Preseason Week Two Preview: Philadelphia at Cincinnati

The 2010 preseason rolls on as the Bengals host the Eagles tonight at Paul Brown Stadium. Kickoff is at 8:00 PM. The game will be televised nationally on Fox, but is still blacked out in the greater Cincinnati area as a non-sellout.

The Bengals (1-1) are only four days removed from their last game, a 33-24 win over Denver. The Eagles are 1-0 after beating Jacksonville last Friday, 28-27.

For the Eagles, it’s the dawn of the Kevin Kolb era. After trading Donovan McNabb to the division rival Redskins, and letting go of long-time tailback Brian Westbrook, the birds are looking to the future. Coach Andy Reid has reloaded the roster with young talent all over the team, with high expectations for playmaking wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The team also has Michael Vick, and will use him in various sets as a wildcat/option QB.

The Bengals want to build upon Sunday’s win with more consistency from the first teamers. Head Coach Marvin Lewis will no doubt be looking for more discipline from the first string defenders and fewer penalties. Lewis has indicated that he’ll play the starters longer this week, treating it like the 3rd preseason game it is (even though the team has five this year). Look for the first teamers to play through the first series of the third quarter.

As I’ve mentioned before, winning the game will be secondary to the coaches. Their primary objectives will be to avoid injuries to players and get good tape for player evaluation purposes.

Here are a few things to look for during the game:

T.O. Re-union, part II: For the second time in two weeks, Terrell Owens will face a former team. Owens played with the Eagles in 2004 and 2005, participating in Super Bowl XXXIX.

The Passing Offense: Carson Palmer and the receivers looked much better against Denver than they did versus the Cowboys. Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley had nice games, and CP was able to get both T.O. and Chad some action. If the team can build upon the Denver game with another good outing, fans may start to quell their angst that reached a fever pitch in the playoff loss to the Jets.

WR Derby: We all know that Owens and Ocho are the top two pass catchers on the roster, and at this point it’s safe to say that Shipley is a shoo-in. Beyond that, the water gets really muddy. Antonio Bryant has yet to play, and rumors have begun circulating that the team may release him. Andre Caldwell, considered the top slot receiver going into camp, was running with the 2’s and 3’s lately and hasn’t looked all that impressive. His kick returning hasn’t improved either. Jerome Simpson, Matt Jones, and Dez Briscoe are grinding, while Quan Cosby is pushing everyone. I’m starting to think that Bryant or Caldwell will be gone in favor of Simpson and Cosby.

Michael Johnson, Linebacker: The Michael Johnson experiment continues Friday. The team will be looking for more pressure on QB’s from the converted DE with the freakish frame.

Geno!: Fourth-round DT Geno Atkins has become a folk legend in two preseason games with 3.5 sacks and disruptive play up the middle. Can he keep it going? I sure hope so.

Punt Return Battle Royale: Jordan Shipley had the biggest play of the Dallas game with a 63 yard punt return. He added a 21-yarder against Denver. Great, huh? Except that was only the third best return last Sunday. Adam Jones and Quan Cosby had big returns last week, making the top punt returner spot the most hotly on the roster.

More Rey In The Middle: The Bengals gave Rey Maualuga several snaps at middle linebacker last week. Look for more of the same Friday. The team is working him in there as an eventual heir to Dhani Jones, and to allow more flexibility on defense, with Brandon and Michael Johnson making big plays. Maualuga was a middle ‘backer in college, and should be comfortable eventually transitioning there.

Kicker Battle: The good news is that Shayne Graham is gone. The bad news is that we have yet to see any substantial kicks from Mike Nugent. Nugent kicked two extra points last week, leaving all four field goal attempts to his competition, Dave Rayner. Rayner hit 3 of the 4, missing his first shot from 44 yards out. Most observers saw Nugent as having the inside track for the job, but injuries have stunted his progress, allowing Rayner to shine (no pun intended). Nugent will need a big game to catch up in this roster scrum.

Andre to Play?: For the first time this season, we may see Andre Smith suit up and take some snaps. The overweight former first-rounder has been cleared to practice, and with injuries to 3 other tackles, Smith might be pressed into action, ready or not.

With just four days between games, the Bengals didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. The game plan should again be vanilla, but the starters will play longer to work on timing and technique. The offense will get a good test against Philadelphia’s 4-3, and the defense will be challenged by Philly’s short, west-coast passing attack. Michael Vick should add an extra dimension of complexity for the defense, forcing the kind of discipline defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer expects.

Who-Dey! Enjoy the game…

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