Punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, interception. That’s how the first six offensive drives played out for the Bengals. Meanwhile, for the Cowboys it was punt, field goal, touchdown to start things out. At halftime, the score was 10-0 with Dallas in the lead, though that hardly paints the picture of how bad things were for the Bengals, whose backups were able to dig the team out of the hole the starters created.
In the second half, guys like Tra Carson, Brian Hill, Alex Erickson, Jeff Driskel and Matt Barkley helped engineer a Bengals comeback, but let’s take a look at three first-half performances that made the game more watchable and offered hope for the Bengals this season.
1. Jordan Evans
The preseason is important for a lot of players, but Evans is one Bengals player in particular who this preseason is especially important for. That’s because he’s expected to start the season at weakside linebacker during Vontaze Burfict’s suspension.
Evans has done well while playing with the starters and earned the highest grade among all Bengals defenders (92.5) from Pro Football Focus against the Cowboys. He recorded five total pressures and made some nice plays like this:
If Evans can bring down tight ends in space, he’ll be kept on the field a whole lot as no other Bengals linebacker has proven able to do that on a consistent basis. He was also the first guy to make the tackle here, which was a nice play for a two-yard loss.
2. Sam Hubbard
The Bengals spent six draft picks on defensive players this year and the back-end of that group hasn’t done all that much since arriving in Cincinnati. One guy who has impressed though is third rounder Sam Hubbard. He had two tackles on Saturday including a strip sack on Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush.
Great strip sack by Sam Hubbard -- recovered by Dallas. pic.twitter.com/eswAgdG5mR— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 19, 2018
Before training camp, Marvin Lewis said Hubbard will be an immediate contributor.
“He’ll be part of our rotation in the defensive line group,” Lewis said in mid-June. “That’s what I see for him looking into the future, very early right away this year. That’s what we were looking for when we picked him.”
And though that could have just been coach speak, it looks like Hubbard is paving a path toward making it a reality. He’ll need to keep it up in the final two preseason games, but Hubbard could be a great asset to the Bengals this season.
It’s hard to think this thought, but it seems rookies could actually play a big role on the Bengals’ 2018 season.
3. C.J. Uzomah
The Bengals only had two first downs in the first half of the game. One came via a dangerous-looking Andy Dalton scramble for 13 yards (which — oh my — should not be happening in a preseason game). And the other (the first) came on a pass from Dalton to tight end C.J. Uzomah for a 23 yard gain.
The third-string tight end injected much-needed life into the offense and for those who had suffered through more than a quarter of bad Bengals preseason football, it was a major relief. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft and Tyler Eifert are all in contract years and while Eifert is healthy, he hasn’t played yet this preseason. Kroft displayed some bad blocking on Saturday night while also making one catch for five yards. Some thought the Bengals should look to extend Kroft before this season begins, but maybe it’s Uzomah who should be prioritized. The Bengals may need to let the season play out before making any decisions in regards to the future of the tight end position.
Uzomah’s other catch of the night came in the second quarter with Driskel in at quarterback. And while it didn’t give the Bengals a new set of downs, gaining nine yards in the first half was more than most of the Bengals’ pass catchers were able to accomplish. A.J. Green for example had one catch for nine yards on the evening.
There were a lot of positive takeaways from the second half of the game as the backups competed for the right to make the roster this year, but in the first half it was just a few players who made the game watchable. And saying they made it watchable is even a bit of a stretch. We’ll be hoping to see a whole lot more from the starters when the Bengals take on the Bills on Sunday in the third preseason game. As is the case every year, the third preseason matchup will be the most important of the exhibition contests as the starters look to stay on the field for about half the game.