The Cincinnati Bengals now have two preseason games in the books after hosting the Tennessee Titans on Saturday evening. The game ended with a convincing 27-19 victory for Cincinnati, producing a 2-0 record in preseason action.
As we know, preseason records are not important—see 2008 Detroit Lions (4-0 preseason record, 0-16 regular-season record). Digging deeper into the individual and unit-based performances of the Bengals offense is where we will learn what this team is truly capable of in 2013.
So, what did we learn about this team once the final whistle blew on Saturday night?
Andy Dalton is Stepping Up
Third-year Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was nothing short of impressive during his second preseason game of 2013. Despite a rather shaky offensive line, Dalton completed 9 of 14 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown—good for a 113.7 passer rating. Out of Dalton's nine completions, five were to different receivers.
This is important due to the absence of All-Pro receiver A.J. Green for the second straight game. This team has clearly rallied around Dalton—there is a mutual trust between the quarterback and the rest of the Bengals offense.
Not only is Dalton stepping up as a leader, but it appears that his technique as a passer has evidently improved in drastic fashion.
Look no further than this fantastic touchdown pass to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to gather an idea of Dalton's improvement in this area.
This play comes on a 1st-and-goal at the Titans two-yard line. Sanu is the intended receiver and is split out wide on the left side of the formation. Dalton recognizes the man coverage.
Dalton takes a quick two-step drop and immediately angles his shoulders for a high fade to the corner of the end zone. He does this before Sanu gets the chance to turn around.
Now, with the ball at its peak, Sanu turns to find it while he fights off the coverage.
The throw is perfectly placed. It is out of the reach of the defender and drops into Sanu's hands with enough room for the receiver to keep both feet in bounds for the touchdown.
That is not an easy throw by any stretch of the imagination; however, Dalton made it look particularly simple.
There has been plenty of talk over the offseason regarding the possibility that the Bengals will only go as far as Dalton will take them. If this is any indication, the future could be looking very bright for the youngest offense in the NFL.
Giovani Bernard Flashes His Versatility
Since selecting with the 37th-overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Bengals coaching staff has been excited about what Giovani Bernard will bring to the table in 2013.
He showed a very promising—albeit small—sample size against the Titans on Saturday evening.
Bernard rushed seven times for a total of 37 yards—a 5.3 yard-per-carry average—and added a one-yard touchdown plunge to his totals. He also caught one pass for a 22-yard gain.
Being smaller in stature, Bernard did struggle with his pass protection at times against the Titans; however, he flourished in all other phases.
As a ball-carrier out of the backfield, Bernard showed that he is not only a shifty, speed back that needs to get to the outside to be successful—he was rather dominant between the tackles as well.
Bernard showed a great ability to make himself small while using a quick burst to get through the line. This allows him to get to the next level relatively untouched. He has begun to prove his point that he can be an every-down back at the NFL level.
Aside from his versatility as a runner, Bernard showed his capability as a receiver as well. He only caught one pass on the night, but he certainly made it count.
Bernard is in the backfield next to Dalton in the shotgun formation here.
Dalton takes a quick drop and immediately looks to throw to Bernard—who has a favorable matchup against a linebacker—heading into the flat on the left side.
With the ball now in his hands, Bernard bursts toward the sidelines and uses his speed to beat the linebacker around the edge.
He succeeds and continues into the open field.
By the time he is caught by the secondary, Bernard has turned that short pass into a 22-yard gain.
Creating such a large gain on such a short throw is ideal for the Bengals offensive system. Dalton flourishes by throwing short-to-intermediate passes and letting his receivers create yards after the catch. Bernard is just another viable weapon at Dalton's disposal.
Mohamed Sanu Remains Solid and Reliable
After breaking out in a short stretch of games in 2012, Sanu was struck down with a foot injury and lost for the remainder of the season. Now healthy, he looks to regain his form and chemistry with Dalton.
Sanu took a big step forward on Saturday night as he caught three passes for 36 yards (12-yard average) and a touchdown. In fact, he was awarded a second touchdown that was reviewed and called back by officials.
Clearly this second-year receiver has the full trust of Dalton heading into the 2013 season.
We already looked at one great touchdown grab by Sanu, but he had another almost-touchdown that was even more impressive.
Here, Sanu is lined up in the slot on the right side of the formation on 3rd-and-10.
He runs a short, five-yard pattern and needs to break free from two defenders to get the first down and continue the Bengals' drive. How does he do this?
Stiff arm No. 1.
Stiff arm No. 2.
This sheer strength allows Sanu to break away from both defenders and get down the sideline for a 24-yard gain. The play was initially called a touchdown, but it was called back after a review and spotted at the one-yard line.
The Bengals need a strong, physical receiver to complement the dynamic Green. Sanu is emerging to be that guy. His precise route running, solid hands and great strength make him a viable option going forward and a valuable asset to the Bengals offense.
Other Offensive Game Notes
Tyler Eifert continues to look as advertised. He caught three passes for 32 yards during the game and was constantly lined up all over the field to create mismatches for the offense.
Dane Sanzenbacher was relatively quiet against the Titans, only catching one pass for 12 yards. He does remain a threat to earn a roster spot this season.
Brandon Tate had a solid performance, catching three passes for 48 yards. Like Sanzenbacher, he is also making a great case to stick around for the 2013 season.
Dan Herron may have had the best game of all. He rushed nine times for 81 yards along with a 40-yard touchdown run. His prowess as a special-teams contributor is already known, and this rushing performance makes a great case to keep him on the final roster.
The backup quarterback battle got a little tighter. Josh Johnson struggled with accuracy and ball security while John Skelton had a better performance. This competition could remain very close without a sure winner emerging before final cuts.
The offensive line looked great when blocking for the run; however, that was not the case in pass protection. Dalton was sacked once but hit too many times during his short time in the game. The line was without Andrew Whitworth but still needs to improve to keep their quarterback upright.
All game statistics courtesy of NFL.com.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Preseason Live.