You really have to be careful believing what you read about the Bengals these days. If you were unable to watch the third preseason game online, you probably went to the net to find out about how the team did, but, more importantly, about how they looked. The disappointing thing is, you may have been misinformed.
First, James Walker—esteemed AFC North blogger for ESPN—wrote that the Bengals first-team defense was unable to effectively get to the quarterback and only knocked down starter Kevin Kolb once.
Kolb ended up on the ground after his first two pass attempts, which eliminates that fuzzy math right off the bat, but furthermore, the defensive line was getting pressure, and while not racking up sacks, they forced handfuls of poor throws made by Kolb under duress. Remember, the preseason is not loaded with fancy blitzes and wild defensive schemes. Most times, it's one-on-one matchups to help coaches gauge individual performances. If the opposing quarterback is flushed from the pocket and resorts to squeezing the ball into small holes, the defense is typically happy, and that is what I saw happen on Friday night. With no big names on the defensive line, I think the national media is eager to to find any example that supports their mediocre expectations of the unit, but, like last season proved, this defense is a symbiotic group, not a few stars and a bunch of bums. The pass rush looks just fine from where I'm standing and I have very few concerns in general from that side of the ball.
Another worrisome tidbit you may have come across was from local Bengal beat-writer, Joe Reedy, who claimed offensive tackle Andre Smith was regularly beaten off the line. This too, seems like an exaggeration.
On Smith's first play of the preseason, he was beaten badly by defensive end Juqua Parker, resulting in both a holding infraction and a sack given up; not a good start. Later he was called for a false start and was credited for giving up another sack in the third quarter. I can see why Mr. Reedy and others feel that his evening was something of a letdown based on these stats.
If you watch Goo's snaps, it was only that first play that seemed problematic. The other sack he allowed was more the fault of the hapless J.T. O'Sullivan not getting the ball out on time, and a defensive stunt up the middle, rather than a protection breakdown from Smith. He does still look slow and it is very for difficult for one to detect much muscle tone in his round arms, but his footwork is pretty good and he continues to demonstrate a natural talent to run block. On a first-down run in the third quarter, Smith plowed ahead creating a nice running lane, and finished the play by punching a defensive back with his one free hand to create more space in the open field. It was a modest six-yard gain but it showed that Andre the Giant does have a motor and a mean streak somewhere inside all of that pudgy cushion and I, for one, am not too worried about the wooly mammoth just yet.
You hear coaches tell reporters all the time that they must first watch the game film before assessing a certain player's performance; it would be smart for reporters to do the same. Since today's media must deliver information as fast as humanly possible, writers make hasty conclusions based more on recorded stats than their own observations. Longtime Mojokong readers know that it takes a few days after the game to get my take on things. I re-watch the game two or three times (mostly in slow motion) before offering up my opinion, so you, the gentle reader, are not subjected to any knee-jerk rhetoric fueled more by emotion than analysis.
It can go the other way too. After reading Bengals.com mainstay, Geoff Hobson's report on how pleased coaches were of Andrew Whitworth's performance, I was dubious if this was true as well. When watching the game live, I remembered Trent Cole blowing by Whitworth and creaming Palmer in his No. 9 just as he let the ball go and thinking to myself how worrisome it was to see. Yet, after re-watching Whitworth's snaps, he did do a very nice job on Cole all night and that isolated incident was a screen-gone-wrong in which case Whit is supposed to release his man early in the play.
It goes to show that writers, bloggers, reporters and analysts aren't always the most accurate source of information when it comes to the way they "see" the game. Yes, they can provide stats and numbers and give us boatloads of cliché answers from players and coaches, but to really get a handle of what happened in any particular game, one must watch it more than once and then decide for themselves. Football is like art; it can be interpreted a thousand different ways.
Mojokong—trust no one. Especially not me.