April 20, 2014

A Late Analysis

The family’s summer vacation (and the obligatory craziness in prepping for it) has taken me away from you all for a few weeks, and has caused me to be late in bringing my thoughts about the preseason game versus the Jets last week. But fear not! I am back to deliver my unique perspective on the performance of the Bengals in Practice Game #1.

The Battle For #2 Wide Receiver

For the past seven months, we fans have searched under every pebble for signs of who will win the starting job across the field from AJ, particularly those who are hoping that Binns will secure the spot. The tension is incredible. We want… no, we NEED to know who will come out on top in this fight.

My advice: stop worrying.

If Tate and Binns were playing equally poorly, I’d be searching for the panic button along with everyone else. But they aren’t stinking up the field. They are both playing pretty well. And a tough choice between these two is exactly what we want, even if it drives us a little nuts for now. The better they both continue to play, the less risk there is of making a bad choice for the season. Even if it means keeping both, pushing another guy we like — Whalen? Jones? Shipley? Sanu? — off the roster.

The Defensive Line

The injury to Dunlap stinks, especially because it is frustrating to see him gimpy so often, but good can come from his injury as well. You all know that I like linemen, and I love what I see building on the D-line. There is some real talent to evaluate, even lower down on the roster, enough that they were comfortable cutting Derrick Harvey in the middle of camp. We know what we can get out of Dunlap (when healthy), and this gives the coaches extra snaps to test several options for the eighth (or ninth) guy to make the group.

Besides, let Baltimore think that Dunlap will be out for the season opener at their place. He says he wants to be back for that game, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he is.

The Linebackers

This was one of the groups that gave me concern about depth behind the starters through the offseason. I hereby lay that concern to rest. Skuta, Muckelroy, and Burfict all looked very good against the Jets. And with Moch, Rey, and Evans pushing them, the six LBs who make the team will all be pretty good. Maybe more than just pretty good.

The Secondary

The experimenting going on as coaches seek a combination of players that they like best is fascinating. Clements appears frequently as a safety. Dye gets time as a corner. Taveon Rodgers flips to defense as a CB. Injuries have hampered the search for the 10 members of the backfield, and it will be difficult to feel comfortable about this group until everyone is off of crutches.

Rookie Contributions

Perhaps the best thing from the game against the Jets was how well most of the rookies who got on the field contributed in their first exposure to NFL play. Zeitler, Still, Thompson, Charles and Jones all met or exceeded expectations. Iloka was not bad either. For some reason Sanu was never targeted, although I wouldn’t read too much into that… yet. Only Herron lost ground in his bid to make the team. Overall, that’s a healthy percentage of the large draft class making a case to make the cut. Time will tell, but after one game this could prove to be the strongest draft class that the Bengals have had in a long, long time.

Running Backs

There is a lot of pressure being put on the running game to improve this year. That being the case, I love seeing Cedric Peerman have a strong performance. If he continues to play at a high level, he will force the guys in front of him — primarily Brian Leonard — to up their game or risk the ax. Pressure from the young-and-hungry is the best way to improve the position… until they can grab a second rounder with Oakland’s pick nest year.

Not everything was perfect on Friday, but it’s the preseason. It didn’t need to be. Even Dalton, the most important piece of the team, is still knocking off the rust. They don’t need to be perfect against the Falcons on Thursday either, so there is no need to keep a paper bag handy as you watch the game. As long as Andy looks better, remember that the rest is still just evaluation.