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Bengals vs. Bears: 5 winners and 3 losers from preseason opener

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The Bengals first team offense did well. The same cannot be said about the second-team defense though.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing better than overreacting to preseason football? INSTANT overreacting to preseason football.

In a high-scoring exhibition, the Bengals started off the preseason on the right foot and showed signs of improvement from last year in a 30-27 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bears. Here are our winners and losers from the win:

WINNERS

Geno Atkins and Carl Lawson

It didn’t take long for two of the Bengals three-best pass rushers to make their presence known against the Bears first-team offense. Atkins sacked Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and almost did it again if not for a holding penalty he caused in just the first drive. That was all the Bengals needed to see from the All-Pro defensive tackle, as he watched from the sideline from then on.

Lawson didn’t end up getting a sack of his own, but finished with a couple of hits on the Bears quarterbacks. Coming off both sides of the line, Lawson was exclusively used against the weak side of the Bears formation, something the defense has been doing throughout training camp.

Another interesting note was it was Lawson who took the first couple of reps at base defensive end with the second-team defense, with Jordan Willis on the other side of the formation. Sam Hubbard came on to relieve Lawson after a few plays.

Joe Mixon

Though there wasn’t much running room for Mixon in-between the tackles on the opening drive for the offense, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor found a way to get the second-year back out in space for him to do work.

Aligned out wide as a receiver, Mixon took a simple curl route and turned it into a 24-yard touchdown thanks to a couple of broken tackles in the open field. Like Atkins, Mixon was thankfully one drive and done.

KeiVarae Russell

With the injuries that have occurred with Tony McRae and Sojourn Shelton this training camp, the Bengals lost a some of its depth at cornerback for the preseason. So it was good to see Russell, who has been the cornerback behind William Jackson in the second-team unit, show out with an interception.

Russell is in line to make the roster as the team’s fourth cornerback behind the two starters in Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick and slot defender Darqueze Dennard. His day will only continue to solidify his spot.

Jeff Driskel

The battle for the Bengals backup quarterback has been anything but inspiring thus far, but Driskel looked like the better passer in comparison to Matt Barkley. He went 10-14 for 140 yards and a 33-yard game winning touchdown to rookie wide receiver and training camp start Auden Tate, who may as well be an honorable mention amongst these winners.

Driskel was one of the stars of last preseason, and it seems like he’s picking up right where he left off. With Barkley struggling and Logan Woodside still on the outside looking in, the Bengals are very fortunate Driskel is showing signs of competence.

Special teams

Special teams coach Darrin Simmons can be satisfied (but he probably won’t be because coach reasons) after his unit played a near-perfect game, and even executed a flawless fake punt with special teams ace Clayton Fejedelem.

The biggest winner of the group was kicker Jonathan Brown though, as he nailed his first two field goals in an organized football game. Brown has been getting equal opportunity in terms of reps with incumbent veteran Randy Bullock in training camp, and both were perfect on kicks against the Bears.

LOSERS

Matt Barkley

With Driskel shining, Barkley unfortunately gave off the opposite impression. The velocity was just not there on some of the longer throws from the sixth-year journeyman quarterback, and his 38.5 completion percentage on just 4.9 yards per attempt didn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

This is not all that surprising if you’ve been following Barkley’s career up to this point, but he’s still the No. 2 behind Dalton. How long that fact remains true is up in the air after tonight.

Chris Baker

Designated to second-team nose tackle, Baker was pushed back multiple times on the Bears first touchdown drive, including a few lost reps against rookie center James Daniels. Andrew Billings has asserted himself as the starting nose tackle in training camp, and Baker needs to look much better in the remainder of the preseason if he wants to stay on as his backup.

Middle of the defense

Every year the weakness on the Bengals defense seems to involve the personnel in the middle of it. The Bears carved up the Bengals between the numbers, on crossing routes against linebackers, and seam routes over linebackers and between deep safeties. Missed tackles from Nick Vigil and Sam Hubbard also attributed to the problem.

The Bears started to really move the ball against when it was reserves playing reserves, and outside of a Brandon Bell tipped interception and the aforementioned Russell interception, the Bengals backups on defense didn’t match the Bears on offense, and gave up a few crucial big plays in the process.

Somewhere in between

John Ross

I wanted to include everyone’s favorite speedster, but his 2018 debut was incredibly up-and-down. On his first target from Andy Dalton, Ross slipped out of his break on a comeback route and Dalton’s pass was intercepted and subsequently taken to back for the Bears first touchdown.

But Ross wouldn’t let that mistake define his day. The very next drive, he took a five-yard out route and turned it into a 20-yard catch and run, which set up a Tyler Boyd touchdown soon thereafter.

Ross, along with Boyd, played through the entirety of the first half, and almost found the end zone late in the second quarter.

Ross did get a catch under his belt, which was a positive. But the interception, the near touchdown and only hauling in one of five targets, leaves more to be desired. But it’s a start.