It is hard for a preseason opener to go any better than how we saw the Bengals' preseason opener go for them. The Bengals controlled the game from the opening kick and helped calm the nerves of fans. Below is what we learned from the Bengals' first fake football game:
The difference between a 6-10 team and a 10-6 team in the NFL is a very fine line. Apparently the difference between a 6-10 team and a 10-5-1 team is a canyon.
At this early point in the season, I don't know how many "strings" the Bengals and Giants have on their respective depth charts, but every "string" the Bengals have was significantly better than every "string" the Giants have. Tom Coughlin was clearly frustrated by his first team, so much so he let them play much longer than most first units play in a first preseason game. The good news for the Bengals was how the second string was dominating the Giants' first string as well.
The Bengals first teamers looked dominant.
The Bengals first team offense and defense dominated the Giants - especially the defense. The Giants first three drives - against the Bengals first and second teamers - netted five total yards and zero total points. On offense, it took the Bengals first team offense just six plays to march 52 yards for a touchdown. The drive was perfect in every aspect: Jeremy Hill had two runs for 15 yards, Dalton was three for three for 31 yards through the air, had a nice six yard scramble, and capped the drive with a nice three yard touchdown toss to Sanu. The drive was so impressive, Marvin Lewis let the first team offense hang up their pads after the two minute and 55 second drive.
Geno Atkins is back to being "Geno Atkins." And as Marvin would say, that is a good thing.
We have been hearing it all offseason how Atkins was "back," but seeing it in shorts and t-shirts is one thing; seeing it in pads against a real opponent is a whole different story. Atkins looked like a disruptive force again on the defensive line, much different from the way he looked most of 2014. As a result, the whole line looked better.
If the Bengals can stay healthy on offense (especially Tyler Eifert), this is a top 5 offense...and they can be scary good.
In 2014, the Bengals never had Marvin Jones and had Eifert for just two drives. In fact, Jeremy Hill has never been on the field with Jones or Eifert. Well, all three started the game on Friday night and it took the Bengals just six plays on Friday night to march 52 yards down the field for a touchdown. The drive lasted all of two minutes and 55 seconds and it appeared as though the Bengals were doing a simple seven on seven drill; carving up the defense at will. The Giants struggled to stop the run - two runs for 15 yards - they struggled to stop the pass - Dalton went three for three, 31 yards and a touchdown - and on the touchdown, they couldn't figure out who to cover - Mohamed Sanu or Eifert. If the offense can stay healthy in 2015, this could be a very entertaining offense.
The Bengals offense is better when Jeremy Hill is in the backfield.
Giovani Bernard is exciting, a great change of pace back and can be dangerous coming out of the backfield as a receiver, but as we saw during the last nine games of 2014, this offense is simply better and more efficient when Hill is the lead back. Splitting carries between Hill and Bernard is a great idea and will keep both backs fresh, but the split should be about 70/30 in favor of Hill. If Hue Jackson does that, Hill will be a top five back, Bernard will be more effective and the Bengals offense will be better.
James Wilder Jr. is a physical specimen and looks like an NFL player, but does not look ready to take the fourth running back position.
No one has been a big proponent of Wilder than I have been. In fact, I have stated multiple times on our Inside the Jungle Podcast that he should be the fourth running back instead of Cedric Peerman. While it was just one preseason game, and yes, Wilder did lead the Bengals in carries (14), yards (53) and had the only Bengals rushing touchdown, his YPC was just 3.8 and his 20 yard run was a well-designed misdirection toss that saw 20 yards of open space before Wilder confronted anyone in a Giants uniform. Take away that run and Wilder had 13 carries for 33 yards, or 2.5 YPC. Wilder looks like he is chiseled from marble, but he still runs very upright and has problems making that first guy miss. At this point, he is a two yard and a cloud of dust type guy. For my money, Terrell Watson was the better back on Friday night.
Marcus Hardison, Will Clarke and DeShawn Williams impressed on the defensive line. Devon Still did not.
Aside from Geno Atkins, the most impressive defensive linemen I saw on Friday night were Hardison, Clarke and Williams. With the injury to Michael Johnson, it was nice seeing Clarke play well because he will likely see more playing time at the start of the year. If he keeps playing like he did on Friday, he will earn more playing regardless if Johnson is healthy or not.
Hardison showed exactly why the Bengals used a fourth round pick on him and he played well with the first teamers and dominated all of the Giants' backups. He and Clarke are all but locks on the 53-man roster and they could be important role players in a eight or nine man rotation on the line.
Williams, on the other hand, is not a lock for the roster, but has been receiving rave reviews from coaches and media alike and we saw why on Friday. The Bengals defensive line is going to be a hard nut to crack for an undrafted rookie free agent, but you can bet if Williams is cut, he won't be unemployed long. He will either be picked up by another team or land on the Bengals practice squad.
On the disappointing side of things was Devon Still. There isn't a better story in sports and all off season we have heard how Still has finally been able to focus on football and recapture the form which won him the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and catapulted him to a second round draft pick. Unfortunately, I didn't see what the coaches have been talking about on Friday. Instead, I saw a guy who seemed to be easily pushed around by backups and appeared to be one of the least affective defensive lineman on the field. Unless Still picks it up, he is not going to find a spot on this crowded and talented line.
If you're not concerned about the Bengals' backup quarterback situation, you either aren't paying attention or you are electing to play dumb.
Jason Campbell retired. Terrelle Pryor is using his bad hair to try and catch passes in Cleveland as a wide receiver and Josh Johnson proved again that if he is the answer, you don't want to know the question. No worries though, right? All summer long, we have been hearing how great A.J. McCarron looks and how excited the team is about him as the backup. We have heard talking heads from the NFL Network try to convince us that he may be the starter before the year is done.
I am here to tell you, if McCarron starts a game this year, the Bengals are in trouble. Maybe he turns into Tom Brady one day, but as of today, we are talking about a guy who has been in the NFL for 15 months now, has been injured for approximately 14 of those months, has practiced minimally during those 15 months and has exactly zero throws in an NFL game - preseason included. At this point, Keith Wenning has five more NFL passes and two more NFL completions than A.J. McCarron. If you keep just two quarterbacks - which is exactly what the Bengals will do - and your backup quarterback is injury prone and has zero NFL experience, that is a risky move.
No Bengals punt/kick returner gave the team reason to cut Brandon Tate.
For those of you wanting to see the end of the Tate era - myself included - Friday's punt return audition was disappointing. Three players not named Brandon Tate returned five punts on Friday - Giovani Bernard, Denarius Moore, Mario Alford - and they managed an average of just 2.4 yards. For purposes of comparison, in his four years with the Bengals, Tate has averaged 10.7, 8.9, 9.3 and 9.7 YPA respectively. The Bengals only took one kickoff out of the end zone (Alford) and like Tate, Alford was tackled short of the 20 yard line. While Tate's spot on the roster is far from safe, after one preseason game, no one has shown they offer anything more than Tate.
Tom Obarski is not un-seating Mike Nugent.
Kicking positions in the NFL are the hardest position from which to crack a roster. Good kickers stay for a long time and that is why we constantly have 40+ year old kickers in the league. Therefore, if you are going to unseat a solid veteran kicker like Mike Nugent, the only way to have a chance is to have an absolutely perfect preseason. Obarski missed a 27-yard field goal. That is anything put perfect. Throw in the fact that PATs will now be from 32 yards out and Obarrski all but sealed his fate.
Nothing is more difficult to judge in the preseason than special teams.
As disappointed as we all were with the lack of success of the Bengals' return game - and at times, the return coverage - special teams are so difficult to judge in the preseason. If one guy is out of his lane or doesn't know his assignment, plays blow up (good or bad). In the preseason, especially in Week 1 when rosters still have 90 guys, a special teams play may blow up simply because a guy who will never see an NFL field was playing on that play. Was that why the Bengals return game sucked on Friday? For our sakes, let's hope so.
Mohamed Sanu wears a dickie.
A simple observation and something someone on the Bengals staff needs to talk to him about.