The Cincinnati Bengals moved to 3-0 in the preseason Sunday with a 26-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field.
Buffalo fell to 1-2, although this game was far more notable for Josh Allen's first start than the final score. The Wyoming product finished just 6-of-12 for 34 yards and struggled throughout the first half behind lackluster protection, while counterpart Andy Dalton went 11-of-16 for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
There was a scare when Allen exited after hitting his head on the turf, but the Fox broadcast said he was tested and cleared of any concussion symptoms.
John Ross Flashes Potential to Be Much-Needed Bengals Playmaker
Expectations were high for John Ross when the Bengals selected the speedster out of Washington with the ninth overall pick in 2017 after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He figured to take advantage of playing alongside A.J. Green by using that speed to burn cornerbacks in single coverage since secondaries couldn't afford to leave Green on an island, but it was an uphill battle for Ross even to be on the active roster on Sundays. He appeared in a mere three games and went without a catch while fumbling on his one carry.
Ross' rookie year was a waste for someone with plenty of potential, but he flashed the talent to rectify the early portion of his career Sunday with a 57-yard touchdown catch on the offense's first play from scrimmage.
Buffalo's two defenders in the vicinity were left helpless dealing with his speed before the catch and joystick moves after it, although Ross also underscored his boom-or-bust reality with a drop later in the game.
Green got in on the action as well with four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown, and it is easy for Bengals fans to envision a dynamic duo if Ross parlays the speed into tangible production and consistent opportunities.
Cincinnati was 27th in the league in passing yards last year on its way to a 7-9 record and no playoffs. That total has to improve if it is going to reach the postseason, and a productive Ross playing with Green is the perfect formula for just that.
Josh Allen Must Be Bills' Backup QB to Start Regular Season
Allen did not look like a starting quarterback Sunday despite his status as the seventh overall pick, but the disappointing production was far from his fault alone.
The offensive line was a turnstile for the Bengals defensive front, allowing five sacks and consistent pressure when Allen was in the game. The Wyoming product can have the strongest arm in the world, but it will be to no avail with the protection he received against Cincinnati.
Football Outsiders ranked Buffalo's offensive line an ugly 31st in the league in pass protection last year, so this type of blocking was nothing new.
Allen needs to develop further at the NFL level before he is a reliable starting quarterback, especially since there are accuracy questions after he completed just 56.2 percent of his passes at Wyoming and combined for one touchdown pass and five interceptions in notable games against Iowa, Oregon and Boise State last year.
Buffalo plays five of its first seven games on the road, and Allen's long-term future and confidence are too important to risk in that difficult stretch behind a poor offensive line.
That leaves either Nathan Peterman—who impressed Sunday at 16-of-21 for 200 yards and one touchdown—or AJ McCarron as the better choice to start the season under center. The Buffalo News provided an update on McCarron, noting he is practicing on a limited basis after what was initially ruled a hairline collarbone fracture is actually just soreness.
Going with a more experienced option and focusing on Allen's long-term development is the better option for the Bills as currently constructed.
Bengals Pass Rush Looks Terrifying After Impressive Performance
Cincinnati needs better production from the aerial attack to make the playoffs in the AFC North, but the early pass rush when the starters were on the field Sunday looked like a postseason-worthy unit.
Geno Atkins required multiple blockers on a number of plays, freeing lanes for his teammates to get after Allen. Carlos Dunlap finished with three tackles, while Carl Lawson added 2.5 sacks as a constant menace in Buffalo's backfield.
The Bills offensive line told some of the story, but Atkins is a six-time Pro Bowler who is nearly impossible to block on a weekly basis. Dunlap is a two-time Pro Bowler himself and, while he doesn't generate the headlines Atkins does, has 64.5 sacks in eight seasons as a force up front.
Even Lawson turned heads as a rookie last year with 8.5 sacks, giving Cincinnati terrifying depth up front that will overwhelm AFC North offensive lines throughout the season.
Buffalo struggles to block, but the Cincinnati pass rush was no fluke Sunday.
Cincinnati and Buffalo will each finish the preseason Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, respectively. Don't expect either team's starters to see much time, though, as is customary for the fourth preseason game in the NFL.