After the starters did poorly in Dallas last week while the backups thrived, the script was flipped this week, as this was easily the best performance we’ve seen from the starting offense, while the defense was suffocating for the entire first half.
Here are four more thoughts from the convincing road win.
Perfect high-note ending
The Bengals’ preseason is effectively over in terms of the starters and heavy-hitters for the upcoming season.
We may see some of them for a series this week against the Colts, but for the most part, we saw everything we needed to during the team’s win over the Bills in Week 3 of the preseason.
The final score may indicate a close game, but make no mistake about it: This was sheer domination when it came to the Bengals’ starters vs. the Bills starters.
The Bengals have more sack yards (39) than Josh Allen has passing yards (28). #Bills— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) August 26, 2018
Sure, there were things the Bengals could have done better, but I would venture to say their starters had the most impressive preseason Week 3 performance of any NFL team. They went into Buffalo and absolutely demolished what was a playoff team from a year ago, albeit it both teams have changed a lot since then.
The offense was both explosive and efficient as they marched up and down the field on Buffalo’s defense. Andy Dalton had an elite performance and showed he can still play at the level we saw in 2015.
Speaking of elite, this pass rush is easily one of the best in the NFL. As long as Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis stay healthy, expect this to be a top-10 defense that could finish among the league’s best at rushing the passer.
All of this led to a 20-0 halftime lead that would have been even uglier if the starters had played all four quarters.
Guard is still a major question mark
The Bengals had been rolling with Trey Hopkins as the starting right guard for most of training camp and the preseason, but Alex Redmond finally got his chance to start in Buffalo.
Unfortunately, Redmond did very little to make a real case to start here. He had two early penalties and didn’t get much movement on the ground or in pass protection. The problem is even his bad is still arguably as good as what Hopkins can do, which really speaks to how weak this position is right now.
Will the Bengals stand pat as usual, or will they take the initiative to find a better option through waivers or a trade? As proactive as the Bengals have been this year at trying to upgrade their biggest weaknesses, I think they’ll definitely try to find a better option.
Boom or bust Ross
As has been the case in training camp and the first two preseason games, John Ross has been a major enigma, and that continued in Buffalo. Ross had a great start with his 57-yard catch and ankle shatter en route to the end zone, but not long afterward, he dropped an easy slant pass that would have gone for a huge gain, possible even a score.
It feels like any catchable pass he gets right now is 50-50 if he’ll catch it. Cincinnati really needs him to find more consistency for this offense to take a major step forward from what they were last year.
Thankfully, this is an issue that is completely fixable, and it hopefully will as Ross gets more and more acclimated to the NFL game after missing most of his rookie year.
No, nothing is changing at the top with Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon, and it looks like Tra Carson has the third spot locked up.
The real competition comes at the final running back spots and even on the practice squad. Against the Bills, Jarveon Williams was lost to a knee injury, which is actually more significant than most realize. He was signed to the practice squad last year before being signed to the 53-man roster for the final three games.
Had Williams made it through the preseason, he had a good shot at making the practice squad again, so his injury could open a spot up for a guy like Quinton Flowers. The former USA quarterback has been a ghost this preseason, but the Williams injury led to Flowers actually getting touches in Buffalo.
If Williams is out beyond this week, we could see a heavy dose of Flowers in the fourth preseason game. Mixon, Bernard and frankly Carson don’t need to play then, so getting guys like Flowers, Brian Hill and Mark Walton more carries would be nice.
The fourth spot is probably down to Hill and Walton, and while the latter is a fourth-round pick from this year, Hill has looked like the better back after joining the Bengals midseason in 2018.
Everyone has assumed Walton is making the team, but the eye test suggests it should be Hill getting that nod.