CINCINNATI -- OK, it's only Aug. 19 and there still has yet to be a single down of regular-season football to be played.
But the Cincinnati Bengals have to be feeling good about their first-team offense's impressive performance to this point in the preseason, right?
While you won't hear any of the coaches publicly acknowledge it, there are some people around the team who have taken note and are impressed with what they've seen so far. Namely, it's the players. To this point in the preseason, they believe members of the starting group have paid the right amount of attention to the finer details of their individual positions, and they think the chemistry that comes along with now four straight seasons of honed relationships has helped the timing and execution of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's scheme.
The starting offense was so good Saturday night against Rex Ryan's always strong first-team Jets' defense that quarterback Andy Dalton stood behind a clean pocket for most of his 17 plays, passing a flawless 8-for-8 and connecting with his receivers for 144 yards and a touchdown. He had a perfect passer rating of 158.3, and seemed as poised as he has ever been.
That performance followed up a similarly impressive, albeit shorter, outing at Kansas City the week before. Dalton went 3-for-5 for 71 yards in his lone drive against the Chiefs. All four drives he has led in limited action these two preseason games have resulted in scores. His offense has converted two touchdowns (one of them was a 1-yard Giovani Bernard rush) and two field goals. Combined, he is 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and one touchdown. This also marks the first time in Dalton's career that he's had an average passer rating (131.3) over 100.0 through his first two preseason games. It's also the first time he has thrown for more than 200 yards through two preseason games.
So what is it that has changed? Is it Dalton? Is it the offense? Is it both?
"Right now, from a stats standpoint you can say the offense looks good, but there's a lot of offenses in the league that are good in the preseason," Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It's the little things that you see -- guys hustling to the football, guys getting each other's backs, guys [doing] the stuff that we're saying is a point of emphasis that week, and guys going out there and executing the play not just because the play worked, but because it was executed correctly."
Whitworth added: "It's efficiently ran plays."
Three of Dalton's 11 completions have gone for more than 30 yards. Each of them traveled that far in the air, giving the Bengals a series of chunk plays. The two throws of that ilk Cincinnati had Saturday resulted in touchdowns. One of them, a 35-yard bomb to A.J. Green, put the Bengals in goal-line territory ahead of Bernard's dive. The other, a 43-yard strike in stride to Mohamed Sanu, was a touchdown itself, complete with a Sanu dance.
"The two throws down the field were tremendous," injured backup quarterback Jason Campbell said. "It's fun to watch, because these guys are in their fourth year together and this is kind of the year where you kind of start springing forward."
So is it better attention to detail? Is it chemistry? It actually appears to be a combination of both.
But whatever the case may be, the Bengals' first-team offense certainly appears to be rolling. Now for the big question.
Can it sustain its success for more than one quarter?
We'll find out Sunday night at Arizona when the starters presumably play a bit longer than they have been.