The view from the the top of Paul Brown Stadium

It’s tough following a team from afar. Easier in this day of the internet and TV able to show every game, but still tough. This goes double with respect to football, where the media can only capture a small portion of what’s going on with the 22 guys (supposed to be) on the field on any given play. Living in the Chicago area, with that whole “job” thing, it’s tough to make the weekly trek to whatever destination the Titans are playing at next week. Unless you want to lock yourself into flights, generally best booked well in advance and inflexible w/r/t the rest of life, the viewing destinations are limited to those places you can make it home from on the same day. I decided Cincinnati, just short of 300 miles away, was one of those. What follows is an occasionally discursive look at my trek there, though I’ll try to concentrate my remarks on the Titans, the Bengals, and Paul Brown Stadium.
The problem with buying tickets online to a stadium you’ve never been to is you’re never really sure what you’re getting. There is, of course, the stadium map, so you know where the section is, and I figured Row 34 was pretty far up there, but that “top” in the title of the post is literal. The upper deck of Paul Brown Stadium is severely sloped, to provide for a better sightline, but what that means is it’s a long trek up to the top, and once you get up there, you’re a long way from the field. With 20-20 hindsight, paying a little extra money for a seat about 30 rows closer to the field wouldn’t have been a terrible idea. One of the things the Bengals are proud about Paul Brown Stadium is that it’s very well-reviewed architecturally. I can certainly see why, as it’s located near the Ohio River and some seats (mine, for instance) have a view on the Ohio River on 2 sides (to the right and also behind). That means, additionally, that it’s very good for the wind. A forecast high near 50 assumed a modicum of sunshine, which turned out to be a quasi-mythical thing that appeared on the field for a little bit of the first quarter and then disappeared, and the 2 mph wind reported in the Gamebook was somewhat strong in Row 34 of the upper deck. I thought most people sitting nearby were overdressed for the cold (not an entirely odd reaction for a former North Dakota resident), but they ended up being much better prepared than I. Or maybe I’m just whining because every NFL game I’ve been to since I turned 2 has been in a domed stadium.
As to the game itself, the storyline is very straightforward and uncomplicated. The Titans didn’t get pressure on Carson Palmer, except for a couple plays. With time in the pocket, he was able to pick the Titans’ defense apart. The Titans played a mix of man and zone, trying to confuse Palmer. Against man, Palmer appeared to mostly be picking on Nick Harper, whom no one has ever confused for a good man cornerback. It’s not that Finnegan was immune, not a Pacman v. Hill-like disparity (see SD last year, for example), just that Harper seemed to be the preferred pigeon. When they played zone, Palmer found the open holes in the zone. The Titans tried bringing Nick Harper on a corner blitz a couple times, but that wasn’t effective.
The worst play, in my mind, came I believe in the second corner. The Titans were showing a single safety look, with a defender in the slot over the slot WR and a single safety in the middle. About 2 seconds before the snap, they brought the safety on the slot guy (Lowry, I think), back to a 2 safety look. The Bengals threw a pass on a post about 15 yards downfield over the middle. Had this been a cover-1 or man-1, this could have been an easy interception or at least ball batted away. Against the actual 2 safety defense, where each player was responsible for half the field, it split the defense and was a first down. It was an incredibly frustrating game to watch. Aside from the interception on the batted ball and the missed field goal after KVB managed a sack on 3&G, the Titans’ defense didn’t stop the Bengal offense while the game was competitive, nor should they have based on their demonstrated level of play. The corners can’t play man against good receivers, the safeties can’t compensate for the corners, and the defensive line can’t get pressure on the QB or keep the offensive line off the linebackers. What not long ago looked like an awesome defense has quickly become a very bad one, and the only sign for hope is the return of Haynesworth.
And the offense, well, it didn’t give the defense much help. LenDale White was even more frustrating to watch in person than he was on TV. Sometimes, there wasn’t much of a hole for him to run through, and he was stuffed. Sometimes, there was a hole to run through, and he was stuffed. Sometimes, there was a hole to run through somewhere else, and he was stuffed. He looked better than a street free agent once in the game, and I’m not sure a street free agent couldn’t do that-DeDe Dorsey did for the Bengals, and he was a street free agent. Chris Brown actually looked like an NFL running back.
Despite the ineffective running from White, the Titans could still have been in the game if they’d gotten a perfect game from their quarterback. Well, they didn’t. I thought that for the most part, VY played reasonably well. He had a couple big errors, most notably the fumble. He’s also particularly vulnerable to a shown blitz, even if it doesn’t come. This is something common to young quarterbacks, and even Peyton Manning sometimes struggles with reading the rush from a 3-4 defense and its flexibility, and something VY will have to work on and get better at. The most important thing I saw is that there were no wide open (“college open”) receivers that didn’t have a pass thrown to them. There really weren’t any wide open receivers all day. Not for the first time, let me state that the Titans need an upgrade at the WR position before they will have a good NFL offense. Oh, and the TEs? I didn’t see much out of any of them either. The whole offense was pretty bad.
What else was there? Here’s a list:
1. It’s possible I missed it, but I don’t think I did-at no time did they announce the inactives for the game. I had to call somebody near a computer go to the Titans’ website to find out that Olson, LaBoy, and Haynesworth were not playing.
2. I’d also missed the news that the Titans had picked up Mike Williams, who was another inactive. Expecting anything good from Mike Williams is the triumph of optimism over experience. Just ask the Lions and Raiders, and fans of those suffering franchises.
3. I’d also missed the acquisition of Chris Barclay. He’s a live body, picked up for 4 weeks because he filled a perceived role. I didn’t see him do anything that justified him kicking off, aside from a complete and total lack of any good candidates for the job.
4. Eric Moulds had about 2 plays in the first 25 minutes. This isn’t the first game he’s an awful lot of time on the bench, but it also surprises me (mildly, at least) when he does.
5. I actually missed Chad Johnson’s camera celebration after his first touchdown, because I didn’t bother to stand up when all the Bengal fans did.
6. White’s personal foul was a ridiculously stupid play. Just terrible. Horrible. No good. Very bad. Awful play.
7. Michael Griffin really got away with one on the pass interference in the end zone. He might have had a claim if he’d been playing the ball, but he never turned his head around the entire time and got there early. I’m pretty sure this was one of Harper’s blitzes off the corner.
8. From where I was sitting, Bulluck’s personal foul was a gift to the Bengals.
9. From where I was sitting, I could see 4 buildings of downtown Cincinnati in close proximity: one for Fifth Third Bank, one for PNC Bank, one for USBank, and one for National City Bank.
10. Looking ahead to Week 17, I’m really glad Indianapolis has a domed stadium.
11. I didn’t say it here, but even at 6-2, I didn’t think 6-10 was out of the question. That was my paranoid, pessimistic self speaking, but I’m starting to believe it. If they can’t beat the Texans this week, I have no problem seeing 6-10 actually happening. 8-8 is more realistic, yes, but I have a hard time seeing the team I saw Sunday winning 2 of the last 5 games.
On a separate note, one thing I wanted to write about, but didn’t because I never bothered to collect the data, is how the loss of Ahmard Hall affected the Titans’ play-calling and offensive formations. Without him in the game, I think they ran more single back sets and had to keep a decent potential pass catcher in on passing downs to protect the QB. We’ll see when he comes back and how effect he is, but it should help the Titans’ offense when he does.

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