Cincinnati vs. Arizona: Bengals' Preseason Week 3 Game Preview
Cincinnati has dropped two consecutive preseason games, but the final tallies of meaningless exhibitions to this point are overshadowed by strong performances from the first-team units despite coordinator changes this past offseason.
Arizona enters with a 1-1 record, although a litany of injuries and issues has thrown the future performance of the defense into question. The offense, though, figures to look strong once again under the guidance of Bruce Arians.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis touched on Sunday night's encounter with his former franchise quarterback earlier in the week.
"He's impressive to watch. He's still Carson," said Lewis, per Kevin Goheen of Fox Sports. "That's why it's hard coming in here and every time we look at a quarterback and we bring these guys in from off the street, man, it's hard to compare.
For the Cincinnati defense, Sunday is a great opportunity to test its mettle against an offense that includes Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and running back Andre Ellington. The offense gets a nice test too, thanks to a secondary led by Patrick Peterson—beneath the spotlights of a national audience, no less, an area the team has struggled in over the course of the past three years.
Within, let's take a look at a full breakdown of Sunday's matchup.
Bengals' Preseason Week 2 Recap
First, the good news.
Dalton completed all eight of his passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, while A.J. Green was his usual self with three grabs for 69 yards, and Mohamed Sanu put on a show in place of the injured Marvin Jones, bringing in two passes for 56 yards and a score.
It was not all good news, though. In fact, as soon as the second-team units hit the field, things went awry for Cincinnati in a hurry.
The offense, without top backup quarterback Jason Campbell, floundered behind the arms of Tyler Wilson and Matt Scott. More concerning was the defense, which was trampled and gave a rather serious suggestion that depth along the line is no longer a strength.
While not an end-all, be-all type situation, there was certainly more for the team and staff to learn from the loss than celebrate. The Bengals are often hailed as one of the deepest rosters in the league, but they will have to earn the mantle in the coming weeks, beginning Sunday.
News and Notes
All Things Vontaze Burfict
Arguably the Cincinnati Bengals' best defender, Vontaze Burfict has been in the headlines all week leading up to the encounter with Arizona.
The good news—the front office kept its string of outstanding moves alive by inking him to a four-year deal worth $20 million, per ESPN's Adam Caplan.
The bad news—Burfict might miss the most important preseason game this year due to injury or at the very least be limited. According to ESPN.com's Coley Harvey, he has missed multiple practices this week.
While far from a rookie, it would be a positive if Burfict can get in the game with the starting unit and log some serious time. If not, though, there are bigger things to worry about with the season on approach.
The Return of Geno Atkins
After an extensive recovery due to an ACL tear last October, defensive tackle Geno Atkins is set to take the field for the Bengals once again.
Per Harvey, Atkins will play with the first team, as expected. It is a critical piece of great news for the team as a whole, not just in a sense that he will be able to get after the immobile Carson Palmer and help the team win, but in that he gets valuable rehab reps in live action.
There was no better week for Atkins to make his return. Should it all go according to plan, he has two exhibitions to get back in the swing of things before reassuming his role as the unit's anchor.
Marquis Flowers' Unique Position
When it comes to the preseason, the battles a sixth-round pick must overcome to make a roster take the spotlight, but this is especially the case for linebacker Marquis Flowers.
A fringe bet to make the final roster in Cincinnati, Flowers is a local product who grew up in the Phoenix area and will have a bit of a homecoming Sunday against the Cardinals. His adjustment to the pro game is coming on slowly, as captured by Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com:
“The toughest adjustment is when you go out on the field changing your mindset,” Flowers said. “Either you’re the middle linebacker or the outside backer. Other than that, it’s just playing football.”
To officially join what is one of the deeper linebacker corps in the NFL, Flowers will have to put on a versatile show Sunday night in a familiar setting.
*All injury reports are from ESPN.com. Will be updated when official report is released.
The injury report rules are less stringent in the preseason, so it is hard to get a firm shake on just how banged up Cincinnati truly is at the moment. As it stands, those four names actually listed are key players in one way or another, so that "probable" tag is a good sign.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Below are the matchups to watch, which look reminiscent of a regular-season list given the fact starters figure to play at least a half Sunday. For the Cincinnati Bengals, three key things stick out as barometers of how the team will fare next season.
Andy Dalton vs. Cardinals Secondary
A perfect stat line against a bit of an unknown unit last week was a great showing for Andy Dalton and suggests better things are to come under the guidance of a new coordinator, but let's reserve judgment until Monday morning.
Sunday, Dalton has to go against a secondary that comes equipped with Patrick Peterson. While injuries have given Arizona some setbacks, the unit is still strong enough to give the Bengals pause if the quarterback is not efficient once more.
Over the course of a full half of action, Jackson will have a chance to spread his wings a bit as a play-caller, as long as Dalton can once again come out sharp.
Bengals' Second-Team Defensive Line vs. Cardinals Offense
Margus Hunt has been a bright spot for the Bengals so far this preseason as the player pegged with helping to replace Michael Johnson, but the depth behind him and names such as Carlos Dunlap have left much to be desired.
The return of Geno Atkins should help in this regard, but names such as rookie end Will Clarke have some ground to make up after getting torched in two games to this point.
Cincinnati expects big things from the likes of Brandon Thompson and Devon Still at this point, although deep depth such as Christo Bilukidi continues to give the staff some pause.
Against sound running back depth that includes Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, the second unit must hold up better at the point of attack. For the ends, a better rush to negate the presence of wideouts such as Ted Ginn and John Brown would be nice to see too.
Bengals' X-Factor of the Week: Jeremy Hill
The pressure is on for rookie back Jeremy Hill, who needs to make a statement in order to convince the staff he should see snaps in a backfield that includes Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Hill left last week's contest with a slight injury, but Jackson has already confirmed that he will see time with the first-team offense against Arizona.
"He's worthy of playing with those guys," Jackson said, per Richard Skinner of Cincinnati.com.
Interestingly enough, Hill also presents the Bengals' best chance to win Sunday. His ability to grind down Arizona's backups and make the lives of his quarterbacks easier will go a long way toward a victory in a hostile environment.
At some point this preseason, it actually has to matter, right? On paper, the Cincinnati Bengals are the deeper team, which should see them notch the win late in the contest.
Then again, both first-team offenses on display Sunday have enough firepower to blow the doors off the final outcome early in the proceedings.
If Andy Dalton and the offense can continue on their current trajectory, a lead going into halftime is not all that difficult to fathom when tasked with overcoming a hobbled defense. One can also presume that the second-team defense will put together a sound performance in the second half after a week of tough love from what is surely an irritable staff.
While the most important things are health and a final semblance of rhythm and efficiency on both sides of the football with the regular season a week and change away, a win sure doesn't hurt. Expect at least that with the starters in control for a full half of play this time around.
Prediction: Bengals 23, Cardinals 17
Note: Preseason stats courtesy of NFL.com.