I was relatively satisfied by the Bengals performance against the Bills Saturday night. No, no. I'm not talking about the scrub-time with backup and third string players. What's the point in judging the team after the first team leaves? At that point, you just look for individual performances; not an overall judgment of the team's regular season prospects. I mean, you can judge them on all of that if you want, but it seems like an unnecessary reason to be pessimistic. To each their own though.
Let's hit on some observations.
CARSON PALMER LOOKS CRISP AGAIN. Aside from a couple unfortunate throws against the Eagles, Palmer has looked sharp in the past three preseason games. Most notably, his performances against the Broncos and Bills scored a passer rating of 95.8 and 142.2 respectively. In his past three games, Palmer's efficiency is a combined 73.4% and his overall passer rating in the past three games is over 90.
ALSO OF NOTE: The first team offensive line has keep Palmer upright, not allowing a quarterback sack in three straight games -- or 15 consecutive drives dating back to the win against Denver. Overall, the first team offensive line play is much, much, much, improved over what they showed against Dallas earlier this month.
It was a completely different story once the second-team offensive line came in, specifically later in the game with J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer, both of whom were under constant pressure with four-man fronts.
PASSING GAME KEEPS IMPROVING. Jermaine Gresham recorded his first preseason touchdown in the first quarter, splitting a deep zone easily catching the football in the middle of the endzone. Gresham recorded four receptions for 45 yards receiving. Chad Ochocinco also recorded a touchdown, Palmer's second, on a naked boot to the left, where Chad ran across the back of the endzone, hauling down an arching pass in the back left corner. Terrell Owens picked up 35 yards on three receptions and Jordan Shipley recorded a team leading five receptions for 38 yards receiving.
Combined, Ochocinco, Gresham, Owens and Shipley, recorded 11 receptions, 114 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the first half. Shipley would go on record another three receptions, in which we didn't factor into our overall combined numbers.
IS THE RETURN GAME DECIDED? Adam Jones is clearly the team's best return man. Including a 51-yard return on kickoff, Jones averaged 38 yards per return and even picked up 11 yards on his lone punt return.
KICKING GAME TAKES A TURN. With just over 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Mike Nugent crushes a 54-yard field goal to cut the Bengals deficit to within four points. While the distance is nice, we still need a constant sample from Nugent. But the 54-yarder definitely helps his cause.
SCARY HIT. With 8:33 left in the third quarter, the Bills lined up fourth-and-one at the Bengals 22-yard line. Bills running back Chad Simpson gets the football and runs off the left edge, recording a two-yard gain and a first down. Brandon Ghee, quite possibly growing as one of the biggest hitters in the secondary, generated a massive collision on Jackson. Ghee, after the hit, immediately went limp, falling over as if he fell unconscious on his stomach. At one point the ambulance came out, but was recalled as Ghee finally got up under his own power, taking the cart off the field.
Having experienced the depressing career-ending hit that David Pollack took against the Browns in 2006, watching Ghee being worked on for so long after seeing that hit was humbling and scary. If we're grateful for anything, it's him getting up, fully aware and every limb reportedly functional as he left the game with a great standing ovation from the Bills fans.
What's worse on the cornerback roster is Adam Jones suffered a neck injury a bit later in the game, not returning.
BENGALS RUSH DEFENSE. Even though Bills running back C.J. Spiller recorded 52 yards rushing and two touchdowns, his first three carries went for -16 yards.
ANDRE SMITH. On the Bengals drive that started at their own 34-yard line with over seven minutes left in the third quarter, I specifically watched Andre Smith. Even though he was likely playing against second and third team scrubs, Smith was far more dominating than he was against the Eagles last week. No man that Smith targeted to block made a play and when the Bengals ran the football, Smith turned, drove and manhandled his guy.
There was this one passing play where Smith made contact, then stepped inside, and suddenly redirecting backwards to watch the defensive end bearing down on J.T. O'Sullivan just as he got rid of the football, completing a 12-yard pass to Matt Jones.
- With over nine minutes left in the game, Quan Cosby ran a seem route down the left sidelines. Hand-fighting with the cornerback down the sidelines, Cosby made a diving effort to catch a Jordan Palmer bomb for 44 yards. I've always liked Cosby. Not only does he give it his all, he has high field awareness and does everything he's asked. His departure was never an issue of talent, rather numbers. However, I've never felt as highly as I do that Cosby is closing in on being a lock for this team.
- I really like Carlos Dunlap's potential. He's big and he's a force as a defensive end. What's more surprising is his speed and quickness. He tracked down Trent Edwards in the first half and has a blinding spin move. Dunlap had two hits on Bills quarterbacks. However, where Robert Geathers is strongest as a run defender, Dunlap is as a pass rusher. When a blocker locked in on Dunlap on running plays, he virtually disappeared.
- Kyries Hebert played admirably, starting for the injured Roy Williams and Chinedum Ndukwe at strong safety. He played most of the game, recording five tackles.
- When Adam Jones left the game late in the third quarter and Brandon Ghee having been carted off a few minutes earlier, the Bengals were left with Rico Murray and Jeromy Miles, both safeties, playing at cornerback.
- Vincent Rey is a tackling machine, but most of the tackles I observed against the Bills were a few yards after the line of scrimmage.
- Roddrick Muckelroy was much more involved and healthy against the Bills. In the team's previous three preseason games, Muckelroy had one assisted tackle. Against the Bills, he was credited with four solo tackles.
- With 12 minutes left in the game, Geno Atkins recorded a quarterback sack, giving him 4.5 for the preseason, which includes having at least one sack per preseason game.
- With 10 minutes left in the game, the Bengals committed their ninth penalty, giving them at least nine penalties in all four preseason games. They'd go on to commit 12 fouls.
- On Jordan Palmer's interception that gave the Bills a 15-point lead, Palmer's intended target was Jerome Simpson, who ran a slant with Palmer thinking he'd run a hook route.
- James Johnson had a nice 46-yard run that was wiped out by a Daniel Coats holding.