With the Cincinnati Bengals coming off a solid game last week against Atlanta, winning 34-10, and having good play from the backups, the team is going to have a different challenge tonight against Tennessee at Paul Brown Stadium
In the first preseason game last week, coaches Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer knew that they would have to address the defense’s passing attack in the first few Atlanta series’ with the capabilities of quarterback Matt Ryan. However, it’s an adverse story this week with the Titans having a good running game on offense and a defense that boasts one of the better secondary’s in the league. With the starters expected to play close to a quarter, both Cincinnati’s offense and defense will have new challenges to face that will give us a better idea where they stack up against the rest of the NFL.
1. Run defense
Last week, the Bengals’ defense knew they had to pressure quarterback Matt Ryan, and for the most part the team didn’t succeed, showing no quarterback sacks or hits while producing some pressure. Ryan went 6 of 9 and 89 yards passing, and although he had no touchdowns, he was able to spread the ball around effectively.
Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer thinks this week is a good opportunity for the defense to improve on pressuring the quarterback, but also knows they will have their hands full with Tennessee’s running backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene who ran for a combined 2,306 yards last season (Greene for the Jets).
Coach Zimmer told the Cincinnati Enquirer that, “I’m still trying to get a bit of a feel for what this team does best and put them in different positions. It’s still about learning about us and how we can fit in and do some things. They’ve got two good backs and we can rush the passer up better. We just have to keep plugging along and try to get better.”
As always, the Bengals’ strength on defense is the line, and the team will need tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko to apply the pressure and stuff the run game for the secondary to do better on passing plays.
2. First-team offense
Andy Dalton did a sufficient job last week and was 3 of 7 for 37 yards, but missed on a few passes. The first-team offense was able to generate first downs but false start penalties killed the drive.
The rookies were good in their NFL debut, and that is only because it was their first game and they didn’t do anything negative to hurt the team. Giovanni Bernard showed flashes of the type of running back threat he could be for the team, but he was routinely stuffed at the line and his one catch-and-run play on third and long came up short when he tripped mid-field. Meanwhile, TE Tyler Eifert was lined up opposite Jermaine Gresham in the two-tight end set on multiple plays and did a good job on run blocking but only caught one pass that was nullified after a penalty.
A.J. Green has resumed practice this week with the team but he will not be in tonight’s game, so Dalton will be without his star receiver for a second straight week and will be relying on his two tight ends and backup receivers.
3. “Heat-seeking missiles”
That’s what running back’s coach Hue Jackson said he wanted his fullbacks to be this season. Slowly creeping up behind the storylines of battles at safety, running back, linebacker, and the influx of rookies, the fullback battle between John Conner “The Terminator” and Orson Charles has become a center of attention.
Charles is a recently converted tight end who shows potential and has more tools to offer than Conner, but he has struggled with showing the aggression that is expected out of the position. While Orson Charles is more versatile, Jackson wants his fullbacks to be hard hitters. It is no secret that Conner is a hitter, so this game will be telling as to who is the front runner for the season opener.
Last week was a big week for J.K Schaffer who showed his knack for the linebacker position and helped his chances at making the roster. Having the most tackles on the team, Schaffer is new to this position. Last preseason, Schaffer led the Jaguars in tackles before being one of the final roster cuts, so he knows more than anyone that one game isn’t enough to secure a job. With Jayson DiManche also vying for a roster spot, continuing solid play is a must for a roster spot for either player. James Harrison played his first game out of a Steeler’s uniform and out of the 3-4 defense they ran. He said it has been a learning curve adjusting to the Bengals 4-3 which requires more assignments from the linebacker, but he showed no weakness during his limited play last week. It will be interesting how much he improves each week with more time getting to learn the Bengals’ system.
The secondary did a good job last week against the Falcon’s passing game, limiting them to 176 passing yards, no touchdowns and an interception by Brandon Ghee against Falcon’s backup quarterback Dominique Davis. The secondary has a new challenge to face with the Titans’ running game.
With the safeties still battling for a roster spot, it will be a big game for Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams and George Iloka. Both Mays and Williams are both known for being contact players that excel in the running game, so it will be an especially important game for Iloka to prove that he can be an aggressive safety.