Here are observations from Saturday night's preseason action in the AFC North:
Cincinnati's first-team offense doubled its touchdown output this preseason with two touchdown drives. With new faces like Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals' offense has been a work in progress. It showed positive signs against Buffalo as quarterback Carson Palmer connected on touchdown passes to Gresham and receiver Chad Ochocinco. Palmer had his best preseason game to date, completing 9 of 11 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
Bengals starting tailback Cedric Benson also had his best game of the preseason. He rushed for 50 yards on eight carries. Benson is running hard, but hasn't found many holes in limited carries this preseason. He finally broke off a nice run of 20 yards against Buffalo and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
The Bengals allowed too many points to a Buffalo offense that's not very good. Rookie tailback C.J. Spiller rushed for two first-half touchdowns, giving the Bills a 21-7 lead at intermission. Bills quarterback Trent Edwards was near-perfect, completing 13 of 17 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Cincinnati's defense was often one step behind Buffalo's offense Saturday. Expect Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to get after his unit in practice this week.
The Bengals have been sloppy with penalties, an issue that plagued them last season and has continued in the preseason. Cincinnati recorded 12 penalties for 122 yards, which is high even for a preseason game. Cincinnati cannot expect to suddenly "turn it on" and play smarter when games count in the standings.
Baltimore's first-team offense came alive in the "dress rehearsal" game. Quarterback Joe Flacco recorded a preseason-high 229 passing yards. He drilled two nice touchdown passes to tight end Todd Heap and receiver Anquan Boldin in the red zone, an area Baltimore wants to be more efficient passing the football. The Ravens also want to spread the ball around, and 10 receivers caught passes Saturday.
Heap looks great. He led Baltimore Saturday with six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Competition has clearly brought out the best in Heap after the Ravens drafted two tight ends in April. This is also the healthiest Heap has been to start the season in years.
Baltimore suffered a major injury as receiver Donte' Stallworth broke his foot and is expected to miss about two months. Stallworth, who was out of football in 2009, had a solid training camp and was expected to be a good addition to Baltimore’s receiving corps. Backups Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams will have to step up in reserve roles.
The Ravens' third-down conversions could still use improvement. Baltimore's offense moved the ball well, but was just 4-of-15 on third downs.
Cleveland's first-team offense was productive. The Browns scored 17 offensive points in the first half. (Cleveland's starting defense also scored a first-half touchdown.) Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme was accurate for the third straight exhibition game. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown. For the preseason, Delhomme has thrown for 345 yards, two touchdowns and completed 79.2 percent of his passes. He's done a good job of erasing concerns about him heading into the regular season.
The Browns have a nice find in running back Peyton Hillis. Acquired in the Brady Quinn trade with the Denver Broncos, Hillis showed his versatility with 40 receiving yards and 26 yards rushing and a touchdown. But what stood out most was Hillis' regular-season intensity. He broke through arm tackles and bullied Detroit defenders. Hillis is Cleveland’s leading rusher through three preseason games.
For the second week in a row, the Browns were too careless with the football. Cleveland fumbled four times, losing three. Running back Jerome Harrison's fumble in the second quarter was returned 14 yards for a touchdown. Last week Cleveland played in rainy conditions, but this time there were no excuses for putting the ball on the ground in a dome. The Browns have eight turnovers in their past two preseason games. They have to play smarter and more efficient to have a chance to climb out the basement of the AFC North.
Cleveland's defense was gashed by the Lions. Detroit rookie Jahvid Best zipped through the Browns’ first-team defense for 51 yards on his first carry, which was a sweep left. Cleveland's tackling and defensive fundamentals were not sharp, particularly against the run. The Lions rushed for 154 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.