It was a struggle for the Bengals first-team offense on Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys.
A turnover inside the five-yard line closed a scoring opportunity during the offense's first possession of the game. Presnap fouls pushed Cincinnati into long third down scenarios and two turnovers put the defense on the spot -- they actually succeeded by preventing any points off turnover.
"We came out right away on offense and did a good job of moving the ball, but obviously the two turnovers are killers," Lewis said at half time.
Indeed the Bengals moved the football with an efficient 10-play drive that spanned 59 yards. Unfortunately the drive badly stalled when the Cowboys stripped the football out of Marvin Jones' hands on the Dallas four-yard line.
Another turnover (Dalton interception) and multiple presnap penalties in the first half, limited Cincinnati's remaining three possession to only two combined first downs, 42 yards and a 3.8 yard/play average. The first-team offense had five drives (including one in the third quarter), scoring only three points.
Overall the Bengals defense wasn't that much better. Dallas picked up 12 first downs in the first half, converted five third downs on nine opportunities, and even converted a fourth and one in the second quarter. And when the Cowboys reached the red zone, they scored touchdowns -- both passing, one to Dez Bryant and the other to Miles Austin with Dre Kirkpatrick and Taylor Mays covering respectively.
You could go down the line for finger pointing.
Start with Marvin Jones on offense. When the Bengals were charging down the field during their opening possession, Jones tried to spin away from a tackle but lost the football at the Cowboys four-yard line. Early in the second quarter, he twitched before the snap, forcing the Bengals to pick up 15 yards on third down. And they did try, but it led to an interception on an ill-advised throw by Andy Dalton down the middle intended for Mohamed Sanu. Yet Dalton and the Bengals passing offense didn't have much help from a mediocre running game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combining for 14 yards rushing on eight carries.
The secondary similarly struggled in the first half.
Let's start with Dre Kirkpatrick, who was called for multiple pass interference penalties, allowed a touchdown to the bigger Dez Bryant in the second quarter, then missed missed another tackle when DeMarco Murray scored a seven-yard touchdown reception to give Dallas a 21-10 lead. While complaining about the performance, remind yourself that Kirkpatrick's career is only five games old. There's time to improve. And he will.
But Kirkpatrick wasn't alone either. Miles Austin picked up 23 yards late in the second quarter on a third-and-six with Leon Hall trailing the receiver. That was after Austin converted another third down by spinning away from Hall on a pass well short of the first down marker. With over 40 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Romo found Austin over the middle for a touchdown with Taylor Mays trailing.
Even the backups struggled at times. Cobi Hamilton picked up 18 yards on a designed run late in the third quarter when he lost the football. Fortunately the Cowboys didn't score and Hamilton recovered beautifully with a fourth down conversion with eight minutes remaining, then adding a powerful four-yard touchdown reception on a bubble screen. The Bengals closed to within a field goal on Ryan Whalen's two-point conversion.
There were some successes.
Brandon Tate added a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, the second return for over 70 yards that led to a touchdown. Margus Hunt posted his first sack of the preseason, forcing the Cowboys to punt with over one minute remaining in the third. Dane Sanzenbacher added a 53-yard punt return with :56 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Josh Johnson threw into a region without any receivers, easily intercepted by the Cowboys -- who killed the clock and the game.
Brandon Thompson had several stops in the backfield and Devon Still at one point led the team with five tackles when the game entered the fourth quarter.
Giovani Bernard opened the second half with 30 yards rushing on three carries, putting Cincinnati in a position to score a field goal -- the first-team offense's lone points score.
The Bengals will conclude the preseason against the Indianapolis Colts this Thursday.