The preseason is all about getting your feet wet. Fresh schemes are being implemented with old and new personnel, and every team—to some degree—is finding out what is working and what isn’t.
And when the score, ultimately, doesn’t matter, it’s a perfect opportunity to evaluate individual performances for those who have much more to prove than others.
No one provides a more in-depth at individual evaluation than the folks at Pro Football Focus, and there picks for Cincinnati’s “Strong” and “Poor” performers appears to be pretty accurate from what went down in the Bengals’ 38-17 loss to the Chiefs.
While he didn’t play a ton on Saturday, quarterback Andy Dalton turned in a great performance across a limited sample size. He finished the night having completed 7-of-9 passes for 80 yards.
Bengals’ Darius Phillips, a second-year defensive back and former fifth-rounder, had a strong outing against Kansas City’s receivers. He gave up next to nothing in coverage and picked up two forced incompletions on the night.
The numbers look fantastic for Dalton, but the inconsistencies remained present. Dalton’s egregious misfire when targeting Josh Malone down the left sideline was soon followed by a perfect toss to Auden Tate that got the offense at the 1-yard line. Still, a couple third-down conversions kept the drive going and his timing looks great in the new scheme.
As for Phillips, he certainly wasn’t strong as a punt returner, but he was by far the best member of the secondary last night. His second quarter pass breakup in the end zone that forced the Chiefs to settle for a field goal showcased his impressive ball skills.
These two were clear stars for their respective units, and PFF also got it right as far as who struggled during Saturday’s loss.
Second-year Texas product Malik Jefferson really struggled in this one. He picked up negative grades in coverage and run defense en route to an underwhelming overall performance.
Veteran Tony Lippett, a former receiver at Michigan State turned cornerback, made some mistakes in coverage against Kansas City, including a defensive pass interference penalty while covering rookie speedster Mecole Hardman.
It’s pretty obvious why Jefferson can’t elevate himself from the third-string amongst the linebackers. The speed and explosion is clearly there, but the intangibles are not. A combination of Jefferson’s athleticism and Hardy Nickerson’s processing ability may very well yield an incredible defender. Nickerson would rather have Jefferson hand over his movement skills, though.
Lippett was signed due to injuries at the cornerback position, and it’s clear why he was available this late in the offseason. Before his blunders in coverage, Lippett was also credited with a brutal missed tackle in the open field.
In a separate article, Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week included two Bengals, the first being left guard John Jerry.
LG JOHN JERRY, CINCINNATI BENGALS
77.4 Overall Grade, 32 Offensive Snaps
Jerry didn’t allow a sack, hit or hurry from 21 pass-blocking snaps on Saturday night in the Bengals preseason opener. One of the highlights for the team on offense, Jerry joins the Bengals coming off of five straight seasons of PFF offensive grades of 66.0 or higher between 2013 and 2017.
Jerry is in a tight battle for the starting left guard spot, so this performance could help build some separation from Christian Westerman, Michael Johnson and Trey Hopkins.
On defense, Phillips made the list, further reinforcing his big performance on defense:
(FLEX D) CB DARIUS PHILLIPS, CINCINNATI BENGALS
86.6 Overall Grade, 42 Defensive Snaps
A fifth-round selection a year ago, Phillips was on the field for 32 coverage snaps this week. Targeted four times, he allowed just one reception for eight yards and came away with two pass breakups.
Who were the players that stood out to you the most both positively and negatively?