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What We Learned about the Bengals in Preseason Week 3

What did the Bengals teach us about their outlook in 2016 during Sunday’s third preseason game.

Cincinnati Bengals v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Bengals’ most important preseason game is now in the rearview mirror and we’re taking a look back to see what lessons can be taken away from the action prior to the final preseason game and a slew of roster cuts on the way this week.


Andy Dalton hasn’t shown any signs of regression. Way too many people assumed the quarterback’s fantastic 2015 season was a product of the receiving weapons around him or his former offensive coordinator’s tutelage, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The quarterback is a savant when it comes to reading opposing defenses and changing the play call at the line of scrimmage. He rarely misses a pass, and rarely seems to make the wrong read on a play. Ken Zampese must be grinning right now.

For the first time in a while — maybe ever — Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are both playing well at the same time. Granted, we’re still in the preseason, but the two backs have been tearing it up lately. Hill and Bernard combined for 48 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards and two total touchdowns (Hill’s coming on the ground, Bernard’s coming through the air). Hill has been a much more decisive runner, but he’s seemed to improve in the passing game as well. Bernard seems a lot more confident running between the tackles, and he has improved as a blocker as well. The duo has been dominant throughout the preseason and we should look to see that continue into the regulars-season.

Brandon LaFell should’ve had a touchdown catch. Pass interference by Prince Amukamara robbed the wideout of a touchdown, but LaFell still managed an 8-yard reception from AJ McCarron in his Bengals debut.

Tyler Boyd can really move the chains. The jury’s still out, as we’re still in the preseason, but from the looks of it, the wideout seems like a guy who will be targeted a ton on third down.

Cody Core has the tools to develop into a serious deep threat. We saw a glimpse of his ability on Sunday night.

C.J. Uzomah had a sneaky good game. Bengals fans wanted to see the tight end thrive in the absences of Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft, and while the third-stringer hasn’t been dominant, he’s shown enough to assure fans he can potentially start if needed. He was pretty badly overthrown on what should’ve been an easy touchdown pass, but he snagged a 10-yarder and made some solid plays in the run game. The tight end’s improvements as a blocker seem improved this year.

The starting offensive line was near-perfect under the lights. Clint Boling, Russell Bodine and Kevin Zeitler, in particular, put on a clinic throughout the game. Boling and Zeitler are a no-brainer top-three guard tandem, and Bodine showed fans why Paul Alexander has been so adamant about the center’s ability to start. After struggling against Linval Joseph, one of the NFL’s best nose tackles, in Week 1 and missing a couple of blocks in the first couple of drives of the Detroit game, Bodine has really come into his own. Aside from a false-start penalty, the center was fantastic in Jacksonville.


The Bengals’ defensive line might could be the best in the NFL.

Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson both steamrolled Joeckel like he was a piece of paper. This defensive line looks dominant.

This was the best play for the Bengals defense all game long, and Carlos Dunlap wasn’t even on the field. Atkins and Margus Hunt beat their opponents off the line but recognize a screen pass coming, and while Johnson and Domata Peko aren’t able to beat their guys, they both also have the awareness to understand the screen play. Quality play from the Bengals’ linebackers with the forced fumble and recovery is just icing on the cake.

Dre Kirkpatrick continues to look good in the preseason. The corner has played well throughout the preseason, and things weren’t any different on Sunday night. Kirkpatrick beautifully broke up a pass in the end zone, made a tackle in the run game and did not allow a single completion in coverage against one of the best receiving groups in the NFL.

George Iloka hasn’t been tested all preseason long, and that’s a good sign. Shawn Williams and Derron Smith have been seeing more time in the preseason, presumably because Iloka has been near-perfect in coverage in each of the Bengals’ three games. Of the two safeties behind Iloka, Williams looks like the better run defender while Smith looks like the better pass defender. Williams tallied two tackles (one for loss), while Smith tacked on two tackles of his own and broke up what would’ve been a touchdown pass to Julius Thomas. Hopefully the two can work off each other to improve their games while Paul Guenther looks for a way to effectively implement the two players into his secondary.

Hunt could play a significant role on defense. As of now, it looks as though he’ll be Wallace Gilberry’s replacement as the nickel defensive tackle alongside Atkins. While that’s not the most exciting thing to hear, it’s worth noting he commanded a double-team one play, leaving Johnson, Atkins and Dunlap in one-on-one matchups with their opponents. The defensive linemen was constantly pressuring opposing quarterbacks and rarely seemed to run out of energy.

Pat Sims looked much better in Week 3 of the preseason than he did in Week 2. He wasn’t a huge factor against the pass, but the nose tackle made two nice tackles against the run. He looks like a solid backup at nose tackle.

Special Teams

Peerman will be truly missed. Sure, he’s the team’s fourth-string running back, but his impact on special teams is hard to come by. Peerman often faced double-teams and even the occasional triple-team on kickoff and punt coverage, and he was one of the three key guys responsible for opening and securing a seam ahead of Bengals return men. Finding a replacement for the running back will be easier said than done.

Alex Erickson’s performance has people excited, as it should. The wideout looks confident and decisive in the return game, and he makes big plays. Erickson tallied 57 return yards on two punt returns and 31 yards on his only kickoff return of the night. To cap it off, he also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass and had an eight yard rush. The receiver’s 109 all-purpose yards on four touches makes him a hard player to ignore.

Erickson and Tate each misjudged a punt on Sunday night. On his second punt return, Erickson couldn’t get under the ball, allowing the punt to roll for an additional 17 yards on top of the initial punt. On a punt in the third quarter, Tate opted to let a punt bounce in the end zone, instead of fair-catching it at about the 9-yard-line. Because he misjudged the punt, the Bengals were pinned on their own 2-yard-line.

Kevin Huber should take a weeklong ice bath. Punting nine times (for 377 yards) is no easy task. Heading into Week 4 of the preseason, which Colts punter Pat McAfee claims is the hardest week for punters of the entire calendar year, Huber might want to take a couple of days off.

Bubble Players

Tra Carson and Bronson Hill really struggled, but that was more a fault of the reserve linemen than the running backs themselves. I could see Cincinnati offering spots on the practice squad to both of the running backs, especially considering Cedric Peerman’s injury. Speaking of...

There’s a decent chance the Bengals only keep three running backs on the roster. I don’t imagine they’ll add Carson or Hill to the 53-man roster, so it would likely take a free agent signing for Cincinnati to keep four running backs on the roster. If that’s the case, most people expect the Bengals to keep a seventh receiver — but don’t be surprised if they use it to create an additional spot on one of the lines or in the secondary instead.

One bad snap isn’t going to impact T.J. Johnson’s chances of making the roster. Barring an unforeseen trade or unexpected cut, the backup center will likely make the team.

DeShawn Williams quietly made an impact, but it might not be enough to warrant a roster spot. After a disappointing Week 2, the defensive tackle was a bit better in Week 3, tallying a tackle and a pass deflection in an otherwise unspectacular outing. The battle for snaps at the defensive tackle position is a numbers game, and Williams might not be on the right side of the bubble.

Cincinnati’s reserves, for the most part, struggled immensely. Chris Lewis-Harris, Chykie Brown and Tony McRae had their good moments, but all three had bad moments as well. Darius Hillary really struggled, and the safeties battling for the fourth spot on the roster didn’t show much. Champions have yet to emerge from the battles for the final spots at corner and safety.