Preseason games exist to tune up a team and filter out the players not up to snuff for the coming season's roster.
In Canton, Ohio on Sunday night, the Cincinnati Bengals showed that they have a lot not only to tune up, but tune in as well.
There will be as many questions in the preseason as there are possibilities after the Hall of Fame game—though likely most questions will be unfounded, as the preseason is too young and never is quite as telling as regular season week one.
With all that being said, the following are a few takeaways from tonight's game.
Carson Palmer and Terrell Owens were looking for some synergy and appeared to be making headway towards creating a passing scheme of their own.
While on the subject of T.O., I was happily reminded of T.J. Houshmandzadeh as I watched the well-defined and disciplined wide receiver that is T.O. on the field. I expect T.O. will fill the void left by T.J. and embarrassingly left unattended by Laveranues Coles in 2009.
Rookie Geno Atkins looked very aggressive and agile splitting offensive linemen while putting pressure on the Cowboys' quarterbacks, and Michael Johnson showed that he was very much making the transition to outside linebacker.
Jordan Shipley showed up nicely and then late in the game made a great 63-yard punt return—setting up the Bengals' only scoring drive—to show where the Bengals will have a presence from a new, promising rookie.
What about Matt Jones?! He showed his giraffe gallop in making several respectable plays on his way to showing that he might not be fading quite as much as the Bengals media professionals would lead us to believe. Jones has an ugly stride but does show a lot of looks to the quarterbacks.
With the positive out of the way (Mom always told me to give the good news before the bad), there were some other issues which were troubling, but—again—it is way too early to draw any conclusions.
The first-team offense looked very much like the team that ended the 2009 season without being able to execute. It certainly did not help that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo—along with backup Jon Kitna (a former Bengals starter)—looked crisp, clean, and executed some very nice plays. In sharp contrast (aside from some basic sideline passes from Carson to T.O.), the Bengals' first-team offense simply sputtered and stalled.
The Bengals' backup quarterbacks did not do themselves any favors either.
J.T. "Reaching for the Stars" O'Sullivan had to lay out a few bombs, one of which went right into the hands of Cowboys safety Danny McCray to end a pitiful first half. Nobody more than me loves the long bomb (Boomer, we miss you) but O'Sullivan looked somewhat reckless as he has prior (his intentional grounding penalty was well-deserved, though a safety would have been far worse).
Jordan Palmer continued the trend by getting quickly picked off on the first play of his second series, making the junior Palmer brother zero for three with an interception to start his preseason. Jordan had some flashes of consistency and ability but is still a work in progress.
Penalties were an issue, as the Bengals offense made up the vast majority of the 12 penalties for a total of 90 yards. It was a disturbing sign that the Bengals have a lot of work yet to be done to get the players on the offensive side of the ball working in concert. This is what the preseason is for, but this has also been a weak spot for the Bengals offense that has been under-discussed this offseason.
Going back to Bob Bratkowski, coordination is the key in coaching the offense, and Bob has to work on the communication and discipline that goes along with being effective without error while being a productive offensive unit.
Injuries reared their nasty heads during the game, as Brian Leonard, 2009's third-down specialist, injured either his foot or ankle with what looks like (from a layman's replay review perspective) to be a sprain or small ankle/foot bone break (purely conjecture based upon similar replays seen prior). Starting safety Chris Crocker also hurt his ankle, while rookie running back Cordera Eason did some ankle tweaking as well.
With two home games coming up next week (Sunday, Denver Broncos and Friday, Philadelphia Eagles), the Bengals will have plenty of time to work on and experiment against the competition during this five-game preseason.
Leonard's situation will be the story of the week, along with Antonio Bryant's prognosis, as well as if Bengals Nation will get its first look at Jermaine Gresham in action.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Bratkowski needs to stop worrying about opposing defenses as much as his lack of playbook creativity.
(Photograph courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joseph Fuqua II)