The Cincinnati Bengals looked like a completely different team from a week ago, where issues like a lack of physicality and getting as many points as possible were on full display. Some good news is that the team seems to be taking the embarrassing 30-12 loss to heart, but improvement over the final two weeks of the preseason is now of utmost importance.
Here are the best and worst aspects of the Bengals’ preseason Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Young guys playing up to potential: The 2017 draft class showed the most promise on paper since the 2010-2011 hauls, and they have shown up in a big way. Third-round selection Jordan Willis has a sack in each of the first two preseason games, while Joe Mixon continues to create wow plays out of seemingly nothing and Josh Malone is translating potential into actual on-field production.
Jake Elliott has been perfect on all of his preseason attempts (three field goals, one extra point), and linebacker Jordan Evans continues to show his extreme athleticism with nine total tackles in two games. Carl Lawson flashed last week but rested a shoulder issue versus the Chiefs. We even may see the exciting John Ross in the next two contests.
Meanwhile, many of the second-year guys are also looking pretty good. Nick Vigil was very active on Saturday, while receivers Alex Erickson and Tyler Boyd made some very nice plays once again this week. Some of the veterans need to be on notice—especially after many have put out some pedestrian performances as starters.
The kicking competition: One of the biggest areas of needed improvement was at kicker. Cincinnati brought back veteran Randy Bullock in free agency, while also adding Elliott with a fifth-round pick. Cincinnati has essentially alternated all kicking opportunities between the two this preseason and they both have been perfect.
Having two able kickers after not really even having one last year is a good problem to have, and one that should help translate into more regular season wins. Still, one kicker who has had a solid preseason performance will be tossed out on the street.
The pass rush (mostly from the reserves): Even with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap making the Pro Bowl last year, Cincinnati’s defense struggled with getting to the passer consistently last year. The Bengals’ front office went offense-heavy early in the 2017 draft, but they also added Willis and Lawson in the middle rounds to help give their battle-tested starters some relief.
But it isn’t just the rookies who made an impact on Saturday. Vontaze Burfict joined Willis to have two of the team’s three sacks against the Chiefs, but it was a low-profile offseason trade that has netted dividends this preseason. Chris Smith has been consistently harassing passers and had the other sack of the night.
Marvin Lewis’ clock (mis)management before the half: It’s preseason, so we’ll give him a little bit of a pass, but for a guy who has headed up the same team for the past 15 years, his ability to properly allow the offense to maneuver its way down the field in crunch time is questionable at best. It’s long been a criticism of Lewis since he became a head coach and it was on display once again Saturday night.
Here is the rundown of the pre-halftime scenario, courtesy of Paul Dehner, Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer:
There were about 11 seconds on the clock when Tyler Boyd was tackled. Timeout by Marvin Lewis comes at 4 seconds. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) August 20, 2017
Boyd’s catch got the team to the Chiefs’ 8-yard line and those aforementioned seven seconds should have given the offense one more shot at a touchdown try. While it was great to see Bullock nail his field goal attempt, the sting of the night would have been a bit less with a 30-16 result should they have properly taken advantage of the opportunity.
Not getting into the end zone: Speaking of not taking advantage of opportunities, that was not only a major theme of the Bengals’ disappointing season, but has also carried into this preseason. Cincinnati’s offense has only scored two touchdowns in the first two games, with both coming from third-string quarterback Jeff Driskel in the opener.
With all of the young and exciting weapons at the skill positions on offense, scoring touchdowns shouldn’t be this much of a problem. Get. In. The. End. Zone.
Gruesome-looking injuries: Even though the prognosis may not be as bleak as we originally thought, the Bengals appear to be losing Shawn Williams for at least a relatively big chunk of time with a dislocated elbow. The Bengals have talent behind him in guys like Clayton Fejedelem, Derron Smith and swingman Josh Shaw, so all isn’t lost, but those two struggled against Kansas City once Williams left the game.
Also, backup linebacker Hardy Nickerson, Jr. got crunched up in a gang tackle opportunity, which looked very scary for the young man’s neck and back areas. He walked off the field after the pileup, but we’ll see how it goes with him going forward. Still, both injuries remind us about the annoyances and rolls of the dice that come with preseason contests.
Complete digression from preseason Week 1: Even though the potential for the Bengals in 2017 is through the roof, a lot of things need to fall into place for them to make it back to the postseason. After their dominance against the Buccaneers last week, I think both Bengals fans and players puffed out their chests a bit much.
Unfortunately, many of the criticisms used by the national media as to why the Bengals might be mediocre this year came to fruition on Saturday night. Subpar offensive line play, which subsequently led to a “blah” running attack (3.42 yards per carry), and an overall lack of focus that has plagued Lewis-coached teams against quality opponents showed up Saturday against Kansas City. The 2017 Bengals may be a true Jekyll-and-Hyde team from week-to-week this year.
Errors and ineffectiveness from veterans: For all of the precociousness shown by the young players the Bengals have added of late, some of their most tenured veterans made either egregious errors or were totally ineffective on Saturday. Michael Johnson, who was once one of the Bengals’ most valued defensive players, has been ineffective so far this preseason, while guys like Will Clarke and others have also failed to impress.
One prime example was Andy Dalton and A.J. Green missing out on an easy opportunity to convert a third down opportunity (and possibly a touchdown), as a slightly errant throw caused an unlikely drop by the star wideout. We’ll see if Lewis is a bit more aggressive in letting the impressive youngsters actually get more time, should they continue to prove worthy, but the older guys should be feeling the heat.
The defense: Yes, Cincinnati’s defense was playing a fast and athletic Kansas City offense full of gadget plays, but this unit looked like a shadow of itself on Saturday. Case in point: running back Kareem Hunt had a 25-yard run in the first quarter, in which Andrew Billings, Burfict and Williams all missed subsequent tackles on the play. Could this be the effect of a bunch of training camp practices without much hitting and tackling?