The Cincinnati Bengals lost a tough game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday. It’s not the end of the world, but I don’t blame you if you didn’t stick around for the fourth quarter. If Cincinnati took a step forward in Week 1 this is just a couple steps back. Still, it’s just the preseason.
Other than the solid competition between kickers Randy Bullock and Jake Elliott, one of the highlights was Nick Vigil, the second-year linebacker out of Utah State who looks more and more like a starter each day. The rest of the game was underwhelming, for both the defense and the offense.
But as I said above, it’s still early to draw many conclusions about how this team can fare in the regular season. This loss, even if disappointing, doesn’t mean the Bengals are a bad team. Though, for the players fighting for a job, their time is running out, and they need to prove they belong or they’ll be gone very soon. It’s hard to evaluate many guys during preseason games, given the lack of quality film, but we’ll try our best.
John Sheeran took care of the linemen, so we’ll focus on the rest of the defense, a unit that allowed the Chiefs to convert 50 percent of their third downs and also surrendered 228 rushing yards and 410 yards overall. There were a couple bright spots, though, with Vigil leading the way.
Vigil can do it all
With so many rookies and redshirt rookies on the roster this summer it’s easy to forget some of the guys who were drafted last year and could take a leap in 2017. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd on offense is one name, but the most egregious example is Vigil, the SAM linebacker who can cover, rush the passer—he should have had a sack—and defend the running game.
The hustle Vigil plays with is the total opposite from recent veteran linebackers that were with the Bengals. He might not be the strongest guy on the field, but his athleticism allows him to be almost everywhere, and he never takes one play off. Sometimes he will not be able to disengage from the blockers, but as we saw on Saturday night, when he does, he will make a play - or draw a penalty.
Paul Guenther called more blitzes, but they were still ineffective
Paul Guenther is one of NFL’s best blitz designers, and yet he blitzed with less frequency than every defensive coordinator in the league last year. Marvin Lewis is comfortable playing straightforward zone concepts (the Bengals feature a lot of Cover 2 and Cover 4), but it would behoove the Bengals to drift a little closer back to the variegated pressure concepts they ran under previous defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Early on in the game, Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator dialed up some aggressive blitzes featuring second-year safety Clayton Fejedelem, and it was good to see him involved in this aspect of the game, as he’s much better close to the line of scrimmage when he can just look for somebody to hit. He needs to be ready to do everything too since as of now both starters George Iloka and Shawn Williams are out. Though, Iloka is expected to return before Week 1 and maybe will play on Suday against Washington.
Against a short, quick-passing team like the Chiefs the blitzing attempts didn’t work, although the Travis Kelce catch for 36 yards was a deep bomb. It doesn’t mean such attempts won’t be effective during the regular season, but we saw last year what the Denver Broncos did against the Bengals’ blitzes. It’d be nice if the starting defensive line could get some push, just like Chris Smith or Jordan Willis got with the second unit.
Any blitz dropping Michael Johnson into coverage should be forbidden.
Evans doesn’t have to worry about Nickerson
One of the usual battle spots where an undrafted free agent can make some noise each year is at linebacker. The Bengals barely play four linebackers regularly so the fifth and sixth are mostly special teams players.
I don’t know if sixth-round pick Jordan Evans is actually on the bubble, but undrafted free agent Hardy Nickerson and long-time backup Marquis Flowers haven’t showed much to threaten him. Meanwhile, Evans has done well and looks poised to make the 53-man roster.
Last week I talked briefly about Nickerson and his awareness in the passing game. And it’s not that the Chiefs passed the ball much on Saturday, but on a key third down rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes II was able to easily manipulate Nickerson to vacate the middle of the field, and he did so under pressure from the defensive line.
Meanwhile Evans showed off in the running game, which with his speed and athleticism might have been a flaw, but it appears it’s not.
Meanwhile, Nickerson lost contain in another key gain late in the game by the Chiefs. He wanted to make a play, just like every guy fighting for a job during preseason, but the result said it all.
But back to the game, let’s remember this is only the preseason. The score doesn’t matter as much as the individual performances by the guys who have a job on the line. Game 2 against Kansas City didn’t produce many highlights for Cincinnati, but it’s not like every team is going to run on them like Chiefs running back Charcandrick West did in the fourth quarter. Or at least that’s what we’re hoping.
The next game against the Washington Redskins should give us an even better idea of which players are doing the most to stay employed in September.