The Bengals played real football on Thursday for the first time in seven months. The score didn’t count, but the Bengals coaching staff got some looks at some players that are fighting to make the roster.
As is the case in many preseason games, most of the cast of characters got some playing time against live competition. That gives us a lot to look at in our first week of football. So, let’s dive in. Here’s what we learned:
Jeff Driskel deserves a shot at the No. 2 spot
Andy Dalton had a great first quarter, completing six of eight for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He did have one interception, but it was unlucky more than it was a mistake.
Then, Matt Barkley came in and reminded us why he hasn’t played a snap since 2016. He went 5/13 for 64 yards. The kicker for Barkley was his first drive of the night, where the offense went three-and-out; prompting the punt unit to come onto the field.
Then, Clayton Fejedelem ripped a 49-yard run on the fake and bailed out the offense. Now at the Bears’ 13-yard line, Barkley failed to take advantage of the red-zone opportunity and went three and out again.
Is it his fault he had six opportunities but zero first downs?
Not entirely. But as a passer, he was one for three on the drive with three yards. He would leave the game at halftime with a passer rating of 54.6, less than half of what Dalton had and what Jeff Driskel would end up getting.
Driskel, who came on in relief for Barkley at halftime, looked much better, going 6/10 with 39 yards and a 68.3 passer rating in his first quarter and a half. But then he flipped a switch and became Aaron Rodgers in the final three minutes of the game, leading a 91-yard touchdown drive that ended in some Auden Tate magic. Driskel completed all four of his passes, including two that were called back due to penalties, and was completely unstoppable.
Driskel looked uncannily like Rodgers on his touchdown pass to Tate.
Jeff Driskel 33-yard TD to Auden Tate with 2:14 remaining, giving the Bengals a 30-27 lead. pic.twitter.com/9TYnkZNTSO— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 10, 2018
Just like in last year’s preseason opener, Driskel delivered in crunch time. Barkley did get his offense to kick three field goals, but he did not look sharp doing it. Even if you split up Driskel’s performance into two stat lines (before his touchdown drive and during his touchdown drive), both were superior to Barkley’s.
The real reason they brought in Barkley is because of his familiarity with Bill Lazor’s offense after having spent time together in Philadelphia. But maybe the Bengals should look past this and give the job to the one who deserves it most.
The Bengals have plans for John Ross and Josh Malone
John Ross only had one catch last night, but that is still 100 percent more catches than he had during the regular season last year. Despite the one catch, he was targeted five times in Thursday night’s win over the Bears.
In 2017, it felt like Marvin Lewis had a grudge against Ross and refused to give him a chance after Ross made mistakes in the limited opportunities he was given. On Thursday, that feeling was gone.
Ross had plenty of chances to make plays and ended up with a couple close calls. He fell down on one of his routes that resulted in an interception and he had a near-touchdown where he failed to keep both feet in bounds. Perhaps if Dalton had been passing all night, Ross would have converted more of those targets into catches.
But the good news is that the Bengals are trying to get him going this year. If he’s finally fully healthy, then there is nothing that should hold him back this year.
The same goes for Josh Malone, who has had a really promising training camp, despite a minor hamstring injury that kept him out for a few practices. He only had six catches in 2017, but he had five targets on Thursday, which tied him with Ross for the team lead. He also tied with C.J. Uzomah for the team lead in catches with three, and was second behind A.J. Green in receiving yards with 41.
The Bengals are trying to get the ball to their second-year receivers during the preseason, so this trend is likely to continue in the regular season. Dalton will have no trouble spreading the ball around this year.
Auden Tate should make the roster
Tate fell to the seventh round because of lack of athleticism, but he is showing that it is of little consequence when you have his size and reach.
He had three catches on the fourth-quarter touchdown drive, even though two of them were called back for penalties (including one offensive pass interference called on him), but the reps were great teaching tape (aside from the push off that wasn’t shown).
At the end of the drive, he straight up Mossed John Franklin III (the former Last Chance U star).
ARE YOU KIDDING ME, AUDEN TATE?! pic.twitter.com/okNWAC0lxy— Dadio McDuck (@dadiodefacto) August 10, 2018
If he can keep making plays like this, which he has been doing all of training camp, then there is no reason to leave him off of the 53-man roster. If the Bengals put him on the practice squad, he shouldn’t be there for long.
The offensive line is better, but still not good
The Bengals offensive line improved with the addition of Cordy Glenn, Billy Price and Bobby Hart, but they still are far from perfect.
While the line has taken a huge step forward, there were moments that reflected poorly on the group. Trey Hopkins missed quite a few blocks as he sought to keep a hold of his right guard spot. Price had some good moments but also had some bad moments. Even Glenn missed a few blocks.
The backups, which included last years’ starters at tackle in Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi, also had their moments of shame.
Jake Fisher at left tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi on right. Against backups pic.twitter.com/XNZMzcFJmj— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) August 10, 2018
The running game didn’t get going for the Bengals until the second half. Joe Mixon and Mark Walton fought tooth and nail for their combined 24 yards on 10 carries. They both got swallowed up at the line of scrimmage with no room to operate.
When the third-unit entered the game in the second half, Brian Hill and Tra Carson had a better time finding running room. But if Mixon struggles to find lanes again this year, it’s going to be a long year for the offense again.
If anyone can turn this unit around, its Frank Pollack. But the new offensive line coach has his work cut out for him.
Jordan Evans will be a fine Burfict substitute
Whenever Vontaze Burfict misses opening day due to a suspension, the Bengals miss him. A talent like that does not grow on trees. But Jordan Evans might be the best stand-in for Burfict yet.
Evans started a few games last year due to injuries, but sat behind Vincent Rey when Burfict was out. He started on Thursday, though, and was tied for second on the team in total tackles with five. He played only a fraction of the game, but still managed to out-tackle almost everyone else.
Evans looked good in coverage, he looked good rushing the passer, and he followed the ball very well. While he is no Burfict, he is closer than anyone else the Bengals have on the bench.
The middle of the field is still a problem for the defense
The Bengals have struggled giving up yardage in the middle of the field for years, and it looks like they have not figured out how to fix it.
Preston Brown is one of the best coverage linebackers the Bengals have had in a while, so he was brought in to help. But when he is off the field, there is no one else between the line and the safeties that can stop the passing game.
The Bears offense chipped away at the defense by exploiting this weakness, which is what allowed them to get back into the game. The Bengals defense only gave up two touchdowns, but they allowed the Bears to get into field goal range a few too many times.
All in all, there was a lot of good and a lot of bad. It's only the preseason, so the Bengals will have three more games to work out the kinks.
But the biggest takeaway is that the Bengals are back, and they are fun!