Cincinnati Bengals: Preseason Game 1 Recap

Zachary Kondratenko@@ZakKondratenkoContributor IIIAugust 13, 2011

Cincinnati Bengals: Preseason Game 1 Recap

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    Due to the lockout, the 2011 NFL Preseason is probably the most important exhibition season in the history of the game. It's not so much the score that matters, as much as it is seeing how players respond to their first game action following a very weird offseason.

    The preseason becomes even more important for a team like the Bengals. Of all the teams in the NFL, our Bengals are facing perhaps the most dramatic change. 

    Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco—the faces of the franchise for the last 7 years—are not in town. 

    Johnathan Joseph—perhaps our best defensive player—is gone.

    We'll have a completely new starting linebacker core as Rey Maualuga moves to the middle alongside newcomers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard.

    There's a new West Coast Offense led by new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in place for a talented, but young receiving core led by Jerome Simpson and this year's fourth overall pick A.J. Green is in place.

    And then there's Andy Dalton. The rookie starting QB.

    The Bengals lost their preseason opener 34-3 to the Detroit Lions, and while it was a pretty bad performance all around, there were some positives. It's never smart to over-think a preseason game (especially the first one), but with this new team, it's all we have to look at.

Andy Dalton Has a Ton to Work On, but His Head Is in the Right Place

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    For Bengals fan, all eyes were on Andy Dalton last night. 

    That said, it couldn't have started worse for the rookie. After getting on the field late due to a fumbled kickoff, Dalton's first pass (a deep ball to A.J. Green) was intercepted. It was a bad throw. Dalton put too much air under it, throwing it short and too far inside. 

    But it wasn't a bad attempt. The Bengals usually open preseason games by going deep, and I would be willing to bet that Marvin Lewis or Gruden just told Dalton to throw the ball up to A.J. no matter the coverage. Green actually was beginning to separate and if Dalton can get that throw down it could be a dangerous play.

    Dalton then missed a throw to Chriss Pressley that should have been an easy first down, followed by nearly having his head ripped off by Ndamukong Suh. At this point, the Bengals were already down 14-0 and Dalton was playing poorly. 

    However, Dalton stayed tough. He didn't lose confidence, and while he didn't make any deep throws that will wow you either, he completed a lot of nice short passes to Green and Simpson, finishing the first half (and the game) 11 for 15 with 69 yards and an INT. And if it wasn't for a penalty, the Bengals first team offense probably scores a TD.

    This is the kind of game I expected from Dalton. He doesn't have the elite talent of a Sam Bradford or Matthew Stafford but what he does have are great leadership skills and an understanding of what he needs to do.

    I expect Dalton to play better on Sunday and there's no reason to think he won't be our starting QB in Week 1.

    Also, Bruce Gradkowski didn't do anything special that would suggest a real QB controversy.

Simpson and Green Are a Legit Starting Receiver Combo

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    The Bengals two starting receivers didn't put together perfect performances but both looked good and were productive.

    Let's start with Green. The rookie had four catches for 29 yards. Green looked fast and hands looked good. In other words, he just looks like a great receiver and it's already pretty evident the Bengals did a good job with their No. 4 pick.

    The big issue with Green's performance was that on his first catch he pretty much ran from one sideline to another, making jukes backwards in the process. Green needs to learn to run North-and-South. He could have turned that catch into a big first down instead of four or five yards. Green was fast enough to just run around wherever he wanted in college—It's the NFL now. 

    Simpson had two grabs for 17 yards and would have had a very impressive TD catch but he was pushed out of bounds. Simpson looked great. He's very athletic and can make plays on the ball, even if it's a bad throw. He also made a few defenders miss while running for a first down on his first grab.

    Simpson needs to watch his mouth, though, as he was jawing with defenders on almost every play. I like the aggression, but apparently Simpson is starting issues with teammates in practice as well. This probably won't become a big issue but it's something to watch.

    Still, it was a very nice game from the Bengals starting receivers.

    Jordan Shipley and Chase Coffman looked sharp as well.

The Bengals Are Going to Run the Ball Like It's 2009

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    Don't expect Andy Dalton to have to throw the ball all over the field on Sundays. The Bengals want to run the ball.

    And if Cedric Benson's play, and the run blocking of Andre Smith and Bobbie Williams are any indication, they're going to be able to.

    Williams and the rejuvenated Smith were opening up holes on the right side and Benson—who seems to look quick and powerful, like in 2009—was able to hit them hard. He averaged over six yards a carry.

    The Bengals will need to run very effectively this year if they want any chance at success.

Nate Livings Maybe Shouldn't Be on the Team, Let Alone Starting

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    I've never been a fan of Livings at the LG spot.

    And while I admittedly was paying attention to other positions more last night, I noticed that about 90% of the Lions penetration on both run and pass plays was coming from his spot.

    He should not see playing time and I personally think he should be cut.

The Pass Rush Is in Trouble with Dunlap Injured

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    Carlos Dunlap is our best pass rusher, that is a fact. Antwan Odom was our second best before we cut him, a move I do not endorse in any way.

    Dunlap should be ready to go soon but it appears our pass rush is going to have to come from interior lineman like Geno Atkins and Pat Sims. I like Sims and Atkins, but if those are your top two pass rushers you're in trouble.

    Robert Geathers is a solid run stuffer at end but he doesn't pressure the QB. Michael Johnson will become a good pass rusher but is still adjusting to switching back to end.

    Outside linebackers Howard and Manny Lawson are solid players but they just aren't pass rushers.

    We need Dunlap to get healthy and in the coming years we need to sign and draft impact pass rushers.

Maualuga Is Ready to Emerge as One of the Bests in the NFL

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    Rey Maualuga is a natural middle linebacker. Now that he has finally switched to the middle, it all appears to be coming together for him. He was all over the field last night and made two tackles for a loss.

    He's great at chasing down ballcarriers and is improving in coverage.

    MLB is a position the Bengals won't have to worry about for quite some time.

Leon Hall Hasn't Been Looking Like Himself Lately

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    Remember Leon Hall in 2009? He was probably the leagues third best corner behind Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha.

    He had a slight drop off in 2010 but still was one of the league's best.

    Well, right now he doesn't even look like a starter.

    He looks slow, and isn't playing the ball, which is a problem considering he may have to be our best defensive player this year.

    He got beat for two TD's last night. The one by Nate Burleson (which wasn't even a TD) was just perfect placement by Stafford, nothing Hall could do there. But on Calvin Johnson's TD, Hall had him covered well, yet had no idea the ball was coming so Johnson turned around and made Hall look foolish.

    Add that to the fact that he's been getting torched by A.J. Green all camp and we may have a problem.

We Have a Lot of Work to Do

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    Here's a list of the main things the Bengals need to improve for Sunday's preseason game.

    - Dalton needs to put more zip on his passes.

    - Livings and Cook just need to be better all around.

    - Andre Smith has to stop getting exposed in pass protection.

    - Gradkowski needs to show us more in case Dalton turns out to not be the guy.

    - No more damn penalties.

    - Someone needs to bring pressure from the edge (Moch may have been our best bet).

    - Lawson and Howard need to loosen up and be more aggressive.

    - Hall needs to get out of his slump.

    - Coach Lewis needs to look like he has some faith.