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Bengals’ first-team squad puts on a masterful dress rehearsal performance

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The Bengals’ first-team units dominated against the Bills’ first-team units on Sunday. The Bengals’ offense struck gold while the defensive pass rush was a thing of nightmares.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

It’s critical to recognize that despite the “dress rehearsal” designation, Cincinnati isn’t game-planning for their opponents in the preseason; they’re testing personnel packages and trying different starting lineup combinations. Yet, the “dress rehearsal” offers a glimpse at how Cincinnati could look during the regular season and on Sunday, the Bengals took on the Bills in that most-important preseason matchup. While Cincinnati beat Buffalo 26-13, the Bengals first-team offense jumped out to a 20-0 half-time lead.

What happened: The Bengals’ first-team units crushed the Bills in the first half. Cincinnati’s passing game generated chunks of yards while the defense brutally assaulted rookie quarterback Josh Allen.

The quick-strike first-team offense: Cincinnati’s first-team offense went five possessions, scoring three times, including a masterful John Ross 57-yard touchdown. It was a combination of Earth-scorching speed and a wicked post-catch scramble.

Satisfied with their performance, the Bengals began pulling their starters around the six-minute mark in the second quarter with a 17-point lead. Matt Barkley replaced Dalton with Josh Malone, Alex Erickson and most of the first-team offensive line alongside the backup QB.

The story was really Cincinnati’s pass rush, roughing up Allen five times with twice as many pressures that forced Allen to scramble. A quick breakdown:

  • First possession: Carl Lawson was credited for a third-down sack, forcing the Bills to punt — truth be told, about three defenders assaulted Allen, starting with Geno Atkins and an unclear linebacker. DVR during a live game allows only so many changes to confirm.
  • Second possession: Andrew Billings dropped Allen for an eight-yard loss on second down, forcing the Bills into an unrecoverable third-down scenario.
  • Third possession: Pass rush forced Allen out of the pocket. While on the run, Allen threw an inaccurate pass that Dre Kirkpatrick should have intercepted, but instead just broke up.
  • Fourth possession: Lawson and Atkins forced Allen to scramble on third-and-four from the Bills’ 40-yard line. Allen missed the first down marker by inches, forcing the Bills to punt. The Bills could have challenged it as the call to not give them a first down was questionable. But, the game continued.
  • Fifth possession: The Bills had third-and-three from their own 35-yard line. Lawson used his speed while Atkins powered through his blocker, both meeting at Allen for the quarterback sack. Lawson got credit, but it should be shared.
  • Sixth possession: The defense sacked Allen twice. On first down, Billings and Jordan Willis met at the QB to force an eight-yard loss, setting up a second-and-29. On the next play, Lawson dropped Allen for a nine-yard loss, forcing fourth-and-38. Lawson finished with 2.5 sacks.

Through the Bills’ first seven possessions, the Bengals defense held Buffalo to 25 plays, 53 yards, -5 yards passing, three first downs, and seven punts. Allen was eventually forced to leave when Carlos Dunlap, narrowly missing a sixth first-half sack for this incredible defense, wrapped the quarterback and watched his head bounce off the turf. Allen was taken inside for a concussion evaluation and did not return, though he was cleared to do so.

Despite the great, it wasn’t all perfect. Cincinnati has glaring issues that they’d like to shore up before playing Indianapolis on September 9. The running game on offense has been ineffective all preseason: Joe MIxon and Giovani Bernard combined for 10 yards rushing on 10 carries in the first half against Buffalo — Mixon has 24 yards rushing on 13 carries this preseason.

On the other side, Cincinnati’s defense against the run was equally ineffective against Buffalo. Their pass rush masked these vulnerabilities, but Buffalo posted 81 yards rushing in the first half, averaging 6.8 yards/rush.