*Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther toyed with defensive lineman Robert Geathers as a linebacker on the blitz Sunday. *
The Bengals have literally blitzed to the first 2-0 start of the Green-Dalton era.
Quarterback Andy Dalton broke the back of the foe in each game with a long ball off a check at the line of scrimmage against the blitz, making him the first Bengals quarterback in history to have back-to-back games with a touchdown pass of at least 76 yards.
Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is showing his penchant for bringing an extra guy. It sealed the win in Baltimore and last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium it reduced Falcons Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan to a practice squad 48.6 passer rating.
And it may not be a coincidence. The two just may be related since the offense under coordinator Hue Jackson spent the spring workouts and training camp working against Guenther's busy array of varying pressures. Before the Bengals opened against the Ravens, a former front office exec said he had been told by a Bengals offensive coach that it was some of the best blitz packages he had ever seen.
"He never gave us a day off,' said right guard Mike Pollak of Guenther. "It helps. When the season comes, you're going to see all of those types of things that he throws at us in practice each week.
"Any time you can get extra work on stuff, it's going to show up throughout the course of the year."
When Dalton set up in the shot gun for a third-and-six from his 24 leading 10-3 in the opening moments of the second half, he saw the Falcons itching for an all-out blitz, commonly known as cover zero. He checked to a max protection, which meant he kept in everybody to block but two wide receivers and had Mohamed Sanu run a post against cornerback Robert Alford.
But the Falcons still had one more rusher than Bengals had blockers and that meant Dalton had to get rid of it before defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux blew him up. He threw a strike to Sanu on the fingertips just ahead of Alford over the middle and, showing why a cover zero can disintegrate if not played correctly, there was nobody in the middle of the field. Presto. A 76-yard TD that made it 17-3.
"There's going to be some times when it's not always going to be pretty, but you've got to love Dalton standing in the mess and not worrying about taking the hit," Pollak said. "The media was getting after us for not performing well against the blitz. Any time you can have those big striking plays against the blitz, it gets defenses to back off a little bit."
Pollak was probably referring to the critics who graded Dalton poorly under the gun last year ProFootballFocus.com rated him 17th against pressure and while the web site rates him ninth this year (6-for-10 with a TD), the more telling stat is that Dalton has been pressured just 10 times on drop-backs and he's tied with Peyton Manning with fewest in the league.
Go back to Dalton's winning 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green in Baltimore against a slot corner blitz (when Dalton checked right tackle Andre Smith to pick up the 182-pound Asa Jackson), and it is just the seventh time this century a quarterback has had a TD throw of at least 76 yards in back-to-back games and the first time since Aaron Rodgers did it three years ago.
Told that Dalton had a league-leading 9.1 yards per attempt, Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham said no wonder given the length of the TD passes and wondered how often big plays like that had been done in back-to-back games.
Elias Sports Bureau, as always, had the answer:
CONSECUTIVE GAMES OF TD PASSES OF AT LEAST 76 YARDS SINCE 2000
9/17-24/00 _ Kurt Warner, St.L
10/21-28/01 _ Tony Banks, Was.
9/23-30/01 _ Chris Chandler, Atl.
*10/13-20/02 _ Quincy Carter, Dal. *
*12/26/10-1/2/11 _ Eli Manning, NY-G *
10/16-23/11 _ Aaron Rodgers, G.B.
*9/07-14/14 _ Andy Dalton , Cin. *
"The third down looks we get, it's crazy," said rookie running back Jeremy Hill. "Hue and Paul, they've been around a long time and seen so many different coaches, they always sort of have an idea what they're going to do. We just let it all sink in. We're spoiled nowadays with the iPads and the cutups they make for us that show every third-down blitz they've got. If you do your due diligence, if you do your homework, you'll be OK on Sunday."
Hill got into the act moments later on a second-and-nine from the Falcons 42 when he lined up in front of Dalton almost like a punt personal protector. He picked up blitzing linebacker Paul Worrilow and allowed Dalton to hit tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 19-yard gain.
"We see the rotations," said running back Giovani Bernard of practicing against his mates. "It definitely helps just talking to some of the linebackers."
Guenther ran a few cover zeros himself against the Falcons. Three or four, he thinks, and while one was not played well and saved by Terence Newman knocking the ball of out of wide receiver Harry Douglas' hands on the sidelines, it shows some insight into Guenther's play calling.
If the argument is the cover zero blitz is too dangerous because it's all or nothing for the corner, Guenther figures the corner always has to make a play.
"He's got to make a play in the max three (with eight men dropping) on third and 15, too, and that didn't happen last week," Guenther said. "Same thing. If I'm going to give him an 80-yard touchdown in max coverage, I might as well go after the guy. Ball's coming out, you don't have to cover as long."
And the one thing Guenther didn't want Ryan doing is letting him sit back and complete passes to receivers who could get set and make yards after catch like they did to the tune of 195 yards in New Orleans the week before.
As aggressive as Jackson was Sunday in the no huddle and knocking Atlanta off the line in the running game, Guenther was just as aggressive. He sent extra people even though his four-man rush had a huge edge working against tackles that are really guards. Safety Reggie Nelson has 1.5 sacks in the first two games. He had two sacks in the previous two seasons. Throw in defensive lineman Robert Geathers just wandering at linebacker for a potential rush.
"We probably could have gotten home with four, but…I wanted the ball out of his hand. There were many throws in that game, particularly early, the ball came out of his hand and the receivers were running," Guenther said. "He's a rhythm passer. So if you rush with four, he can get a feel, take his five-, seven-step drop, hitch, throw and ball's out…But I wanted to mix up the looks on the guy whether I was rushing four or five or six or seven so he never really had a feel for it.
"Early in the game, we hit him a few times and got him off his spot. So you get guys like that that are good passers and rhythm-type throwers off their game a little bit."
Guenther isn't a rankings guy. He's doesn't look at total yards, where the Bengals are 26th. He looks at scoring defense, where the Bengals are No. 3. And wins, where the Bengals are in first place.
"That's the mark of a good defense," he said.
The blitz is getting home.