The Cincinnati Bengals notched their first win in the Zac Taylor era, but it wasn’t the prettiest of results. In their 23-13 win over Jay Gruden’s Redskins, huge plays and mental lapses were part and parcel of Thursday evening.
Here are the best and worst from the Bengals’ Week 2 preseason win over Washington.
Ryan Finley: It was an inauspicious start to Finley’s NFL career, as both he and Jeff Driskel struggled throughout minicamps and training camp. But, when the lights have come on, the rookie has shown great poise.
Finley finished 20-of-26 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks in a great follow-up to his debut against the Chiefs. Finley started the contest 9-of-9 with a touchdown as the second-string signal-caller.
What has been great to see from Finley is his poise under pressure, the timing of his passes and his great usage of many different weapons on offense (his three preseason touchdowns have gone to three different players). I think we’d all like to see more “chunk yardage plays”, but, for now, we’ll take his 102.4 passer rating and No. 5 preseason ranking in passing yardage.
The backup wide receivers: The supposedly top-heavy position group has been hit with injuries early in training camp. Star wideout A.J. Green might be in jeopardy of missing the first couple of contests, while John Ross III continues to sit out with a pulled hamstring, leaving a bunch of somewhat-unproven guys needing to step up this summer.
Through the first two preseason games, they’ve shown us quite a bit. Josh Malone looked good in the opener and would have had a bigger stat line, if not for a missed opportunity for a touchdown. Auden Tate has had a couple of highlight reel plays, including a touchdown against the Redskins, while Damion Willis led the team in receptions (co-lead) and yards Thursday night.
Alex Erickson hasn’t done anything flashy on offense (three catches for 15 yards on Thursday night), but had the electric 75-yard punt return. Even Cody Core is showing his stuff, as he had two receptions for 30 yards. It’s going to be a tough cutdown day at this position for Cincinnati’s brain trust.
Rotational defensive linemen: Backup linemen Jordan Willis and Kerry Wynn had good performances against the Redskins. They were two major catalysts to the defensive turnaround after the first quarter.
Wynn had a sack to stall a Washington drive in the second half, while Willis had the sack-strip in which Wynn made the recovery. The play led to the Tate touchdown to tie the game. In a critical offseason for Willis, he’s shown up well:
With 78 preseason snaps already, Jordan Willis has an 85.1 grade from PFF. That's tied for the highest on the Bengals defense (Glasgow).— JG (@JoeGoodberry) August 17, 2019
Maybe he's not done just yet.
Meanwhile, rookie Renell Wren was the team-leader in defensive snaps. He only notched one tackle, but the coaches are obviously liking the mix of youth and depth behind the starters.
Some of the special teams unit: Like many facets of the team on Thursday, all three phases brought both thrilling and eye roll-inducing plays. On the positive side of the spectrum, a veteran and rookie wowed us with a couple of big moments.
Erickson, who may be poised for a bigger role on offense this year, notched the biggest play of the Bengals’ preseason in the fourth quarter against the Redskins. Erickson fielded a punt, shook an initial tackler, went to the right sideline, broke one more tackle and had a 75-yard punt return touchdown to his name.
Meanwhile, rookie kicker Tristan Vizcaino booted a 57-yard field goal to redeem himself from a previous miss from 46 yards away. Interestingly enough, Vizcaino never kicked a 50-plus-yard field goal in his final college season at Washington.
Coaches’ willingness to mix up the lineup and young players stepping up: This may be a catch-all category, but so be it. The refreshing approach to let players get time based on talent and merit over tenure and draft status is paying off through this offseason.
The residual effects from applying this approach can be counted in a number of ways. First, it gives some rightful players a chance to shine, whereas an opportunity was never given to them under Marvin Lewis. Whether it’s in rookies getting chances with the ones, or in players beginning to shine after being mired deep down the depth chart in the previous regime, a breath of fresh air has been noticeably breathed into the locker room.
Some examples this week were in Drew Sample and Mason Schreck getting significant playing time as early as the second quarter, while also letting Jordan Willis get a chance to contribute, despite the addition of Lou Anarumo’s guy in Kerry Wynn.
Others show the rise in play when a supposed starter is demoted and needs something to prove. Billy Price is a good example, given his Pro Football Focus numbers this week.
Against WAS, Trey Hopkins earned a pass-blocking grade of 87.4, allowing 0 pressures in 34 pass-blocking snaps at G/C.— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) August 17, 2019
Billy Price earned a pass-blocking grade of 82.7, allowing 0 pressures in 27 pass-blocking snaps at C.https://t.co/XkbuvzzTLN
While a lot has yet to be determined from a roster perspective (and that’s a bit scary this time of year), there’s good news. This regime won’t be hesitant to make a change, should play levels at positions necessitate it.
The ones: Last week, the starting offense looked pretty solid, marching down the field on its first drive. Five days later against the Redskins, silly mistakes plagued that unit, ranging from penalties to a red zone turnover.
The offensive line started off on an awful track, relinquishing penalties and putting Andy Dalton in tough situations. C.J. Uzomah was a culprit of some bad film in particular, racking up three penalties against just one catch for one yard.
On defense, Cincinnati let Washington’s starting offense move with relative ease early on, including an uncontested 26-yard run by Adrian Peterson on the Redskins’ first offensive play from scrimmage. If not for penalties of their own and a subsequent missed field goal, this game could have had a much different complexion to it at the onset.
The other facets of the special teams unit: For all of the greatness Vizcaino and Erickson showed us late in the contest, there were other warts from the unit—particularly when it came to kicking. The second-year kicker missed a 46-yarder before converting the big kick from 57, while Randy Bullock missed an extra point.
We can chatter about it only being preseason and that this is the time to work out the kinks, which is true, but this can’t happen on the regular. With this being a younger team in transition, leaving four points on the board is never ideal (yes, we’re aware the Washnigton’s Dustin Hopkins left that many hanging out there as well).
Covering tight ends: What’s it going to take to get this figured out? The Bengals have traditionally allowed this position to carve them up over the years, and it continues to be a theme again in 2019.
The combination of Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle and J.P. Holtz teamed up for a productive night. In shared snaps, they accumulated five catches for 71 yards. Anarumo will need to figure out a way to limit the damage from this position in the regular season, to be sure.
The penalties: What can we say? For the second week in a row, the Bengals were called for an amount of penalties that reached double-digits.
Few were immune to having their number called by the officiating crew, but it does call some things into question. Do Taylor and Co. have the Bengals’ thinking too much instead of naturally reacting? Is the terminology that Taylor s using too complex?
Or, is this a simple combination of it being the preseason, missing critical players at the moment and being a young team transitioning with a new staff? it may be a little bit of everything, to be honest.
Sure, the league’s officials seem to be a bit more trigger-happy this preseason, in terms of doling out the laundry, but Cincinnati won’t be able to win many games averaging 11 penalties a game, as is currently the case.
The offensive line: This unit has been the biggest concern all offseason and after the losses of Jonah Williams, Clint Boling and now Christian Westerman, things are shaky.
The first group didn’t do Dalton any favors, while no running backs did anything of significance, in terms of getting chunk plays. Penalties, being over-matched and a lack of consistency is hurting the unit.
It’s a double-edged sword we’re dealing with here. The good news is that it seems as if Taylor’s crew is still figuring out the best possible configuration up front. The bad news is that the regular season opener is just three weeks away, so they had better get things solidified quickly.