Maybe the Bengals just need to play all games at home. Like they did in Week 1 against the Giants, the Bengals looked crisp in their preseason "dress rehearsal" on Saturday night and look to enter the season without any significant injuries for the first time in a while. Here is what we learned from the least fake of the fake football games:
There is not a quarterback controversy, but AJ McCarron played very well...and that is a good thing.
McCarron showed that he can be the backup and if called on this year, might be able to keep the ship floating. He also put some good film out there which may allow the Bengals to trade him for a nice draft pick in a year or so. But, as I said last week, no matter how good McCarron looks in the preseason, he isn't unseating Dalton and the only way he is going to play in 2015 is if Dalton gets hurt - or a blowout. "How can you be so sure" says the Dalton hater, well, here is how: 99 touchdowns, 40 wins, 4 playoff appearances and 2,111 NFL passes to 0 NFL regular-season passes...plus Marvin Lewis does not entertain quarterback controversies.
The Bengals starters made it through the preseason with no significant injuries and look ready.
We say it every year, the most important thing when it comes to the preseason is health. Well, the Bengals have it. The most significant injury the Bengals suffered was the MCL sprain of Michael Johnson and it sounds as though he won't miss any regular season games. Knock on wood, but when is the last time you can remember a Bengals team entering the season this healthy?
The defensive line spent a lot of time in the Bears' backfield.
The defensive line as a whole looked very good on Saturday night, but there were a number of linemen - Geno Atkins, Wallace Gilberry, Marcus Hardison - who seemed to spend most of the game behind the big guys in Bears jerseys. Atkins was disrupting plays all night and Carlos Dunlap and Gilberry were benefitting from it left and right. Hardison continued to show why the Bengals were excited about him and he should see some playing time on Sundays.
Chris Carter and DeShawn Williams have earned roster spots on this team and it is going to be very difficult to cut either.
Neither Carter nor Williams are locks to make the roster - in fact, they are both long shots - but they have both played well enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. The Bengals are concerned about Carter's ability to play the linebacker position and they are deep along the defensive line, but how can a team that sucked all 2014 at getting to the quarterback cut a guy that has been their most consistent player in getting to the quarterback? Carter had another sack on Saturday and had another taken away due to a flag, but he is looking like a guy that could be used as a pass rushing specialist. They should have enough flexibility on this roster to make room for a guy like Carter.
Williams has continued to impress as well, however, unlike the linebacker position Carter is competing at, the defensive line is deep and though Williams deserves a shot, he may get caught up in a numbers game. The problem for the Bengals is Williams has played so well and garnered so much attention, if they don't put him on their 53-man roster, he may not make it through waivers to the practice squad - or may not last long once he is there. In my opinion, the final defensive line roster spot will come down to Williams or Pat Sims? Veteran or promising rookie?
The starting offensive line eased a lot of minds with their performance against Chicago.
After the performance Monday night in Tampa, there was a lot of talk and concern over the offensive line - and rightfully so. Well, Andre Smith was back and for the first time in nearly a year, we saw the starting five play together and they played well. The running game was established early and the quarterbacks had time to throw and that's all you can ask for from your line. If healthy, this is a top 10, maybe even a top five unit depending on how Russell Bodine plays.
Andy Dalton played was sharp in his last action.
Five days after a shaky performance in Tampa, Dalton and the first string offense came out with an impressive 16 play, 77 yard touchdown drive capped off by a one yard quarterback sneak by Dalton. In the drive, Dalton was 6/6 including 2/2 on converting third downs and had a nice 25-yard completion down the middle to Rex Burkhead. Though Dalton's night was cut short by a minor neck injury, he looked crisp in his only series and looks ready for the real games.
Seeing Marvin Jones healthy and making plays is a welcomed sight.
How nice is it to see Jones back on the field? It didn't take long to see exactly what the Bengals were missing last year in his absence. Jones has better speed and hands than Mohamed Sanu and can make plays on the outside and over the middle. Though it was negated by a penalty, Jones had the catch of the game down the sideline on a 40+ yard pass by McCarron. The ball was underthrown and Jones did an excellent job of locating the ball and going up to get it at its highest point and took it from the defensive back. Jones also contributed a nice 31-yard touchdown catch later in the game on a nice route across the middle. Sanu filled in admirably in 2014, but this offense is much more explosive with Jones opposite A.J. Green.
Rex Burkhead could be the X-Factor of this offense.
The coaches have been raving about him all offseason and we are starting to see why. Burkhead is looking like a dangerous player in the passing game and could very well become this team's slot receiver. Burkhead tied for the team lead in receiving on Saturday night with two catches for 35 yards, including a nice leaping grab down the seam for 25 yards on the Bengals' first drive. With Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard taking most of the carries, Burkhead will see most of his contributions come via the passing game and he looks poised for a breakout season.
If Brandon Tate does not make this team, I will be surprised.
Tate hasn't received much support from me over the years - I am sure that eats at him at night - but at this point in the preseason, I have not seen anyone take the punt and kick return duties away from him. Bernard - much to my surprise - has done nothing returning punts and Mario Alford has done little in the kick return game. I have also noticed Tate quite a few times making nice plays on special teams as a gunner, and with Dre Kirkpatrick no longer at gunner, Tate's ability to be a solid gunner may result in him keeping his spot on this team.
Duke Tobin had some interesting comments.
During Saturday night's broadcast, Bengals Director of Player Personnel, Duke Tobin, joined the broadcast team in the booth and had a few interesting comments:
- I am paraphrasing, but Tobin talked about how valuable Cedric Peerman is on special teams and how they need his contributions. Translation? Cedric Peerman is making the team and James Wilder or Terrell Watson will be on the practice squad. I think Wilder will get picked up and Watson ends up on the practice squad.
- Paraphrasing again, but when asked about the possibility of keeping 10 defensive lineman, Tobin acknowledged that 10 defensive lineman is a possibility because of the flexibility of the roster. Translation? The flexibility of a guy like Burkhead to play receiver and be the third running back, or Josh Shaw/Leon Hall to be the fourth safety, may allow the team an extra roster spot for a defensive lineman like DeShawn Williams.
Final cuts are going to be very tough at a few positions.
There will be plenty of roster debate articles in the next week, so I am not going to get into the specifics in this article, but final cuts at the linebacker, defensive tackle, defensive end and wide receiver position are going to be very interesting and many teams will be keeping a close eye on who the Bengals cut at those positions.
We have seen the last of the Bengals starters.
The Bengals got through three preseason games without any significant injuries to starters and therefore you can bet we aren't going to see many, if any starters in Thursday's finale against the Colts. The Thursday matchup will be strictly for the backups and deciding who gets those last few spots on the roster. Here are players I believe are fighting for those last few spots and players I would keep an eye on: Chris Carter, Margus Hunt, Shawn Williams, Troy Hill and Jake Kumerow.
The Bears are bad.
This isn't brought up in an effort to curb your enthusiasm regarding how the Bengals played, more so just an observation. Granted, the Bears were missing Alshon Jeffrey and Eddie Royal, but that was a bad team and a team that is going to struggle to get five or six wins.