On Thursday, I published a piece discussing six things that Bengals fans will be hoping to see in the team's preseason opener against the Jets. In short, I contended that fans wanted to see a well-played football game, someone establish themselves as the No.2 wide receiver, contributions from the rookies, an improvement in the running game, avoid injuries and come out as the victors.
It's time to assess this checklist to see how the team fared in each of these areas. Some of the analysis will be favorable while others will make everyone grimace.
6.) Come out and play fundamentally sound football. As a whole, I'd argue that the team played pretty well. The team only had three penalties to the Jets' seven, the biggest being an offsides call on fourth down when the Jets were punting (the extended drive led to Carlos Dunlap getting hurt on the next play). Otherwise, it was a pretty clean game in that respect. The team played outstanding on defense, only allowing just 173 total yards and amassing five sacks, while giving up only six total points. The special teams unit played well, aside from a missed field goal from Thomas Weber, they had the ever-rare blocked punt for a touchdown. The offense sputtered a bit, not clicking in the passing game or the running game, though they did dictate the tempo. Most importantly, the offense didn't turn the ball over, though there were a few close calls.
5.) Someone begin to establish themselves at the front-runners for the No.2 wide receiver and strong safety spots. If anything, these positions became murkier through the course of Friday's game. Three players did some good things at the No.2 wide receiver position, particularly Marvin Jones, who was the team's leading receiver on the night with two catches for 48 yards. Brandon Tate and Armon Binns had identical numbers with two catches for 24 yards. It's nice to know that there are a bunch of players who can seemingly contribute, but it would also be nice to see someone separate themselves. As for safety, things got scary when Taylor Mays went out with an injury, but he did have three tackles before his departure. Robert Sands played pretty well in limited fashion as the relief for Mays, but it still appears to be Mays' job to lose.
4.) Contributions from the rookies. This might have been the most pleasing aspect of Friday's game. Kevin Zeitler started at right guard, Marvin Jones was the leading receiver on the night, Brandon Thompson had a fumble recovery and Vontaze Burfict had his coming out party. We still would have liked to see some things out of Mohamed Sanu and George Iloka, but it was an all-around good night for the class of 2012. Most of all, there weren't any clear mistakes from the group.
3.) An improvement in the running game. If the rookies' contributions were the high point of the night, this may have been one of the low ones. There wasn't a noticeable difference from last year's performance in that the first team mustered just 22 yards on seven carries (3.14 average) and the offensive front was pushed around in the early going. What's worse is that the red zone rushing issues continued. Cedric Peerman was the only back that could get any consistency in the running game and that wasn't until late in the third quarter and into the fourth. Though they didn't fumble and Peerman had a rushing touchdown, it wasn't impressive nor was it an improvement from 2011.
2.) Come out of the game unscathed. My goodness. Four starters went down with injuries in the game on Friday. Two appear to significant, as we hear that Travelle Wharton could be out for the season with his knee injury, and we are unsure of the timetable on Carlos Dunlap's return from his. Rey Maualuga's knee injury appears to be minor and Taylor Mays should be coming back soon after being knocking himself woozy on a tackle attempt. Luckily, the injuries subsided as the night went on, but the damage was done.
1.) A victory. The Bengals got their victory by playing solid football and relying on a stout defense, but at what cost? They lost four starters for at least the foreseeable future and maybe more. Still, if there was a silver lining to the injuries they accrued on Friday, it's that the depth of the roster shined, showing that the team can overcome some of these injuries. They dominated nearly the entire game and still left points on the board, thanks to a missed field goal by Thomas Weber. All in all, there's a lot to be pleased with, a bit to be concerned about, and a lot of improvement that needs to be made.