The men in stripes will play their second game of the 2010 preseason Sunday at 7:00 PM at Paul Brown Stadium in a tilt with the Denver Broncos. The game will be blacked out in the greater Cincinnati – Dayton areas, but will be televised live nationally on the NFL network. A tape-delayed broadcast will be available to Cincinnati and Dayton area residents at 11:30 PM.
The Bengals were generally unimpressive in a 16-7 loss to the Cowboys last Sunday in the Hall of Fame Game. Sunday’s contest will be Denver’s preseason opener.
Here are some things to look for from the Bengals in the game:
- Look for the starters to play the entire first quarter: The dreadful passing attack from 2009 didn’t look any better last week versus Dallas. I expect Coach Marvin Lewis to leave his starting offensive unit in the game for the entire first quarter, and perhaps into the second. Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski will need more tape on the passing game, and its clear that Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander needs more tape on his charges. Look for some more passes from Carson Palmer as he works to build a rhythm with Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Jordan Shipley, and Jermaine Gresham.
- Wide Receivers Scrum: The team will need some more evaluation tape on the receivers, particularly the 5 fighting for what looks to be one, and at the very most two, roster spots. Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell are deadlocked in a slugfest for the top slot receiver, and Jerome Simpson, Quan Cosby, Matt Jones, and Dez Briscoe are in a cage match for the last receiver position.
- Where’s Jermaine Gresham?: The team’s prized first round pick barely got any real action last week, with just one overthrown pass sent his way. Look for at least one or two plays in the first quarter designed for Carson Palmer to get him the ball.
- Back-up QB Battle Royale: I’m sorry folks, but judging by his few snaps as a Bengal, J.T. O’Sullivan is J(ust) T(erribly) O’-ful. He looks timid—even terrified—in the pocket, and hasn’t displayed any visual or audible leadership skills that I’ve seen. Jordan Palmer threw 2 ugly picks last Sunday, but he kept his composure and seemed to maintain the look and presence of a QB. He came back from the two dismal plays to rifle a daring touchdown pass in traffic to a 4th string TE. Bratkowski acknowledged this week that the younger Palmer was giving O’Sullivan a run for the top clipboard-holder’s job, and unless things change, I see it becoming a reality. Either way, this team needs better production from their back-ups, and an impenetrable force-field around Carson Palmer.
- Benson and Scott on 3rd down: With Leapin’ Brian Leonard limpin’, the team needs to see what starter Cedric Benson and top back-up Bernard Scott can do in their third-down packages. As Flyin’ Brian recovers, the team needs to see how Benson and Scott do catching dump-offs, picking up blitzers, and generally serving as Carson Palmer’s personal bodyguard. Oh yeah, and they may need to run the ball a few times too.
- The Atkins Diet: fourth-round pick Geno Atkins was the rookie that showed the most from last week’s game by recording 5 tackles and a sack from his defensive tackle position. Atkins showed quickness and agility, and garnered rave reviews from coaches and talking heads alike. It will be interesting to see what the former Georgia Bulldog has for an encore.
- More Michael Johnson: The other defensive player who really stood out last week was second-year man Michael Johnson. Johnson, a converted DE, was impressive in his first game action as a pass rusher from an outside linebacker position. Johnson had 2 sacks and nearly 3 more as he harassed Dallas quarterbacks early and often. What appeared to be an interesting experiment is turning into potentially something special. The defense’s one weakness in 2009 was a lack of consistent pass rush. Johnson could be a factor in erasing that weakness in 2010.
- Rey-Rey in the Middle?: With Michael Johnson’s improved play, there is a need to get him on the field. But his position, SAM backer, is currently held by second-year man Rey Maualuga. Maualuga was drafted as the eventual heir to Dhani Jones’ throne in the middle, though Jones appears to be the starter for 2010. The team will give Maualuga some snaps in the middle, particularly in some 3-4 sets to tinker with the defense. It will be very interesting to see how Maualuga plays as a MIKE, his most natural position and the spot he played in college.
- Call me Adam: The team will continue to want to give Adam “Pacman” Jones as much work as possible. The former 2005 first-round pick is still shaking off the rust from being out of football last year, but he looked very good last week against the much-taller Cowboy receivers. He’ll also likely field some punts and kick-offs, which leads me to…
- Kick Returners: Jordan Shipley opened the bidding for the top punt-returner job with a 63-yard bolt in the fourth quarter of the Hall of Fame Game. Incumbent Quan Cosby will look to regain his foothold on the job, and there’s the aforementioned former video game character that’s also in the mix. Bernard Scott, Andre Caldwell, and Jones are likewise battling for the primary kick-off returner job. Who wins these contests will have a big impact on the final roster, particularly at wide receiver.
- More Special Teams: Mike Windt and Clark Harris will continue their battle for the long-snapper job, and we may see Mike Nugent attempt a field goal for the first time as a Bengal. Nugent has some ground to make up after suffering a hamstring injury. His competition, Dave Rayner, has been solid in his absence.
As with last week’s game, the team has three primary objectives:
- Don’t lose anyone to injuries—particularly starters
- Get some evaluation tape—particularly back-ups.
- See Number 1.
Hopefully they will fair better on number 1 than last week.
Like many of you, I will be looking for the Bengals to win this game. I’ll be yelling at the refs, players, and coaches all night as if it were a “real” game. If they lose, I’ll certainly be disappointed.
That said, the score only matters inasmuch as it helps evaluate player performances. As my father, a real Bill Parcellsian football philosopher is apt to say, “You should lose all your preseason games. Winning only serves to breed overconfidence.”
He’s right. Nonetheless, I unabashedly offer that familiar battle cry…