CINCINNATI – Plans are one thing. Seeing those plans put into play and working is something else.
The Bengals can envision yards and points aplenty this season from a variety of outlets. They got a glimpse of those outlets Saturday night in a 27-19 win in their home preseason opener against Tennessee. Even with three of his main offensive players watching from the sidelines, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden showed off his creative side by getting wide receivers, tight ends and running backs the ball in space and letting them go to work.
“It’s important to get everyone involved and everyone getting their touches, especially guys that are worthy,” said Gruden. “We’ve got some guys that are worthy of getting some touches.”
The Bengals put up 429 yards of offense against the Titans in 64 plays, including 220 yards on 36 plays in the first half. Quarterback Andy Dalton played the first three series, leading the Bengals to touchdown drives of 72 and 61 yards after losing the ball on a sack/fumble on the first possession. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard had eight touches for 59 yards. Six different receivers caught passes in the first half, with four receptions going for 22 or more yards to four different receivers.
“We all try to contribute and make plays whenever the ball comes our way or block when the running back is running the ball and make sure we’re in our spots for Andy,” said wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.
Sanu had a 24-yard catch-and-run on a third-and-10 play that set up the Bengals’ first touchdown. He took a five-yard crossing pass from Dalton, stiff-armed cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and safety Bernard Pollard, and nearly scored. Officials originally ruled Sanu’s dive for the pylon got him into the end zone but TV replay reversed the call and put the ball inside the one-yard line. Bernard ran the ball in up the middle on the next play.
Dalton completed nine of 14 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown, a perfectly lofted pass to the corner of the end zone hauled in by Sanu on the next drive to put the Bengals up 14-3.
The Bengals played without starting wide receiver A.J. Green, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
“I’ve got full confidence in all of the guys that we have,” said Dalton. “It’s fun to see – we’ve been practicing a while now – so it’s fun to see these guys come out and perform. We’ve got some talented guys, so I’ve just got to get them the ball in space and let them do with they can with it.”
It wasn’t just the passing game that was open. The Bengals rushed for 193 yards as a team on 31 carries. Dan Herron had 81 yards, 40 of which came on a touchdown run in the fourth quarter that started as an inside run before he bounced it out to his left. After the Bengals turned the ball over on their first possession, Bernard had runs of nine, nine and seven yards on the first three plays of the second drive.
“We came out in personnel group with three tight ends and tried to get some alleys there for Gio and we took advantage of some of them. We got the ball moving,” said Gruden. “It was good to see them come off the ball. Anytime you have a bad series, the linemen appreciate it if you can come out and run the ball. That way they have their say in it.”
Two games into the preseason and the Bengals offense is showing the diversity it craves. Then again, it’s the preseason and no one is game-planning for them, taking away Bernard out of the backfield or bringing exotic blitzes against Dalton. But it’s easy to see the plan coming together.
*Third downs – A failing of the offense last season was its inability to convert third downs and keep drives alive. The final numbers had the Bengals converting six of 13 chances against the Titans but they were three-of-four in the first quarter. All three conversions led to their first two touchdowns.
“It’s been a major emphasis,” said Gruden. “I know in camp we’ve faced more third downs in training camp than hopefully we will in three lifetimes. We’re working at it, we’re taking a lot of pride in it and we still can improve on it but for the most part I’m glad to see us convert and keep the drives alive.”
*Limit the damage – The Titans drove into Cincinnati territory on four of its five possessions in the first half, including starting at the Bengals’ 27-yard line with their second possession, but came away with just three points. Tennessee missed three field goal attempts, including two by Rob Bironas.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in those types of situations,” said linebacker Rey Maualuga. “We started off bad but we did a good job holding them to three points. We knew we had to hold them when they were deep in our territory.”
*Three tight ends – It was an effective formation with Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Alex Smith in the game at the same time.
“I would like to know a better blocking tight end in the NFL than Jermaine,” said Gruden. “He can pass block, he can run block. To me he’s as good of a blocking tight end, I would think, as there is.”
*Run defense – Tennessee runs the ball well but defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is going to expect more out of his guys than giving up 143 yards on the ground. It was part of an overall 412 yards the Tennessee gained. If Tennessee’s kicking game had been better in the first half the outcome of the game would have been different.
*Protect the QB – The Titans got to Dalton for one sack, which was the strip/fumble recovery by defensive tackle Jurrell Casey when he cleanly beat right guard Kevin Zeitler. Linebacker Zach Brown also put Dalton to the ground, forcing an incomplete pass, when he came clean on a delayed blitz up the middle. Dalton took it in stride but that’s not something the Bengals want to expose him to much.
“It’s the first time in a while that I got hit,” said Dalton. “It’s good to get the rust knocked off a little bit. It’s part of the game.” *Turnovers – The Bengals were spotless last week against the Falcons but lost the ball twice Saturday night. Besides Dalton losing the ball on the first possession, backup quarterback Josh Johnson lost a fumble late in the game as the Bengals were attempting to run out the clock. Johnson tried to use his athleticism to evade a tackler instead of sliding down. The ball came loose on the tackle and allowed Tennessee one last possession with a chance to tie the game.