Cincinnati vs. Arizona: Report Card Grades for Each Bengals Unit

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

Cincinnati vs. Arizona: Report Card Grades for Each Bengals Unit

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals were able to fend off the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 of the 2014 NFL preseason with a 19-13 road win on Sunday Night Football.

    While the Bengals won, the starting units on both sides of the football played passable at best in what was a rather ugly affair overall.

    Quarterback Andy Dalton did much to calm those fans who still have questions about his ability. His pocket presence and ability to lead the unit downfield after countless miserable efforts from the special teams unit put his offense in a bad position speak volumes about how he meshes with new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

    The first-team defense did not surrender an offensive touchdown despite losing linebacker Vontaze Burfict to an injury early on in the contest. Predictably, Arizona was held to less than 100 rushing yards, and Cincinnati's lone touchdown came on a Terence Newman interception that he took back in the other direction.

    Coach Marvin Lewis put it best for the media:

    We got a lot of work for our offense in backed-up situations because of the penalties we drew on special teams. That’s not exactly what you want, but the offense perked up in the second quarter and moved the ball well. On defense, we had some negative plays, but overall, the effort — and of course the point total — was what you are looking for.

    While ugly, the performance put a spotlight on areas still in need of polish with the regular season approaching.

    Let's break down the performance of each unit to provide a better look at where the Bengals will surely look to improve before these games start to matter.


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    Matt York/Associated Press

    It was not another perfect night for Andy Dalton by any means, but there were more ups than downs in a hostile environment on a national stage. 

    For Dalton, a few bad reads and throws are to be expected here and there. There were some at times, but more importantly he held up great under rather consistent pressure in the first half, his internal clock doing the work for him.

    In one half of play, he completed 13 of his 21 passes for 157 yards and led the offense downfield twice near the end of his duty after starting deep in his own territory. Given the lack of a running game to support him and the pocket-awareness issues we have seen from him in the past, Sunday night was a great sign.

    Backup Jason Campbell didn't have much to work with in terms of the line in front of him, so not a lot of stock can be thrown into his 7-of-14 night for 58 yards. 

    The most important thing was Dalton's play, which was quite encouraging.

    Grade: B+

Running Back

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Mostly due to sluggish play along on the offensive line, the Bengals' starting backs looked inconsistent at best Sunday night.

    Giovani Bernard was actually outplayed by rookie Jeremy Hill. The LSU product started to get snaps late in the second quarter and finished the first half with 23 yards on just four totes. Bernard was given 10 carries, which he turned into 17 yards.

    It is not a horrible sign per se, but Cincinnati has been a downhill running team more than anything these past few years. That said, if the line in front of him can play better, Bernard will as well.

    Hill kept chugging along with a few more quality runs in the second half, but it was Cedric Peerman who wound up leading the team in rushing with six carries for 54 yards. Combine that with his great play on special teams, and he seems to be a lock to make the roster.

    In all, the Bengals clearly have a sound one-two punch this season, although Bernard's ability to overcome an iffy performance from his line puts a damper on the final grade.

    Grade: B

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    It was Mohamed Sanu's show Sunday night.

    A.J. Green was his usual self, catching five passes for 53 yards and a couple of highlight-worthy plays. But Sanu did the more important work, especially with two key grabs on third downs to move the chains.

    With Marvin Jones out of the picture due to injury, Sanu has more than made the most of his opportunity. Hue Jackson will need to find a way to keep him involved this season when Jones returns. He led the team with five catches for 70 yards.

    At tight end, Jermaine Gresham caught one pass for 33 yards. Nice, but more important was the use of the seams down the middle. If that is something Jackson will actually utilize during the regular season, the Bengals offense will be quite scary indeed.

    Of the reserves who took the field, sophomore Cobi Hamilton was the most impressive. He wound up with three receptions for 42 yards, including a 34-yard outburst after beating the lone defender assigned to him. A roster spot is in no way guaranteed, but performances such as Sunday's will make things difficult on the staff come cut day.

    Grade: A

Offensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports


    That about describes the overall play of the Bengals' offensive line against Arizona.

    As hinted, the first-team unit was abysmal on the ground, sans a brief strong showing near the end of the first half. Giovani Bernard had little to no room to run, and Andy Dalton was consistently under pressure, although every now and then a pocket would hold up nicely.

    Most concerning of all was the fact the Cardinals were without arguably their best defensive lineman, Darnell Dockett.

    Rookie center Russell Bodine was an obvious weak link on most occasions, which somewhat opens the door for Mike Pollak if such poor play continues.

    The play of the backups was all over the place, although more concerning was the loss of depth players such as T.J. Johnson and Trey Hopkins to injury late in the game.

    Grade: C

Defensive Line

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    When one thinks of the performance from the defensive line against Arizona, Geno Atkins will be the focal point. 

    Yes, Atkins looked rusty. No, he did not make any of the game-changing plays fans are accustomed to seeing. But any great play was an added plus. The simple fact Atkins was even on the field getting in important work for the first time since an ACL injury is great news.

    Atkins and the first-team unit did not tally any sacks in the first half but did allow just 49 rushing yards and held up well, prohibiting Arizona's first-team offense from reaching the end zone. Wallace Gilberry looked particularly impressive in the process.

    Margus Hunt was also steady as a rotational piece, but the real star of the show on the second team was rookie Will Clarke. Pegged as a Michael Johnson clone who can contribute as a rotational piece in his first year, the West Virginia product was noticeably faster this game and even got himself a sack.

    For a unit that has brought supreme depth to the table through the years, the first two preseason games cast some doubt on whether that would still be a strong suit. Sunday reversed the thought.

    Grade: B


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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The first thing Cincinnati fans will want to know Monday morning is the health of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who left the game with a hamstring injury.

    Overall, it was quite clear the unit suffered without its leader on the field. Rey Maualuga got himself a pass breakup and Emmanuel Lamur looked good, but every now and then the unit would be gashed on the ground.

    Still, the unit mostly comprised of undrafted players proved critical in the win. Vincent Rey, for all of his superb showings last year when called upon, had a miserable night. Also of note was the fact safety Taylor Mays was used at linebacker in passing situations, an athletic wrinkle if the former USC star can learn the position.

    It was hard to hate the performance from the unit as a whole, although it is no fun wondering what could have been if Burfict was on the field. Nor is it fun to think how the unit would have performed without him against a more prolific offense, especially considering he seems to get dinged up every game.

    Grade: B


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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Many will point right to one of the game's biggest plays: Veteran Cincinnati cornerback Terence Newman picked off Carson Palmer in the first quarter and returned it for a touchdown.

    While great, the highlight overshadows two things—Palmer threw the ball into Newman's chest after a miscommunication with Larry Fitzgerald, and Newman spent the prior two plays getting absolutely burnt up and down the field. His saving graces were the horrible throws from Palmer that otherwise should have been touchdowns.

    It was not all bad from the secondary, though. Dre Kirkpatrick looked good in coverage. Leon Hall had his ups and downs and was aggressive against the run with three tackles. Reggie Nelson was all over the field as usual.

    R. J. Stanford got torched by John Brown for a touchdown in the third quarter, but other than that, the secondary was mostly a positive on the night, albeit with some help from miserable quarterback play.

    On an interesting note, Kirkpatrick was in for most of the contest, which one can presume means the staff still believes he needs improvement before he truly takes the reigns from a player such as Newman.

    Grade: B

Special Teams

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Where to start?

    Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick scored a major hit on Ted Ginn Jr. on a punt return but probably should have been flagged. Ginn turned around and got a huge gain on the very next return.

    Brandon Tate took multiple kicks out of the end zone and hurt his offense. Preseason rule by the staff or not, he has to do better, as do the blockers in front of him.

    Jay Morrison of Cox Media Group put the unit's horrible play into perspective in a tweet at halftime: "#Bengals have 6 penalties for 52 yards in first half. 3 on special teams. Cardinals have 0 penalties."

    The highlight of those three penalties? An offsides call on a kickoff.

    The second half was not much better. Punt coverage and returns were still a mess. As far as the field-goal unit goes, backup kicker Quinn Sharp connected from more than 50 yards out as the highlight of the night, but he isn't making the roster unless Mike Nugent succumbs to injury.

    Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has some serious work to do in the next week or so. His unit can single-handedly cripple an offense at times if things do not improve in a hurry.

    Grade: D


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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Hats off to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson when it comes to the first-team offense—he knows how to work around deficiencies.

    With the Cincinnati offensive line bumbling around in the run game, Jackson got creative and hit on quick screens and the like to get some production in that manner. As has been the case for most of the preseason, he continues to put Andy Dalton in good situations.

    Defensively, Paul Guenther was also in good form. After losing Vontaze Burfict, his rock at linebacker, he was able to dial up effective blitzes to give Arizona quarterbacks little time to make decisions and running backs few lanes to choose from.

    Darrin Simmons has already been touched on, although there is little he can do during the game itself to make an entire unit turn things around.

    Marvin Lewis and his staff showed an ability to adapt when necessary and keep the play-calling diverse, and they also managed to keep it pretty vanilla in a meaningless game. Even better, timeout and challenge usage was in decent form.

    Grade: B+

Final Grades

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    Positional UnitOverall Grade
    Special TeamsD
    Cumulative GradeB

    For a game that doesn't matter, the Cincinnati Bengals showed plenty on both sides of the football Sunday.

    There were improvements and setbacks in areas already touched upon, but perhaps the main takeaway was once again the overarching theme of the preseason so far: The loss of a coordinator on both sides of the football this past offseason has had no ill effect on either to this point.

    Against Arizona, the Bengals' strong defense was out in full force as expected, and the offense was a few properly executed plays away from getting on the board. Depth clearly continues to be a strength, which is a gift in the long run and a curse in the interim with cut days approaching.


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