The Cincinnati Bengals were back in action tonight, taking on the Arizona Cardinals in their first preseason game of the 2022 season. With virtually all starters in street clothes, this was a game that revealed depth, or lack thereof. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of Friday night’s contest.
Chris Evans: Second-year running back Chris Evans had himself a night, even though the box score won’t tell you that. The official stats don’t look good, but Evans made strides as he tries to take the second running back spot from Samaje Perine. Two of three of Evans’ best plays were called back. In the first quarter, Evans took a handoff outside for a big gain of 68 yards that would’ve set the Bengals up in the red zone, but a hold by Thaddeus Moss. Later in the quarter, Evans had a five-yard touchdown run called back, again by a hold on Moss. For good measure, Evans made a pop on special teams, returning a kickoff for 41 yards.
Zach Carter: Rookie defensive lineman Zach Carter had a strong showing in the first half. Finishing the game with 4 tackles sounds modest, but Carter jumped off the tape. His best play showed him launch off the ball and make it into the backfield quickly, knocking down a Trace McSorley pass. With a hole on the defensive line rotation open, Carter showed he should be in the mix.
Daxton Hill: The first-rounder out of Michigan got his first NFL action Friday night, and he looked like he belonged. After being a step behind a touchdown pass (the play wasn’t his fault) early on, Hill seemed to be around the ball every play. Hill had a near interception in the end zone, but wasn’t able to haul it in as the receiver turned into a defender. A couple more near picks and a big hit to force an incompletion made it a good showing for the young safety. If Jessie Bates does miss regular season time, Hill may help fill the void.
Jeffrey Gunter: Another rookie defensive lineman showed he belonged. Jeffrey Gunter, a rookie from Coastal Carolina logged his first NFL sack Friday evening and made a handful of stops to keep his name in the mix for a spot in the rotation. Not showing in the stat sheet all the time, the high motor you may have heard about was certainly on display.
Evan McPherson: This isn’t a shock, but Evan McPherson was on his game. “Money Mac” was... well, money. McPherson went three for three, but the distance was what stood out. Hitting kicks from 56 and 58 yards out showed we shouldn’t expect a sophomore slump from the postseason hero.
Kendric Pryor: The rookie wideout out of Wisconsin is facing an uphill climb to make the roster in a crowded receiver room, but Pryor had as good of a debut as he could hope for. He caught four balls for 89 yards and a score while making some spectacular grabs. He’s very much in the running for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Jackson Carman: Per the Bengals’ first depth chart, the only starter on the offensive line to see action was second-year guard Jackson Carman and it was a tough night. Carman looked a tad slow coming off the ball, got charged with a holding penalty and allowed much more pressure than you’d hope to see from a starter. Add in a solid showing from rookie Cordell Volson and Carman may find himself on the wrong side of the left guard battle if he doesn’t improve, quickly.
Punters: It appears the Bengals are having a true battle for the punter position for the first time in 13 years. While neither Drue Chrisman or Kevin Huber looked particularly bad, neither did anything to get a leg up on the other. One would assume the incumbent Huber keeps the edge in that situation, but it will be something to watch going forward.
Backup Offensive Lineman: Carman’s struggles weren’t the only ones. Frankly, the starting offensive line Friday all looked rough. Penalties, missed assignments and collapsing pockets were the theme of the first half. Granted, none of them (aside from Carman) are expected to start, but we all know offensive line depth can be very important down the stretch. There is no real cause for panic after one preseason game, but Frank Pollack clearly has some work to do with the second unit.
Thaddeus Moss: As mentioned earlier, Moss had two penalties negate big plays for the offense. Fans certainly hope for the Joe Burrow/Moss connection can return to its former glory, but Moss had an opportunity Friday to get noticed. Unfortunately for him, his catches won’t be what coaches see on tape. With Drew Sample sidelined and Mitchell Wilcox leaving the game early, Moss seems to have missed a great shot to work his way up the tight end ranks.
Some good, some bad and some downright ugly tonight, but Bengal football is back!