Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ performance in Week 3 of the preseason:
The offense and defense’s first units: On offense, the Bengals’ first unit and other rotators scored 20 points, with six top receiving targets notching catches. Andy Dalton was pinpoint accurate, while John Ross finally showed off that great speed and agility on a 56-yard touchdown.
On defense, the first unit harassed Josh Allen, with five sacks, as well as numerous other pressures and hits. They pitched a shutout through into the second half, with Sean McDermott electing to play some of his starters in the third quarter because of their struggles against the Bengals’ ones and twos.
Andy Dalton: After missing a couple of big pass play opportunities to A.J. Green against the Cowboys, the Bengals’ starting quarterback was borderline masterful on Sunday. He finished 11-of-16 for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a pretty impressive stat line, given the fact that three receivers had drops. Leading the offense to 17 points in a quarter and a half of work was also quite impressive.
The pass rush: Cincinnati’s front generated six sacks for a net loss of 48 yards on Sunday. The trio of Carl Lawson, Andrew Billings and Geno Atkins were particularly effective, racking up 4.5 of the six sacks. Jordan Willis and Trayvon Henderson also joined in on the fun, making life miserable for the three Buffalo quarterbacks.
Special teams: The two Bengals kickers combined to go 4-of-4 on field goal opportunities, as well as 2-of-2 on extra points. Randy Bullock was particularly sharp, converting 3 of those field goals and both extra points.
The return game was decent, featuring the likes of Alex Erickson, Kermit Whitfield and Darius Phillips. Kevin Huber continued to look ready for the regular season with two of his five punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Also, in terms of kick coverage, the Bengals only let up an 18-yard kickoff return and 8-yard punt return as long gains for Buffalo.
A rebound from last week: Fan spirits were low after taking massive steps back against the Cowboys, so the need for a solid performance by the first units was a must in “the dress rehearsal.” And, as we stated above, the early groups were quite impressive against the Bills in all three phases. This is just what the team and fan base needed heading into the regular season.
Guarding tight ends: Stop us if you’ve heard this before: three of the top four receivers from the opposition were tight ends. The trio of Logan Thomas, Charles Clay and Jason Croom combined for 10 catches, 117 yards and a touchdown.
No turnovers forced: For getting after the quarterback so often, one would think that a fumble would have been forced and recovered off of one of the six sacks, or an errant throw would be picked off. That wasn’t the case Sunday, though Dre Kirkpatrick did have an interception go through his hands.
Running the football: In what’s becoming an unfortunate theme for the Bengals this preseason, they simply can’t get things going with their top two backs on the ground. Brian Hill and Tra Carson continue to make plays in mop-up duty, but Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard are struggling to find running room.
Obviously, this is more of a by-product of blocking up front. Regardless, 10 carries for 10 yards by Mixon and Bernard is deplorable and isn’t sustainable in the regular season.
Run defense: For the second straight week, the Bengals’ defense wasn’t going up against a star running back, as LeSean McCoy didn’t play on Sunday. However, Marcus Murphy had 58 yards on 11 carries, while the Buffalo squad netted 143 rushing yards on 26 carries (5.5-yard average). Cincinnati definitely has more work to do here.