A lot can happen in a week, or five days to be exact.
Coming off a 21-point road loss to the powerhouse Chiefs, the Bengals got their preseason back to .500 after putting together a more competent performance against the Redskins. Their 17-0 second half run was due in large part due to the second and third-string units playing mistake-free football. After witnessing the first half, that was encouraging to say the least.
We’re now less than a week away from the Bengals’ “dress rehearsal” against the Giants where the starters will play for most, if not all of, the first half. We got a better sense of who we will continue to see with the main contributors on both sides of the ball after Week 2.
Here’s what we learned from Cincinnati’s 23-13 victory over Washington.
Trey Hopkins needs to start
There were some surprise starts on the offensive line this week, and they were the unit’s silver lining.
Michael Jordan made his first start at left guard, while Trey Hopkins took over at center. Not only did they play with the first team, they then changed positions and played with the second team.
The returning starters on the line did not fare so well. Cordy Glenn and John Miller got flagged once each in the first quarter, while team captain Bobby Hart got two flags thrown his way. Jordan and Hopkins combined for one flag, but both played more than double the snaps that the other starters played.
Penalties aside, Hopkins was by far the best offensive lineman on the team last night. He was the only one consistently winning his battles. Whereas Marvin Lewis valued Hopkins as a versatile backup (in which role he excelled), it looks like Zac Taylor might actually reward him for his hard work.
Kerry Wynn headlines the depth at defensive line
In years past, the Bengals’ defensive line was the most consistent unit on the defense, and it looks like that will be the case again in 2019.
Kerry Wynn may be the best player on the roster that won’t start. He played on the first defense, the second defense, and on special teams on Thursday.
Wynn’s stat line for the night was three combined tackles, one sack, two quarterbacks hits and a fumble recovery. Between starters Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard and pass-rushing specialist Carl Lawson, Wynn looks to be a nice addition to the Bengals’ rotation at edge rusher.
Next to Geno Atkins, it will be an interesting battle. Andrew Billings is the starter on the depth chart, but we’re looking at whom replaces him on third down. Ryan Glasgow could make some noise, but Andrew Brown probably had the best game along the interior on Thursday and is putting together a tremendous preseason. Fourth-round pick Renell Wren also looked promising in his debut.
The backup defensive line did an outstanding job forcing the Redskins’ first offense to punt, then did well again in keeping Dwayne Haskins to only one touchdown. The only thing the defensive line has to work on is not jumping early on the hard count. That got them in trouble a few times.
Keeping everyone healthy will be key, but consistent pressure up front might help mitigate some of the deficiencies on the second level.
Ryan Finley has already earned the number two spot
The Bengals’ 24-year-old rookie was moved up one spot on the depth chart and proved he belonged there.
Finley completed 20 out of 26 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions with a rating of 115.9. In comparison, Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel combined for 10 of 17, 93 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 49.4.
There was no doubt that Finley was the best quarterback out there (albeit he was going against backups). When Redskins’ first-round pick Dwayne Haskins looked like he was ready to own the night, Finley responded well and has looked promising in back-to-back weeks.
As someone who was in college for six years, he is the most experienced rookie in the NFL. He showed it on Thursday; displaying grace under pressure and not trying to do too much. There are things he can inherently do that Dalton has failed to do in eight years in Cincinnati. His pocket footwork and ability to keep his eyes downfield are strong assets that can help compensate for his lack of velocity and overall arm talent.
Finley’s got everything you’re looking for in a backup; brains, poise, and a competitive spirit. Whether or not he is going to be the starter after Dalton’s contract expires remains to be seen. But at least we know that if Dalton gets injured, they have a better option than Driskel on the roster.
The young wide receivers are more polished this year
Last year, there were a lot of promising prospects at wide receiver that looked very good during training camp. Then in the regular season, the wide receivers turned out to be a liability.
Enter Zac Taylor, a former wide receivers coach. He and his new offensive staff have done a great job of developing the prospects at wide receiver.
Look at players like Josh Malone and Auden Tate, and think about where they were last year. At the bottom of the depth chart. Now they’re cycling in with the ones. Not to mention there are some undrafted rookies that are making the preseason interesting, like Stanley Morgan and Damion Willis.
Bengals young receivers battling for the final two spots are having a nice preseason— JG (@JoeGoodberry) August 16, 2019
Auden Tate: 7 Rec, 58 yards, TD
Damion Willis: 6 Rec, 63 yards
Stanley Morgan: 5 Rec, 63 yards
Cody Core: 4 Rec, 49 yards
Josh Malone: 3 Rec, 36 yards
Not only did Willis lead the team in receiving yards, but he also made an incredible block on Alex Erickson’s punt returned for a touchdown.
Taylor is going to have a difficult time figuring out which guys will make the roster. Once A.J. Green and John Ross are back in the fold, there won’t be enough room for everyone who has contributed. I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision.