and-out, giving Dalton another chance. On the first play of this drive, in what would become a frequent occurance, Bengals left guard Nate Livings was sorely beaten by Lions’ tackle Corey Williams who sacked Dalton back at the Bengals 44 yard line. On the very next play, Dalton completed his first NFL pass to Jerome Simpson for 7 yards. But Livings, on 3rd and 9, was again beaten, this time by Ndamukong Suh. While Dalton did get the pass away, Suh grabbed him and ripped the helmet from his head, drawing a 15 yard penalty. More importantly, the roughing up from Suh not only didn’t rattle Dalton, it seemed to bring him to life. Though he failed to get the ball in the end zone, he did manage to get the Bengals within range for a 27 yard Mike Nugent field goal.
On the Bengals’ next possession, after the Lions scored another touchdown making it a 21-3 game, Dalton hit 9 of 10 passes, putting the Bengals in position for a second field goal, which Nugent pushed wide right. He finished the night 11-15, but for only 69 yards in one half of football.
Just to review, Dalton first entered the game with his team down by 14 points. His first pass in a Bengals’ uniform was underthrown and intercepted. But he didn’t fall apart. Jay Gruden showed a great deal of smarts in putting the ball in the capable hands of Cedric Benson for the next possession, but give Dalton credit. He picked himself up off the mat and kept fighting. He never lost the calm or the fire that Gruden and Lewis thought would make him such a valuable asset to this team over the long haul.
On defense, the Bengals’ starting front 7 looked stout against the run, allowing a mere 10 years on 6 carries. As a whole, the defensive units allowed only a combined 70 yards rushing on 33 Detroit carries, with 17 of those coming on a single run by Aaron Brown toward the end of the 3rd Quarter. It was in the passing game where they struggled mightily. Lions quarterbacks went a combined 23 of 33 for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Offensively, it’s very refreshing to say that both our left and right tackles turned in outstanding performances. Andre Smith played like a first round draft pick. Nate Livings is not an acceptable answer at left guard. He was getting beat by a variety of Lions defenders all night. On another brighter note, Cedric Benson looked faster, quicker, and stronger than ever. Bruce Gradkowski did not look sharp, going 6-12 for 58 yards, but he still looked better than Jordan Palmer who threw one completion and one interception in four attempts. As in previous years, Palmer’s interception came as the result of a horrendous and inexcusable error in his judgement, throwing the ball into heavy traffic as he was draped by a Lions’ defender. Look for him hitchhiking back to Cincy along I-75. Dan LeFevour, only had one series, but completed the only pass he threw to Jonathan Williams, the college free agent from East Carolina University who is bound to get more playing in next week’s game against the Jets.