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What we learned from the Bengals’ preseason win over the Cowboys

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The Bengals defensive line looked as good as advertised, but the offensive line still needs some work.

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Bengals scored more points than the Cowboys, but the outcome didn’t necessarily feel like a win.

After playing against the Bears a week before, the Bengals looked like they might have turned a new leaf. But against the Cowboys, the same problems the Bengals had last year came rushing back.

The right side of the offensive line gave up way too much pressure, and Andy Dalton had to make several throws with defenders in his face. The running backs struggled to find holes to run through. The linebackers struggled in coverage and gave up too much ground up the middle.

But there were some positives to the game. The defensive line stepped up. The cornerbacks locked down the boundary. The overall depth of the team is really strong.

So what did we learn in this 21-13 victory over the Cowboys?

The cornerbacks are the real deal

Dak Prescott was only one-for-three when targeting William Jackson, with the one completion being the final play for the first team, which was Prescott’s touchdown pass to Terrence Williams.

Dre Kirkpatrick did well also, being target five times but only giving up two completions. He had a near interception on one play and sniffed out a screen to keep it to a short gain on another play.

Darqueze Dennard wasn’t used on the boundary until the second team came in, but he was pretty desctructive in the slot. Teryl Austin used him on several blitzes where he put some serious pressure on Prescott. When he did guard the boundary, he might have had an interception if he had not collided with Jessie Bates on the play.

Across from Dennard with the second team, KeiVarae Russell held opposing quarterbacks to one-for-three against him with a pass defended. Russell scored a solid 84.8 grade from Pro Football Focus, which was the highest grade on the defense that was not on the line.

Overall, that’s not a bad performance from the cornerbacks. Prescott was successful during the game when he wasn’t targeting the cornerbacks, however, and made most of his completions when he targeted linebackers and safeties. But at least the cornerbacks are locking down the boundaries.

Bobby Hart may not be the solution we thought

Starting right tackle Bobby Hart was asked to block DeMarcus Lawrence ten times during the game. Hart lost the battle seven of those times by a generous estimation. That means more than two out of three times, Hart gave up pressure that altered the quarterback’s or running back’s decision making. Joe Mixon had to bounce around to the outside several times and Andy Dalton missed A.J. Green deep twice when Lawrence was in his face.

Meanwhile, Jake Fisher had himself a day at left tackle with the second team.

Granted, Fisher did not half to line up across from Lawrence on almost every play. Maybe Fisher would have had the same lack of success if he did, but regardless, the Bengals should think about giving Fisher a good look for that starting spot at right tackle.

The defensive line is strong and deep

The starting front four of Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, and Michael Johnson were a tough assignment for the Cowboys’ offensive line. Atkins had two tackles in his limited time on the field and Billings added three more, including one for a loss. Dunlap helped put the pressure on from the left side while he was in as well.

Then when the 1s left the game, the 2s came in and were even more unblockable. Ryan Glasgow had three tackles, including one for a loss in place of Atkins. Carl Lawson came in and got two QB hits and a sack.

Sam Hubbard and Jordan Willis were also equally impressive and they both made PFF’s Team of the Week. In fact, according to PFF, Hubbard, Billings, Glasgow, and Willis were the four highest rated players on the defense for the Bengals.

Considering that they are all third-year players or younger, the Bengals defensive line is going to be good for a long time.

After cutting both Brandon LaFell and George Iloka this training camp and preseason, Michael Johnson should be worried about his spot. If the Bengals are favoring younger players over veterans that are not producing, Johnson should be next.

Speaking of George Iloka...

The Bengals have seen enough out of George Iloka and Jessie Bates

Many Bengals fans were greeted with a surprise on Sunday afternoon when Iloka was released. There had been no clear signs that the Bengals were even thinking about this, but in hindsight there were few clues.

First of all, the fact that the Bengals were looking for a safety in the offseason should have set off some alarms. There was talk of bringing in Eric Reid and Kurt Coleman before those signings fell through for one reason or another. Then the Bengals grabbed Jessie Bates in the second round of the draft. While we were thinking about possible three-safety sets, we didn’t realize that a safety might actually get cut.

In the preseason, Bates came in for both Iloka and Shawn Williams at various times, but he often played a deep safety role which neither incumbent starter are accustomed to playing. So Teryl Austin and Marvin Lewis wanted Bates to play because he fit the scheme better, so the Bengals had to sacrifice Iloka or Williams, and they chose Iloka.

If the Bengals wanted to have both a true strong safety and a true free safety, then Iloka would be the player that fits the scheme the least. He is a good football player, but he is not what the team needs anymore.

But letting Iloka go also means that the Bengals have great trust in Bates. The rookie safety will be able to fill the role that has been vacant since Reggie Nelson departed for Oakland.

Not only do the Bengals regard Bates highly enough to cut ties with Iloka, but PFF ranks Bates as the third-best safety in the NFL this preseason.

While the Bengals will miss Iloka and everything he has contributed to the team, Bates will be fun to watch this year. His first of what will be many professional starts will come on Sunday at Buffalo.

Jonathan Brown will be a great kicker in the NFL...for someone else

Not only did Jonathan Brown sink a 55-yard field goal, he put the ball right down the middle of the uprights with plenty of leg to spare. His kick, which would have been good from at least 60 yards with the power he put behind it, would have tied a regular season franchise record.

Brown later hit the crossbar on the kickoff following his second field goal.

After the game, Lewis followed up Brown’s powerful performance by telling the media that Brown will be released at the end of the preseason.

It would be one thing to cut Brown after weighing the options and coming to the conclusion that Randy Bullock is the better option of the two. But unfortunately for Brown, his fate has already been decided no matter how well he does.

Even the possibility for a trade is gone since the Bengals have lost leverage what leverage they would have had.

A best case scenario for Brown is that he puts together enough film to attract the attention of another team that will sign him after he is released.

For better or for worse, the Bengals are stuck with Bullock. He is not a bad option, but it would be nice if Lewis would at least pretend to consider Brown.

Jeff Driskel is the best option for backup quarterback

For the second week in a row, Jeff Driskel led the Bengals to a come-from-behind victory.

Driskel went 10-for-16 with119 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception (which was a great play by Chidobe Awuzie) in his appearance with the second team. His 16 passing attempts were more than double what Dalton had at seven, so the Bengals wanted to give Driskel plenty of opportunity to impress.

Down 10-0, Driskel led two scoring drives and completed a two-point conversion to put the Bengals up 11-10 by the time he left the game. The defense held kept the Cowboys from scoring any additional points while Matt Barkley helped extend the lead in Driskel’s absense.

Barkley would go three-for-four with 59 yards and a touchdown with a near perfect passer rating of 156.2. While this looks good on paper, most of Barkley’s production came from two passes to Brian Hill. The second-year running back caught one pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage and turned it into a 47-yard gain. Hill caught the second pass at the line and ran it in for a three-yard touchdown. So Barkley owes almost all of his success to Hill.

So far, Driskel looks like the best option to be Dalton’s number two. Hopefully the quarterbacks in front of him will start improving the Bengals don’t need his preseason heroics anymore.