What a difference a week makes. Bengaldom was in a good place after the team’s win in the preseason opener versus the Bears.
Yet, nine days later, the team put forth a performance that was an obvious backslide, only to mysteriously release a starting player the following day. Regardless, here are some of the best and worst facets to the Bengals’ performance in Cincinnati’s 21-13 win over the Cowboys on Saturday night.
The rotational pass-rushers: As we mentioned in our weekly winners and losers column, the young guns off the edge impressed on Saturday evening. Sam Hubbard had a sack-fumble in the second quarter, while Carl Lawson also had another sack.
Jordan Willis was arguably the star of the night, racking up three tackles and two sacks. He had an insane 2017 preseason, only to follow it with a very quiet regular season. Hopefully this type of production translates when real football kicks off in a few weeks.
Special teams: Though Kevin Huber shanked one of his later punts, he still pinned three of his six total kicks inside the Cowboys’ 20-yard line and had a 41.7-yard average. Jonathan Brown had nice evening as well, converting a 55-yard field goal on a perfect evening and has still never missed a field goal in a game in his life.
The returners also had some quality plays on Saturday. Forgotten man, Alex Erickson, was solid on punt returns, racking up 24 yards on two returns, while rookie Darius Phillips averaged 36 yards on two kickoff returns to go with a 24-yard punt return of his own.
The second-year backup running backs: Tra Carson and Brian Hill contributed to the backup offensive units in a variety of ways. Carson ground out 24 tough yards on six carries with a touchdown, while Hill had a couple of nice catches for 47 yards and a receiving score to his name.
Depth on display: Even though the early units didn’t play very well (more on that in a minute), the backups showed quite a bit of talent. Whether it was on special teams, or in other facets, the youngsters stepped up.
Dallas only had three points in the second half, thanks to some of the names already mentioned. It’s a a silver lining in a game that brought about so many questions.
Davontae Harris’ injury: While it was a pretty clean game on the injury front for the Bengals, they have lost their fifth round pick for some time. He had a knee injury in the contest and the team is analyzing the situation.
The first unit defense: Geno Atkins was his usual self, while Andrew Billings got into the backfield at least three times to blow up plays, but issues from last year seeped to the surface. Missed tackles were prevalent and the group had some difficulties getting off of the field on third down.
Still, without All-Pro center Travis Frederick and Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup, as well as Zack Martin leaving the game early, Dallas had their way on the ground early. Rod Smith churned out 49 rushing yards and added a 19-yard reception against the ones.
The run game: Let’s just throw a few stats out for consumption. Cincinnati netted just 54 yards on 24 carries and had 2.2 yards per carry average. Six of those runs were for a loss, and said losses averaged three yards. Yikes.
Beyond that, they had just three first downs via running the football and no running back netted more than 24 yards on the ground. Throw in the fact that the next highest netting back had just 13 yards and it was a deplorable showing—largely because of subpar blocking up front.
Sustaining drives: The Bengals were just 2-of-11 on third down conversion opportunities, highlighting the overall offensive struggles on the evening. They also had 10 penalties on the evening, which is somewhat-expected in an early preseason game, but ugly, nevertheless.
Overall blocking: We won’t beat a dead horse here, but the offensive line issues popped back up to the surface. The above-mentioned run stats aside, Bengals signal-callers were pressured a good chunk of the night.
The allowance of just one sack (given up by Cedric Ogbuehi) is a bit misleading. Thankfully, the team has a number of nimble quarterbacks, as the group avoided other would-be takedowns.
The first unit offense: No points and a couple of missed opportunities on big plays were the theme from the starting offensive group. Mistakes were frequent, be it from Andy Dalton missing an open A.J. Green on two occasions, or Tyler Boyd’s lack of focus in the form of lost fumble.
We’ll let our friend Josh Kirkendall sum it up in a couple of tweets:
Two possessions for the first-team offense: Zero first downs, 10 yards.— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 18, 2018
Cowboys have 10 points. Bengals have 10 yards.— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) August 18, 2018