The Bengals had a nice start to their 2017 season, as they handily beat the Buccaneers at home, 23-12. In the victory, there were particular areas in which the team showed crispness, but they also showed some youth and rust in others.
Preseason games two and three are usually the biggest barometers as to what we might be seeing in the regular season, so this Saturday’s matchup against the Chiefs and the subsequent one against the Redskins will tell us a lot. And while there is positivity stemming from the Bengals’ first preseason win, there are areas for improvement.
Here are some of the individual matchups to keep an eye on this weekend.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson versus Bengals running back Jeremy Hill:
When you look back at the film in the preseason opener against the Buccaneers, Hill actually ran with a purpose that more resembled the latter half of his 2014 rookie campaign. He had a couple of runs that didn’t net him much, but that was more of a product of poor blocking, more than the tentativeness we’ve seen from No. 32 over the past couple of seasons.
Hill, who will likely be the “starting back” once again in Week 2 of the preseason, will be going up against many star players on the Chiefs defense. While he may have lost a step entering his 13th season, Johnson is still a leader of the Kansas City defense and has a high football I.Q. Will Hill be able to navigate through the Chiefs defense to more success?
Chiefs defensive back Ron Parker versus Bengals wide receiver John Ross:
While we don’t quite know if Ross will be playing on Saturday night, he has recently been full-go in practices. If he plays, he might get some reps against some of the members of Kansas City’s solid first-string defense, which includes Parker.
After seeing so many solid performances from other members of the Bengals’ 2017 draft class, seeing what the No. 9 overall pick can do against top-tier talent in his first NFL game brings anticipation.
After struggling to latch on to a steady job early in his career, Parker has been a steady presence with the Chiefs. If Ross is to play, the Bengals will likely use him on quick-hitters to provide yards-after-the-catch opportunities, as well as on long balls.
Both would test a guy like Parker who has more limitations than fellow safety Eric Berry or cornerback Marcus Peters. Can Ross translate that immense speed in his first NFL game?
Chiefs linebackers Tamba Hali versus Bengals offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi:
Even though the unit had some nice moments last Friday, there were other moments that fed into the concerns held by most Bengals fans going into 2017. The Bengals’ first-string offense intentionally utilized plays to get the ball out of Andy Dalton’s hands quickly, so they might do the same again in an effort to mask possible deficiencies up front.
However, at some point, Cincinnati’s coaching staff needs to see if Ogbuehi can stand up to some of the premiere pass-rushers in the league. Hali has been one of the better edge rushers for some time, while he and Dee Ford tend to move around in their defense to get to the passer. Players like these provide a good test for the third-year man trying to hang on to the starting left tackle spot.
Chiefs wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas versus Bengals linebacker Jordan Evans:
The Bengals’ brain trust had an interesting approach to their 2017 draft haul. Yes, they wanted players whom they thought could immediately contribute, but they also desired to add youngsters with some incredible athletic measureables. Ross, Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis and Evans all had exceptional numbers in a number of pre-draft workout drills.
Evans had a nice debut in the preseason opener, and he’ll likely be tasked with roaming the field against some of the quicker options in the Kansas City passing game. With the departure of Jeremy Maclin, it’s hard to tell exactly what the pecking order will be in the Chiefs’ wide receiver group, but Thomas is a fast gadget player in which a guy like Evans could tail with his own speed and athleticism.
Kick returner Tyreek Hill versus Bengals’ kick coverage teams:
Last week, the Bengals’ special teams unit had their kickers come up big, but the coverage teams weren’t as stout as we’ve become accustomed to. If Cincinnati is going to continue to struggle in some other critical areas, the unheralded aspect of special teams will be huge for the Bengals in 2017.
Hill took the NFL by storm last year as both a receiver and return man, and though he’ll likely have limited touches on Saturday, the Bengals’ coverage units will be tested. They will need to stiffen up to give more confidence to the coaching staff and the team’s fans.
Bengals kicker Jake Elliott versus the mental game:
After a nice performance in the preseason opener, and one where he saw his counterpart Roberto Aguayo released after the contest for a poor showing, Elliott needs to show more. His competition, veteran Randy Bullock, also had a nice evening against the Buccaneers and is breathing down his neck.
While it might not mean that much right now, Elliott massively struggled in Wednesday’s practice, going 0-for-3 on kicks of 45 yards or longer. We all know games are what matter, so Elliott will need to sharpen up in an effort to cement himself as the team’s 2017 kicker.