The Week 1 preseason opener couldn't have gone much better than it did. With the exception of no injuries, the Week 2 trip to Tampa couldn't have gone any worse. The Bengals looked lethargic, out of sync and downright uninterested at Raymond James Stadium. There isn't much positive on the What We Learned front from fake football game number two:
The optimism we had for the first string last week can be shelved for a while.
If you ran out and purchased Super Bowl tickets after the first preseason game, you are probably selling them on ebay after this week's performance. Against the Giants, the Bengals couldn't do anything wrong. One week later, against what should be an inferior opponent, the Bengals couldn't do anything right.
If it weren't for dropped passes, the Bengals defense may have never gotten off the field.
There is no sugarcoating it, the Bengals defense was terrible and they were being picked apart by a rookie quarterback and a running back who was left for dead last year. Watching the Bengals try to tackle Doug Martin was like watching 11 middle school kids at a county fair try and catch a pig after dipping their hands in a bucket of grease. Tampa insiders have been saying that Martin is looking good this offseason, but that doesn't excuse the tackling we were exposed to last night.
As for Jameis Winston's much ballyhooed debut in Tampa, a week removed from looking like the rookie he is, the Bengals made Winston look like the second coming of Joe Montana on Monday night and gave all Bucs fans across the world reason to be excited. Receivers were running around wide open in the "vaunted" Bengals secondary, and had it not been for some dropped passes and tripping on his own feet, the Bengals first string defense may have never stopped Winston and the Bucs first team offense.
I know it is preseason, but it is frustrating to see what appeared to be key defensive players giving up on plays - or simply not trying. Two examples were Carlos Dunlap and Dre Kirkpatrick. On the impressive 30-yard sideline run by Martin, Dunlap had a chance to tackle Martin or simply push him out of bounds. Instead, Dunlap made a lazy attempt to pull Martin by the back of his jersey as he over ran the play. Martin slipped out and turned a no gain run into a 30-yard pickup. A few series later, Kirkpatrick was beat on a deep ball which he appeared to give up on. These are two players who are supposed to be leaders on this team. We have heard all summer long how great Kirkpatrick has been, and all indications are that he is poised for a breakout year, but leaders don't give up on plays - preseason or not - and to see that sort of effort out there on Monday night was frustrating as a fan and had to be absolutely maddening as a coach.
The Bengals primetime woes apparently extend to the preseason.
It gets old hearing about how the Bengals "struggle" in primetime games, but it is true. Under Marvin Lewis - and especially under Dalton - the Bengals have been brutal in nationally televised games. Yes, this was just the preseason, but the Bengals were playing a team coming off a 2-14 record and starting a rookie quarterback and the Bengals starting offense managed just 22-yards in their first six possessions, all the while filling up the stat sheet with three punts and three turnovers. It wasn't until backups began coming in for the Bucs that the Bengals starting offense started to move the ball, and even then, all they could muster was a field goal.
The defense was no better and appeared to be in their "primetime form" as well, surrendering 17 first half points, including an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the game and allowing Martin to break off 59 yards on just six carries (9.8 YPC).
A.J. Green commits way too many physical and mental errors for a player of his caliber.
A.J. Green is a great receiver, but I have been saying it for the past year on our Inside the Jungle podcast, he makes way too many physical and mental errors for a player of his talent and for a guy that is likely to get $40+ million in guaranteed money sometime in the next year or two. For all the criticism Dalton gets - some well-deserved - somehow Green seems to always fly under the radar when it comes to laying blame. The pick six that went through Green's hands on Monday night was glaring and easy to blame, but there are many other instances from the past four years where Dalton gets blamed for the interception, but the interception was the result of Green giving up on a route, cutting a route short, rounding a route off, not fighting for a ball or simply letting the ball bounce off his hands. If you think I am crazy, Jon Gruden pointed it out right after the play and had highlights on queue to show the audience what he was talking about. If it wasn't an issue, the Monday night crew wouldn't have had a highlight reel ready to go.
The Andy Dalton haters got plenty more ammunition Monday night - but their "AJ McCarron should start" mantra took a blow of reality.
Dalton must have wanted to take the heat away from Green, because on the very next drive Dalton made a poor decision trying to force a ball down the seam to Tyler Eifert and it was picked again. The decision was poor, the pass was poor and the turnover was inexcusable. When Dalton tries pushing things, he gets himself, and the team, in trouble, and when Andy Dalton is off, the throw is usually high...which is a recipe for interceptions. Hue Jackson has talked about the need to limit the turnovers, but if Dalton cannot limit the turnovers and learn to protect the football, this team will never reach their goal of the Super Bowl.
That being said, if you are in the boat clamoring for McCarron to start, you got a glimpse of why the Bengals are in trouble if McCarron starts. Maybe one day he will be a good starter, but he looked like a guy that hadn't thrown a pass in a game in nearly 600 days. His ball wobbled, he looked slow reading the field and if you are concerned about Dalton's arm strength, watch McCarron. I hope McCarron plays great the rest of the preseason so we can feel more comfortable about the backup quarterback situation, but he is not going to unseat Dalton and if he has to start a game in 2015, the Bengals are in trouble.
The Bengals guards, particularly Kevin Zeitler, were abused by the Tampa Bay defensive front.
The Bucs Gerald McCoy is really good and makes plenty of offensive lineman look silly. However, Zeitler is supposed to be one of the top guards in the league and McCoy was simply walking him back into Dalton at will. Dalton was sacked three times in 16 drop backs and while the entire line looked bad, Zeitler managed to stand out.
Ball security continues to be a problem for Jeremy Hill.
Every Bengals fan is excited about second year back Jeremy Hill, and rightfully so. The guy has power, elusiveness, good vision, good speed and good hands. He is a true "workhorse back" that can carry a team and after a standout rookie season, expectations are through the roof for Hill. However, despite his impressive rookie numbers, one stat that seemed to go unnoticed by many was his lack of ball security. In 249 touches, Hill fumbled five times (4 rushing, 1 receiving) - or more than 2 percent of the time. You may think 2 percent doesn't sound like a lot, but keep this in mind, out of all the running backs with 200+ touches, no running back had more fumbles than Hill. If the Bengals are going to lean on Hill, he has to secure the football.
Margus Hunt does not look worthy of a roster spot.
Sure, he had a nice sack while he was being held, but he looks lost, slow, uninspired and like he is still thinking instead of reacting. The play that summed up Hunt for me was when he was in the backfield standing over the quarterback - who had lost the football - and Hunt didn't even realize the ball was loose. He was standing there waiting for the whistle. With the impressive play of the guys below, I think it is time to move on from the Margus Hunt experiment.
The Bengals may be forced to find a spot on the roster for DeShawn Williams and Chris Carter.
Williams, an undrafted rookie out of Clemson, has been impressive in camp and has looked good in both preseason games thus far. After a sack and two quarterback hits in Week 1, Williams followed it up with another nice performance in Week 2 and even drew a comparison to Geno Atkins from Jon Gruden.
Carter, a fifth year player who saw limited playing time in three seasons with the Steelers, has impressed many at camp this year and looked great on Monday night. Of the Bengals' four sacks on the night, Carter contributed 1.5 and now has three quarterback hits in two preseason games. For a team starving for players that can rush the quarterback, Carter can serve a valuable role.
Devon Still looked much better.
The stat sheet (2 tackles) doesn't indicate much, but Still was much better against the Bucs than he was against the Giants. Against the Giants, he was being pushed around by backups. Against the Bucs, he saw some time against starters and he made some plays. At this point, I think he is on the outside of the bubble, but if he plays like he did on Monday, he may make cut down day a bit more difficult, and there isn't anyone - Bengals fan or not - who isn't rooting for Still.
I have yet to see a kick/punt returner give the Bengals reason to part with Brandon Tate.
There has been a lot of talk and excitement surrounding Mario Alford and how he is finally the guy to supplant Brandon Tate at the kick return position, but so far, I have seen nothing to indicate he is ready. Sure, he had a nice 19-yard punt return, but Tate has looked better and more comfortable on kick returns, which is where Alford would be needed most.
The Bengals need to find a roster spot for Jake Kumerow.
In the third week of the preseason, I would like to see Kumerow get some time with the starters to see how he does because he has been very impressive against the backups. The 6'5" 206 pound undrafted rookie free agent out of D-III Wisconsin Whitewater has probably been the most impressive and consistent receiver of the preseason and is catching everything thrown his way. He is receiving rave reviews by his veteran teammates for his work ethic and play, and for a team starved for depth at the wide receiver position, he is worth a spot on the roster.
Way too many flags were thrown by Monday night's officiating crew.
I didn't recognize the crew chief from Monday night's game and I hope I don't ever see him again. If the play wasn't bad enough, the refs felt the need to throw 22 flags for 245 yards in what seemed like a cruel and calculated effort to extend my misery. If all flags were counted, including the declined penalties, there would have been more flags than points and more penalty yards than offensive yards in that game.