1. Jordan Willis and Chris Smith
Both backup defensive ends built off the momentum from their game one performances with another productive night. Each had a sack and provided pressure on the edge throughout the second half. While there was very little to be excited about on the defensive side of the ball, these two were a bright spot. The competition on the defensive line is serious and both are keeping the pressure on the lackluster Michael Johnson.
2. Alex Erickson
When Erickson is on the field, he makes plays, simple as that. He provided the two biggest plays of the night with his 39 yard kick return and 31-yard reception. His play last year and this preseason is putting pressure on the Bengals to keep 7 receivers, something that does not happen often, or really at all. You just can’t cut a player that makes consistent plays.
3. The Kickers
After the performance of the kicking game in 2016, it is certainly refreshing to see both Randy Bullock and Jake Elliott go 2 for 2 to finish the night 4 for 4 as a team. Obviously, the team would prefer those be extra points, but the kicking battle is one of the few battles for starting spots on the team. The two remain neck and neck during game action, but Elliott’s recent struggles in practice put Bullock in the driver’s seat.
1. The starting defense
In the first preseason game, the starting 11 on defense allowed Tampa Bay to drive the field, but in their typical form, held them to 3. This defense has been made on the bend-not-break philosophy. However, things didn’t go so well against KC. Outside the offensive line, the defense has become the second biggest concern. Kansas City did whatever they wanted throughout the night, and scored on their first five possessions. They were able to run and pass successfully, and without much push back. One of the more obvious issues has been the poor tackling, however, that should improve as the players get used to hitting on a regular basis.
2. The run game
The Bengals are going to run the ball this year. Over the last two seasons, only the Bengals and Panthers have accounted for 440+ rush attempts. In order to accomplish that for a third consecutive season, they must be better up front. While Jeremy Hill showed rookie year patience and burst, the offensive line failed to open up consistent lanes to run through. Joe Mixon and Tra Carson were often hit at or behind the line to scrimmage, which makes it tough to gain any more the a couple of yards. As many have said, including myself, this season depends on average play from the offensive line. The pass game can be based around quick passes to combat a poor offensive line; the run game cannot.
3. The health of the safeties
Going into camp, outside of quarterback and punter, safety was the only positional group that had no battles for a starting spot, or significant playing time. All of the sudden, with three weeks left till opening day, the spot looks awfully thin. On day three of training camp, George Iloka went down with a sprained knee that has kept him out to this point. He has began to practice again, but is not full go yet. Then, in the first quarter on Saturday, Shawn Williams hit Kareem Hunt, put his hand down to brace his fall, and suffered a gruesome elbow injury. Your arm is not supposed to bend like that. While the injuries are concerning, the outcome is not as bad as it could be. Iloka avoided a serious injury and should be back by the time Baltimore comes to town, and Shawn Williams avoided surgery and could return in 4-6 weeks. This allows the Bengals to avoid putting Williams on the IR-to return, but also requires them to carry him on the 53 without a real sense of when he will come back.
What to look for the the dress rehearsal, preseason game three @ Washington:
Preseason game three is often the dress rehearsal for the regular season, as well as the last time we will see all of the starters. It will be important for the defense to achieve some success and getting off the field without giving up points. As for the offense, it will be nice to see them get into the endzone. They have been able to move the ball, but just like last season, have struggled to put the ball past the goal line.