The last week of the preseason isn’t supposed to showcase glamorous styles of football and the Cincinnati Bengals’ finale against the Indianapolis Colts was definitely an example of such. Still, there are certain things coaches hope to achieve, with finalizing decisions on roster battles being among them. Even with the low-scoring result, Marvin Lewis and his staff did get to see some things on film to help them sort out their roster this weekend.
Here are the best and worst moments from the Bengals’ 7-6 loss to the Colts on Thursday night, a game we hope you didn’t watch.
Jarveon Williams: Despite losing a fumble, Williams was the team’s star on Thursday. With Tra Carson sitting out and the team resting their top three running backs, Williams had 32 total touches (27 carries and five catches), while netting 117 yards on the ground and another 42 through the air.
The backup players on defense: If you have some sour tastes in your mouth heading into the opener against Baltimore in some facets, it does seem as if the Bengals’ defense should almost always keep them in games this year. A crew largely comprised of players fighting for their roster lives held the Colts to just seven points, a paltry 159 total yards and a 15 percent third down conversion rate (2-of-13).
The Jordans: One could make the argument that Jordan Willis has been the best overall player of the entire preseason for the Bengals. Willis grabbed his fourth sack of the preseason, notching one in each game. This should give the coaches a lot to think about with his upcoming 2017 role.
Jordan Evans, a sixth round pick, hasn’t been far behind Willis in performances this summer. For the data geeks out there, Evans was so impressive on Thursday night, that he received a whopping 96.2 Pro Football Focus grade.
AJ McCarron: I’ve been particularly tough on McCarron this summer, as he hasn’t looked like the same guy in practices or games this year. But, not only did he show toughness and composure while playing with a lot of players who won’t make the final roster Thursday night, but he re-entered a meaningless game to play relatively well after Jeff Driskel left with broken fingers.
The offense: Outside of Williams’ performance, there wasn’t much to write home about on the offensive side of the ball. We knew points were going to be hard to come by with so many starters and frequent rotational players sitting out, but the team failed to get into the end zone. All units of the offense struggled to score touchdowns with frequency this preseason and Thursday was the grand finale. Cody Core and Josh Malone were both lackluster, despite having many opportunities to shine.
The penalties: We expected some sloppiness from the Bengals, given the amount of NFL inexperience they trotted out on the field, but 11 penalties? There were a lot of guilty parties, but one obvious player that had a rough night in this area was DeShawn Williams, who had consecutive penalties of encroachment and roughing the passer.
Kick return game: This has been another unfortunate theme of the preseason for the Bengals. While it wasn’t the unit’s fault that they didn’t have any returnable kickoffs, they failed to create lanes for Alex Erickson in the punt return game. Erickson had six returns with an average of just three yards per return.
Bene Benwikere: Some had high hopes for Benwikere in the Bengals’ defensive system, but he has struggled to make plays. On Thursday, he was in coverage on the 29-yard touchdown pass to Justice Liggins, as well as giving up a 51-yard pass play to JoJo Natson. With so many other high picks in front of him at corner, he didn’t give the best showing in his last attempt of the summer to make the roster.
The injuries: No team likes to experience injuries during what are essentially meaningless summer games, but losing players expected to be on the final roster in the preseason finale is a cruel twist of fate. First round pick John Ross is now expected to miss a couple of weeks with a knee sprain, while Driskel was tackled and broke two fingers. Ross’ issue is particularly annoying, as the Bengals undoubtedly need all able hands on deck with two other important players serving suspensions early in the season.
A lack of an answer at kicker: After a neck-and-neck battle for the 2017 kicking job shown by solid preseason performances by Randy Bullock and Jake Elliott, Thursday night was a disaster. Bullock missed a 47-yard attempt, which would have given the team the lead with less than two minutes remaining, while Elliott missed kicks from 46 and 60 yards.
Elliott made an initial attempt from 41 yards, but a false start penalty pushed the team back and he shanked the following attempt (the 46-yarder). Making things worse was the team’s inability to get into the end zone, thus eliminating further kicking opportunities on extra points. This will be a hard decision for the Bengals’ coaching staff, as they finalize the roster.
The entire game: If you were watching Ohio State beat Indiana, kept an eye on baseball games, or spent time doing almost anything else than watching this contest, consider yourself lucky. Just 13 total points scored, three turnovers (and three more fumbles from Indianapolis they recovered), 14 combined penalties and four missed field goals made for a terrible football game.