The Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals both kicked off the preseason choosing to rest their starters, which means it became a huge game for those battling to climb the depth chart and make the team.
It may not have been the most ideal way for Cincinnati to have their first game played at Paycor Stadium, but it definitely isn’t the time to start hitting any panic buttons.
It is always hard to judge where a team really is when players like Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, countless other skill position players and four of the five potential starting players in t-shirts. It was still a great chance to all the young guys the Bengals added this offseason.
The Cardinals struck first with a great play fake by Trace McSorley rolling out on a 3rd-and-1 to hit his receiver open in the corner of the end zone. Kicker Matt Prater missed the extra point. The drive was aided by a pass interference that led to a 40-yard gain. We got a chance to see players like rookie defensive lineman Jeff Gunther bat down a screen pass, but overall just not enough good plays by the second string to stop Arizona’s backups.
Cincinnati started the next drive with a beautiful 70-yard run by running back Chris Evans. It was erased by a holding penalty, though. Ultimately, Brandon Allen saw routine pressure after getting a first down, and the Bengals couldn’t overcome 2nd-and-30. That gave punter Kevin Huber the first opportunity in the game for his punting battle against Drue Chrisman.
Both teams traded field goals over the next two drives. The young Bengals highlighted the drive with first round pick Daxton Hill making an incredible play on the play in the end zone that was broken up by landing on the ground.
Quarterback Jake Browning replaced Allen (after the backup quarterback quarterback left the game with a concussion), which resulted in instant fireworks as he and wide receiver Trent Taylor combined for 49 yards on the drive.
However, holding penalties continued to haunt Cincinnati as an Evans touchdown run was erased and put them in a bad position in the red zone to score a touchdown.
Kicker Evan McPherson got to show off his leg absolutely destroying a 58 and 56 yards kicks in the first half. Both of those kicks were from the logo at midfield. He even showed off kicking it through the uprights after his second field goal.
It wasn’t all good news, though. Browning started a drive by fumbling the ball on Cincinnati’s own 20-yard line, which led to an easy Arizona touchdown. The defense also failed to contain McSorley as the quarterback would buy time hitting his receivers. This led to Jonathan Ward’s second short yardage touchdown.
Both teams failed to score anymore points in the two-minute drill leaving the Bengals down 23-9 going into the half.
The second half didn’t start any better for Cincinnati. The offense continued to stay behind schedule as Browning often had to run for his life, and the offensive line’s holding issues continued.
The only thing that changed was now we saw members deeper on the depth chart for both sides. That meant McSorley was replaced by Jarrett Guarantano who picked apart the Bengals defense as he helped the Cardinals’ offense added two more touchdowns, but Prater only added one more extra point. The fourth quarter started with the good guys down 36-9.
The Bengals finally reached the end zone after Browning pulled off several heroic plays where he probably ran over 80 yards laterally avoiding defensive linemen. Running back Jacques Patrick started the drive by catching a 31 yard pass down field during a scramble drill. He then ended up finishing the drive with a second effort to get into the end zone on third down.
We got a chance to see a great story, as homegrown quarterback out of Loveland (OH) Drew PlItt came in to replace Browning. He started the drive with a few handoffs before opening up highlighted by a terrific throw and one-handed catch by Kendric Pryor who had a couple of highlight worthy grabs on the night. This one went for 28 yards and had to be reviewed before it counted.
The two ended the drive with an absolute drive that brought the final score to a more respectable 36-23 loss. Plitt was a perfect six for six on the drive for 77 yards. A heartwarming way to end the game.
We saw plays from young players like Hill, who was all over the field near the ball. We also saw defensive linemen like Zach Carter (recorded a sack), Gunther getting constant pressure and Joseph Ossai returned to the field after missing all of last season.
The real concern comes with the depth at offensive line looking shaky at best. It was especially troubling to see Jackson Carman — who is slated to be the starting left guard — struggle against backups.
The good news was Cordell Volson looked serviceable, and maybe we will see him earlier next week.