The biggest question mark about this year's deep Bengals team making a deep postseason run lies with the offense. Quarterback Andy Dalton has a lot of pressure to perform this year because many believe that the defense will be stout once again and the team added some nice pieces on his side of the ball in the draft. After three preseason games, is it time to be a little nervous about their progress?
Now, we're mostly talking about the first-team offense here. Though there a couple of interchangeable pieces, namely the two rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert, the cast is mostly the same from last season. There were some nice moments in the first two games against the Falcons and Titans, but there just wasn't much to be impressed about in the team's "dress rehearsal" against the Cowboys on Saturday.
Through three quarters, the Dalton-led offense only mustered three points in as many quarters with the only touchdown coming courtesy of a Brandon Tate punt return. Dalton also threw an interception in the matchup and that evened up his preseason touchdown/interception ratio. When it looked like the Bengals were set to make some headway and march into the end zone, wide receiver Marvin Jones fumbled the ball away at the Cowboys four-yard line.
Aside from that, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had five carries for only five yards and the early team offense had a couple of costly penalties that were mental mistakes. The plays that followed both penalties led to the team's two turnovers. Not exactly the most confidence-inspiring performance for a team that was looking to prove that they had made the needed strides for 2013.
The night wasn't without some positives from some of the big players on the offensive unit, though. In his first action of the preseason, wide receiver A.J. Green had three catches for 42 yards , including a 26-yarder. Bernard had another quality game with 39 yards rushing on 6 carries (6.5 yards per carry), and two catches for 17 yards. And even though Dalton threw the interception, he used a short-yardage passing offense that was pretty accurate on the night, as evidenced by a 12 for 16 performance. This quick-strike passing attack helped keep Dalton clean and he didn't incur any sacks on the night.
We realize that preseason is a time to shake off the rust and maybe take a couple of chances on offense that one normally wouldn't necessarily take in the regular season. Unfortunately, one can still see the inconsistencies in the running game, as well as the costly penalties and turnovers that have plagued this offense in the past couple of seasons. One shouldn't expect perfection, but some crispness and sense of overall improvement should have been part and parcel of the "dress rehearsal".
On the flip side, we're seeing some great things out of Bernard and expect to see some significant contributions from Eifert. Having Green back will be a big boost and there is still time to gel. They need to start gelling fast though, as the regular season opener against the Bears is right around the corner.