Heading into Monday night's game here are four things to keep an eye on that will factor into the Cincinnati Bengals' 2015 season.
1. Continuation of a flawless first-team offense
Cincinnati's first-team offense, captained by the divisive Andy Dalton, pieced together an all-too-easy six-play touchdown drive last week. Capped by Mohamed Sanu's three-yard touchdown reception, it was a scoring drive that spanned 54-yards and generated five first downs.
Dalton completed all three passes for 31 yards passing and a near-perfect 149.3 passer rating, all while dictating a comfortable pace for Hue Jackson's offense. When Sanu Sr. (he had a baby son, named Mohamed Sanu Jr., last week) scored during Cincinnati's preseason opener against the Giants, it was the final play for starters including Dalton, A.J. Green, and Andrew Whitworth. A majority of the first-team offense concluded their evening after the second series.
How will Cincinnati's offense respond on Monday? Was last Friday's effortless performance the product of two joint practices (gaining familiarity) and the friendly atmosphere at of Paul Brown Stadium? Or was it a preview of a more efficient offense that we'll be seeing frequently in 2015?
2. AJ McCarron expected to make preseason debut
Speaking of quarterbacks, it's a near-certainty that backup quarterback AJ McCarron will make his preseason debut today in Tampa Bay. McCarron, who squatted on the team's Physically Unable to Perform list until December last year, didn't take a preseason snap as a rookie. In fact, he hasn't played a competitive game since Alabama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma during the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 2014.
A bit erratic early during training camp, McCarron began taking control of his accuracy issues during the team's annual scrimmage. Unfortunately, a rib injury has impacted his development, even forcing him to miss Cincinnati's preseason opener against New York.
Though he's not in danger of losing his spot as the team's primary backup, fans and coaches want to see how McCarron reacts during a competitive game -- especially if he's going be relied on as Dalton's primary (and only) backup.
3. Position battles gaining focus
Rookie cornerback Troy Hill has made plays during training camp and made a red zone deflection that ended a Giants threat with a minute remaining in the game. If we're playing out roster projections, the team's cornerback depth will include Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Leon Hall, Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw. Will Dennard make an impact to move higher on the team's depth chart? If Cincinnati keeps a sixth cornerback, which is possible due to obvious depth issues at safety, Hill comes into play with names like Brandon Ghee and Chris Lewis-Harris.
On the opposite side of the field, what have we learned at wide receiver? Presuming that Green, Sanu, Marvin Jones and Mario Alford are locks on the 53-man roster, the competition between veterans Brandon Tate, Greg Little, and Denarius Moore increases. Even undrafted rookie Jake Kumerow hovers around the discussion.
4. Progress among the first preseason game's winners
Running backs James Wilder Jr. and Terrell Watson took advantage of their opportunities last week when Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead were pulled from the game due to injuries. Wilder and Watson combined for more than 100 yards rushing with Wilder generating a second-quarter touchdown, expanding Cincinnati's lead. Will they receive another round of substantial snaps before the preseason finale? It doesn't seem likely; Burkhead and Peerman need work but they also enjoy easier paths to the 53-man roster.
Due to the rehabilitation work of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, who has missed substantial time recently due to an injury, Dan France is projected to become a significant contributor for Monday's game against Tampa Bay. France has rotated at offensive tackle and guard since July, giving the versatility-loving offensive line coach Paul Alexander options. Even linebacker Chris Carter, working primarily as a pass rusher last week, has received significant work while Michael Johnson and Margus Hunt are rehabilitating from injuries and allowing depth chart backups, like Carter, more playing time to impress coaches.