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Bengals preseason Week 1: The good, the bad and the ugly

There was a lot to like in the Bengals’ debut, as they beat the Buccaneers 23-12 at Paul Brown Stadium on Friday night.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The positivity that has permeated through Bengals training camp made its way onto the field at Paul Brown Stadium on Friday night. Cincinnati’s backups took control of the game as it wore on, with many young players making some nice plays throughout the evening.

Of course, as it goes with the first game of the preseason, there are areas the team needs to clean up as well. Here are some of the best and worst from the Bengals in their 23-12 win over the Buccaneers on Friday.

The Good:

Seeing many stars back healthy: While they may not have done a lot to help the Bengals win, it was great seeing A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, William Jackson and Andrew Billings all back out on the field. Giovani Bernard and John Ross didn’t play, but it’s simply precautionary from their respective recent surgeries and they should see action later in the preseason.

The running backs: The Bengals decided to sit Bernard and Cedric Peerman is still on the Non-Football Injury list, but the combination of three of their other backs used netted 89 yards on 19 carries (4.7 yards per carry) on the evening. Though Jeremy Hill was a tad under four yards per carry, he was hitting the holes hard and had a few nice runs.

Joe Mixon wowed in multiple facets with more than five yards per carry, while Tra Carson was methodical and effective. While a lot of credit goes to the talent of the backs, there were some early holes created by various members of the offensive line and in various play calls. It’s early, but it looks like the Bengals might have a stout attack on the ground in 2017.

The kickers: One of the worst facets of the 2016 squad looked like one of the better ones on Friday night. Randy Bullock was 2-for-2 on field goal opportunities, including a nice 54-yard conversion, while rookie Jake Elliott hit his lone attempt of 45 yards. Both kickers were also a perfect 2-for-2 on extra points, making this competition even more stiff as the preseason continues.

Hello there, Jeff Driskel: After most folks wondered why the team kept three quarterbacks on the active roster last season, the second-year quarterback gave us all a reminder as to why that was the case. Driskel shined in the second half after pedestrian performances by Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron.

While he was helped out by nice plays from Carson and Alex Erickson, Driskel showed mobility and the ability to make accurate throws on the run. He had a spectacular 18-yard touchdown run, while also being the top rusher of the evening with 34 yards on five carries. He also threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to rookie Josh Malone late in the third quarter and he missed on just one throw Friday evening.

The talent of the young pass-rushers: While the Bengals only generated two quarterback sacks on Friday night, many young players were getting pressure on Tampa Bay signal-callers. Chris Smith, the fourth-year man the Bengals traded for this offseason, had a nice night with three tackles and two consecutive pressures, while Jordan Willis played like a man possessed, getting one of the sacks and another hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick to cause an incompletion.

Fellow rookie Carl Lawson made some pressures off of the edge and his 2017 fourth round counterpart, Ryan Glasgow, also made some nice plays even though it didn’t necessarily show on the stat sheet. Per Pro Football Focus:

Depth, depth and more depth: Sure, there are some question marks on this team, but there are some units that just seemed to be loaded. Really, many of the “good” facets we mentioned above point to the amount of talent this team has amassed in critical areas.

As you look at an early drive headed by McCarron, you saw him hit consecutive completions to Tyler Boyd and Cody Core, while Malone had a very nice night which included a touchdown grab (from Driskel)—and this was with No. 9 overall pick, John Ross, on the bench resting. This, of course, was after Green and Brandon LaFell came off of the field after both had catches on the first drive. We mentioned the running backs already along with the receivers, while the defensive line, quarterback and secondary positions all seem to have a lot of talent waiting in the wings.

The bad:

Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron: While it wasn’t an awful night by either quarterback, there was a lot of “meh”. Dalton looked sharp on the Bengals’ first drive of the night, but it ended with an awful interception thrown from the Buccaneers’ 2-yard line. Some may believe it wasn’t wholly on Dalton, but the fact remains that it cost the Bengals a shot at getting at least three points.

McCarron made a couple of nice throws, but only led the Bengals to six total points, though the team did score field goals on both possessions he engineered. We’re probably being a little hard on these guys here, but I think we just expected a bit more.

Poor contain at times from interior defensive line: It’s obvious that Andrew Billings has immense talent and was seen moving his blockers with relative ease, but he and a couple of other interior linemen were far out of position on some of the Bucs’ biggest plays of the night. The most obvious was on Fitzpatrick’s touchdown run, where the middle of the field was wide open for the veteran quarterback to cruise into the end zone.

The ugly:

Settling for less, when it comes to points: One of the aspects we wanted to see from the offense on Friday was an improvement from their subpar performance as an offense both in the red zone and in simply taking advantage of opportunities for points last year. They didn’t show us much improvement, other than the kickers hitting some big kicks.

The interception from Dalton early in the game was brutal and cost the team at least a gimme field goal opportunity, while McCarron dinked and dunked his way to just six points. This will probably get better as the preseason rolls on, but this is a critical area for the team if they want to get back to the postseason in 2017.

Other facets of special teams other than the kickers: On punt returns, the Bengals netted four total yards on three attempts, while also being pinned inside of their own 10-yard line twice on Bryan Anger punts. Meanwhile, the Bengals’ coverage units gave up a 22-yard punt return to Bernard Reedy and a 37-yard kickoff return to Josh Huff, in which he was dangerously close to breaking all the way. And speaking of punt returns, why is Adam Jones being used on special teams in the preseason?