It was a big night at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday, as Bengals head coach made his Cincinnati game debut. He and his squad were looking to put on their finest showing of the summer, as game three of the preseason is often the final tune-up to the regular season opener.
There was a lot to like in the loss against the Giants, as signs began to point to things moving in a positive direction. It sounds odd saying that after a loss, but this game felt different, in terms of on-field product, compared to the previous two contests.
Here are some of the folks who impressed and who didn’t in Cincinnati’s 25-23 loss to the Giants.
The first-team defensive unit: Aside from a couple of passes defended from William Jackson III and B.W. Webb, the rest of the unit patched together a good performance in the early going. It’s no coincidence that the improved performances coincided with the returns and/or increased playing time from guys like Jackson, Geno Atkins and Carl Lawson on Thursday night.
The first three Giants possessions ended in a 41-yard field goal, a failed fourth down try and a punt. Those possessions were engineered by both Eli Manning and Daniel Jones. It wasn’t pretty how they did it (allowed a 15-play opening drive), but the numbers on the scoreboard showed just three points into the second quarter.
Andy Dalton: The team’s starting quarterback had a nice opener against the Chiefs, but it wasn’t very pretty last week against Washington. However, Dalton played well in his most extensive preseason action this Thursday against New York.
The first two drives weren’t anything to write home about, but he settled in and threw a few nice passes. He finished 7-of-10 for 104 yards and a 26-yard beauty of a touchdown to C.J. Uzomah.
Zac Taylor: “The dress rehearsal” in the NFL preseason is where you want to put your best foot forward as a team before the regular season, and the Bengals did that, for the most part. Sure, they let up plays towards the end of the game to lead to a loss, but other facets were cleaned up in a big way.
Penalties, for instance, were cut from 11 in the first two games to just five on Thursday, with the first units playing clean ball. And, with Taylor coming into Cincinnati being known as a “quarterback guru”, the three Bengals passers finished the night a combined 31-of-42 (78 percent) for 353 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Rodney Anderson: Sometimes, just seeing a guy on the field after knowing he suffered a devastating injury is a win. However, when said player’s first touch of the pros in a game (and when returning from said injury) is a nifty 12-yard gain for a first down, it’s a good night.
The rookie didn’t stop there, though. He followed it up with an eight-yard scamper on his second NFL touch, exuding cut ability and power, as well as a great blitz pick up on a Ryan Finley completion that netted a first down and two other great receptions in the third quarter.
Rodney Anderson hasn’t played football for almost a year. This is one of like five awesome plays by him on the night. pic.twitter.com/QIvU5T7d4l— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) August 23, 2019
C.J. Uzomah: The tight end had one of the worst nights imaginable last week against the Redskins, but really atoned nicely against New York. After just the first quarter, Uzomah had two catches for 54 yards and a score.
The latter play was from 26 yards and was a beauty of a wheel route up the right sideline. Uzomah’s evening was done after the touchdown reception, but it was a good omen for the regular season opener, which is a few short weeks away.
Damion Willis: This kid just continues to make plays. He had a drop at the end of the second quarter, but that was greatly overshadowed by a small handful of other highlight reel grabs. One nice reception was on a broken play where he came back to Ryan Finley for 19 yards.
But, the big one was on the preceding drive, where he came back on an under-thrown ball down the left sideline to pluck it for a 33-yard gain (he was also interfered with on the play). He had a touchdown on a fade from Jake Dolegala in the fourth quarter to put a cap on his night, finishing with three catches for 55 yards and the score.
Damion Willis is fun. (Flag was defensive PI). pic.twitter.com/8CeLmWKBKR— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) August 22, 2019
Ryan Finley: It wasn’t as streaky of a start for the backup quarterback, but he heated up quickly. The rookie overcame a number of issues on his second drive of the game, including two sacks and a penalty, but made play after play. The 12-play drive was a patchwork beauty, netting an important field goal.
It wasn’t as productive as his first two starts, but Finley continued to show touch, accuracy and poise. His night finished with the onset of the fourth quarter, and his stat line was 14-of-20 for 155 yards.
Jake Dolegala: The team’s fourth-string quarterback got some looks on Thursday and wowed folks on his opening drive. He went 4-for-4 for 45 yards, including a great 34-yard pass to Ventell Bryant and the lofted touchdown pass to Willis on his first drive. Dolegala hit Josh Malone for another one late, to get the Bengals within reach of a tie.
Carl Lawson: If we’re going to point out Anderson’s return from injury, we have to add Lawson, who also came back with a fury. In the second quarter, Lawson made a stellar move on Nate Solder to wallop Jones and jar the ball loose. Unfortunately, the Giants recovered and subsequently got in the end zone, but the force off the edge seems to be gearing up to regular season form.
So...Carl Lawson is back (That’s against Nate Solder). pic.twitter.com/xuR6Lirj7z— Anthony Cosenza (@CJAnthonyCUI) August 23, 2019
Any Bengals defender tasked with covering a tight end: A committee of Giants tight ends continued to gash the Bengals’ defense. C.J. Conrad, Garrett Dickerson, Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison combined for six catches for 76 yards. It doesn’t sound overly-egregious, but they were the cut-and-paste frustrating plays that sustained drives.
Auden Tate: We need to put an immediate disclaimer that Tate’s designation on this list has nothing to do with his play. He had a nice reception early, showing that immense catch radius he possesses.
Unfortunately, Tate suffered a left knee injury early in the contest, paving the way for others he’s competing with (like Willis) to impress the coaches. Tate did start for the second straight week at wide receiver, so that’s a good sign for him, but there is a lot to sort out here and that injury just muddies the waters.
Tony McRae: The young defensive back was victimized a few times, as he was pressed into action with Darqueze Dennard still sitting out of the preseason. One of the biggest indictments of the evening was a 19-yard reception in the opening drive, but he also allowed three more catches for 27 yards on a Giants drive that stalled at the beginning of the first quarter.
O’Shea Dugas: Call him the poster boy for the backup line’s issues, if you will. The second unit didn’t open many holes for Anderson in the run game and began to commit penalties, but Dugas’ errors were the most egregious.
Dugas was caught either missing an assignment and/or on roller skates twice on Thursday night, allowing two sacks to Oshane Ximines. The latter almost cost the Bengals a game-tying field goal and unfortunately shows how paper-thin their tackle depth is right now.
Jeff Driskel: Much like the situation with Tate, Driskel lost because of an injury. He’s fighting for his roster life because of Finley’s preseason performances and the coaches dabbling with him at other positions, but he didn’t suit up on Thursday night. If you want to use a Marv-ism, “the best ability is availability”.
Davontae Harris: The second-year defensive back had a couple of gaffes on Thursday. He was penalized for a hold on what would have been a nice Josh Malone kick return, but also let up a critical 36-yard completion in the fourth quarter to put the Giants ahead midway through the final quarter.
Darrin Simmons: While Randy Bullock nailed a great 50-yard attempt earlier in the game, Simmons’ unit gave up a couple of back-breaking plays. One was the aforementioned Harris hold and the other was a 68-yard punt return touchdown to basically put the game away for the Giants.