The late, great, former Raiders owner Al Davis famously said that, “Somewhere within the first five to 10 plays of the game, the other team’s quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.”
On Sunday in Oakland, the other team’s quarterback didn’t go down at all. Andy Dalton threw 34 passes without being sacked in Cincinnati’s 33-13 win over the Raiders.
“We came in and wanted to execute a plan and we were able to do that,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “We were able to protect him and give him the opportunity to make the throws that he needed to make.”
All week, the Bengals offensive lineman heard that Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack had been unblockable in the preseason – a “rolling ball of butcher knives” according to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
“I think Khalil Mack is very deserving of all of the credit that he’s received,” said right guard Kevin Zeitler. “Watching him last year on film and even the preseason, he’s a very good rusher and the sky is the limit for him. But he was not their only weapon.”
On Friday, the Raiders signed free agent Aldon Smith who had 44 sacks in his last 50 regular season games with San Francisco. Throw in two-time Pro Bowler Justin Tuck and his 65.5 career sacks, and it might be the most formidable pass rush the Bengals will face all season.
“The Raiders have a great defensive line,” said Zeitler. “Their depth of pass rushers presented a great challenge for us to start the season. There were a couple of problems here and there but overall we did well. But we’re already thinking about all of the things that we can do so much better.”
“I was proud of what the guys did up front and we have to build upon that,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “This is step one.”
Mack spent the majority of the game lined up on Andre Smith’s side. In the first half of a nationally televised preseason game against Arizona, the 2nd year defensive end had two sacks, a forced fumble, and four quarterback hits on Carson Palmer. In 58 snaps against Smith and the Bengals offensive line, he came up empty in all of those categories.
“We took pride in that today,” said Smith. “He’s a great football player and does a lot of things for that defense. We knew that if we took him away we could have success and we did an outstanding job.”
So what’s new? Last year, the Bengals were one of only four teams to hold NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (20.5 sacks) without a sack in a 22-13 win at Houston. Additionally, Von Miller (14 sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (17 sacks) failed to sack Andy Dalton, and Dumervil faced the Bengals twice.
Cincinnati’s top two draft picks this year, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, are the team’s projected offensive tackles of the future. But the season opener provided a reminder that their tackles of the present – Whitworth and Smith – are still among the NFL’s best.
“That O-line is good, obviously,” said Tuck.
“They did an unbelievable job,” said Dalton. “We knew what we were going up against and they accepted the challenge and played really, really well. It’s what we expect from those guys and I’m really happy for them.”
“Khalil Mack is a fantastic player and Aldon Smith is right there with J.J. Watt in sacks-per-game,” said Whitworth. “They’re both great rushers. But the Cincinnati Bengals have two pretty good guys themselves.”
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