One look at the final score from the Cincinnati Bengals' preseason opener against Kansas City Chiefs, and it would be easy to assume that neither defense showed up Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bengals' first- and second-team units actually did play fairly good defense in a 41-39 loss that featured the high number of lineup changes and rotation tweaks that are common this time of year.
Here are some thoughts on the Bengals' first preseason game:
Cincinnati's now well-paid starting quarterback Andy Dalton looked fairly sharp in his only drive, completing 3 of the 5 passes he attempted. He was at his best on his first three throws, which were all completed before two incompletions stalled the series and forced a 30-yard field goal. The Bengals got in field goal range on the fifth play of the eight-play drive when Dalton, under pressure, threw a 53-yard bomb to receiver A.J. Green who outran the corner and safety nearby. The pass was evidence of the adjustments Dalton has made to improve his deep-passing numbers. It also came after two runs and a pair of passes that resulted in short completions. Those series of plays were a sign that the Bengals' first-team offense is fluid, and performing just the way new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has said it would. He's mentioned often that his system will hinge on using its running backs to draw defenses up after allowing modest gains before opening the offense with more efficient passes deep downfield.
While Dalton looked strong in his limited action, backup Jason Campbell had more mixed results. Campbell had three touchdown passes, but also had two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. On both occasions, he checked down to the wrong spots, throwing at receivers who were well-covered. The second interception, a 51-yard return by Malcolm Bronson, was telegraphed by Campbell who stared his receiver down before Bronson jumped the route. Interceptions off similar Out routes have been problems in recent practice days for Campbell. Cincinnati hopes he'll be able to correct those issues soon. There also is a hope that he'll even be able to play when the Bengals return to practice Saturday. The veteran was run from the game when he took a shot to his throwing elbow after attempting a third-quarter pass. He left the game on the next play, and trainers put an ice pack on him right away. Campbell's backup performed slightly better against Kansas City's backups. Matt Scott was 7-for-11 and 66 yards passing with two touchdowns. He also ran for 68 yards.
Yes, the Bengals gave up 41 points, but that's not a good indication of where the defense stands at this point. Before the third-team rotations started to come in the fourth quarter, the Bengals only allowed one touchdown and two field goals. The Chiefs' other scores were the result of the interception returns for touchdowns and a kickoff return for touchdown. Among the highlights of the Bengals' defensive play were their six sacks, two of which led to fumbles that were recovered by defensive linemen.
The Bengals have to be somewhat worried about their special teams play. Kickoff coverage and punt coverage were issues early in the ballgame when the leading coverage units were on the field. Regularly, the group overran returners and allowed them to bounce for bigger gains than should have been allowed. That's what happened on the kick return touchdown, and it's also what led to a long punt return in the first quarter that set up Kansas City's first field goal.