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What we learned from Bengals’ preseason loss to Chiefs

There was plenty to learn about the Bengals from the team’s disappointing loss on Saturday.

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Even though it is only the preseason, losing still stings. It is never easy to see your team get beat down 30-12. The bright side to this loss is the Cincinnati Bengals have about two weeks to work out their issues before they play games that count. The team is going to have to put in hard work if they want to be ready for the regular season, which the players surely want.

First, the bad news:

The defense needs to work on tackling

Marvin Lewis is very skittish when it comes to contact during practice. In order to preserve the health of his players, he wants to minimize tackling wherever possible. To a point, this is a good strategy. However, Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt showed us why this isn't a great plan.

Some key defensive players missed tackles on this 25-yard run by Hunt.

Unfortunately, this occurrence was all too common. The Chiefs gained a total of 228 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per rush. The Bengals gave up nine runs of 10 yards or more. The Chiefs’ leading rusher, Charcandrick West, compiled 113 on only seven yards, with a whopping average of 16.1 yards per carry. He totaled three runs of 25 or more yards. While some of the long runs were due to good blocking (including West’s 50 yarder) there were too many that were because of missed tackles.

If you have the stomach, you can see some of West’s performance here and here.

The running backs weren’t the only players who made Bengals players miss. Even rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes averaged nearly 10 yards per carry.

I’ll say some nice things about Will Clarke later, but he needed to finish that play. It looked like every defensive player for the Bengals had at least one whiff on the night. This was not a good look for the Bengals, who will face Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell twice this year.

The Bengals need to reconsider their aging tackles

Andre Smith sat out in the first week of the preseason due to a coach’s decision. This week, he played left tackle for the second line and looked the part: a backup. After bringing him back from Minnesota, he was thought to be a lock to start at right guard. If he is to play that position, he needs to step up his game.

AJ McCarron deserves most of the blame for this interception and DeVante Bausby should get credit for the great tip. But Smith did not help McCarron settle into the pocket. It’s likely the Bengals’ second string quarterback felt the pressure from Tanoh Kpassagnon on Smith’s side of the line.

Eric Winston provided an equally poor showing. Whenever there was pressure on the quarterback in the second half, it came from the edges. More often than not the pocket collapsed on the tackles. They have both lost their edges as they have aged.

What are the alternatives? The Bengals would love a safety net for Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, but are Smith and Winston viable options? Perhaps Trey Hopkins—the player who’s stealing Smith’s job at right tackle—could slide over at tackle if need be, and Christian Westerman could fill in at guard. This particular setup is just speculation, mind you, but the Bengals would do well to try alternate options along the line.

The offense has not fixed its red zone woes

If Tyler Eifert is healthy in 2017, the Bengals will be stuck with a dilemma: either find a way to score touchdowns in the red zone or find a new excuse.

Here’s another dilemma: is it worse the Bengals failed to score touchdowns on both red zone possessions or that there were only two red zone possessions?

Last week, Jeff Driskel was so amazing everyone forgot he was the only Bengals quarterback to score touchdowns in the first preseason game. Dalton’s only drive ended in an interception, and McCarron settled for field goals twice. One week later, the story continued, only this time Driskel looked like a third string quarterback. Not only have Dalton and McCarron not scored any touchdowns this preseason, but the entire offense hasn’t scored any with those two quarterbacks under center.

Now, A.J. Green and Eifert were only on the field for one drive and rookie wide receiverJohn Ross and veteran running back Giovani Bernard have not played yet at all this preseason. The Bengals’ offense isn’t yet complete. Maybe this is an excuse the Bengals can use. But just incase, they should work on the offense anyways.

Finally, some good news:

The defensive line is drowning in depth

The Bengals have one more problem to face, but this one is a problem every team wants to have. There are too many talented defensive linemen in Cincinnati.

The battle to determine who plays alongside Pro Bowlers Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap is heating up. Pat Sims started on the line in each preseason game so far and will probably keep his spot, unless Andrew Billings steps up and snatches it away. Regardless of whether he plays the first down of the game on defense, Billings should see significant playing time. And, Michael Johnson, who started on the end opposite of Dunlap, is facing a lot of criticism. This is another spot where a newcomer can break into the starting lineup, and even if it’s not in Week 1, it could come at some point later this season.

Clarke performed well in the second half, except for the one miscue where he failed to sack Mahomes. Even so, he still forced the young quarterback to make a difficult throw. Clarke was in the backfield almost every time he lined up against the Chiefs, though it didn't always show in the box score as he didn't do well in actually getting to the quarterback.

Chris Smith and Jordan Willis were both more effective in that matter and both have had a lot of hype surrounding them... for good reason. Smith and Willis were Pro Football Focus’ top ranked Bengals players, ranked at one and two respectively. As if to illustrate their dominance, they both recorded a sack within the span of three plays from scrimmage. Not only did they impress against the backups, but they even had some big plays against the first team as well.

Billings was a run-stopping force at the defensive tackle position. He will make an impression this year, especially if the team trusts him enough to start in Week 1. Maybe next week he’ll take Sims’ starting role for the dress rehearsal.

Throughout the game, the Chiefs quarterbacks were under pressure. Unfortunately, they were able to get the ball out of their hands for the most part before the were sacked.

Alex Erickson’s spot is safe

Some thought second year wide receiver/kick returner Alex Erickson would require a great camp and preseason to make the team again. Just like last year, he has risen to the challenge.

As an undrafted free agent, the odds will always be stacked against him. However, he submitted some great plays to his résumé this weekend. In addition to a 39-yard kickoff return, he also contributed in the passing game. Erickson had two key receptions for 67 yards in the one-minute drive that ended the first half. From what we have seen between camp and the preseason, Erickson has had plenty of opportunities to earn a roster spot and has thrived. A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Boyd are the top receivers on the depth chart, and rookie John Ross hopes to join that group soon, too. But still, Erickson is at the top of the the second-tier group, and will be featured in the return game as well. He has proven his worth and most likely will stick around this year.

The secondary is set for a shake-up

This isn’t good news, but its not entirely bad news either.

Injuries to George Iloka and Shawn Williams are terrible news. While the safety position is slowly depleting, there are replacements available. Clayton Fejedelem started on Saturday, and at times was the only safety on the field. This shows the Bengals trust him and he has the confidence to play with the first team. Cornerback Josh Shaw has played safety at times during training camp as well as for one game last year, and his contribution to that position increased this weekend.

An extra complication will be Adam Jones’ absence in Week 1 due to a suspension. Shaw played slot cornerback last year, so the Bengals might be worried about the depth at that position as well. If Iloka can’t return, Shaw might be starting at safety alongside Fejedelem in the season opener. For the time being, William Jackson looks like he will fill in for Jones, with Darqueze Dennard playing in the slot.

Again, this is not a certainty, but this would not be the worst look. Bene Benwikere and KeiVarae Russell have shown flashes of greatness this preseason, so they could add depth to the cornerback position, though only one of those two corners is likely to make the 53-man roster. Derron Smith and even rookie Demetrious Cox are solid backups at safety, so the secondary should not cause Bengals fans to lose any sleep...yet. Don’t believe me? Take it from Iloka himself.