Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton

It all looked so easy for the Cincinnati Bengals' first-team offense.

Whenever Andy Dalton and company took the field during the first two games this preseason, touchdowns and field goals were more than drive-by-drive goals, they were drive-by-drive results. The Bengals' starting offense in its basic, vanilla setup had one focus: to score.

Dalton
Dalton
Each of the four times the group had the football through Weeks 1 and 2 of the preseason, it did score. The offense was so efficient in the second game against the Jets that Dalton had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 after going 8-for-8 with 144 yards and a touchdown in the 25-17 loss. Turnovers and poor execution from the back of the depth chart contributed to the eventual evaporation of the 17-3 lead Dalton's group had built.

At Arizona on Sunday night, things weren't as easy for the starting offense which couldn't seem to get out of the shadow of its own goal line the entire game.

Field position created adverse conditions. Conditions that, because of the easy success the Bengals had begun the preseason enjoying, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said they needed. With a much more taxing regular season on the horizon, he was right.

"Like I told them [Saturday] night in the meeting, I said I hope something like that does happen because you have to overcome that when it's not going good," Jackson said.

That echoed sentiments after Jackson witnessed a ragged-looking practice during training camp. He challenged his offense to respond the next day with better effort and execution.

Little went well for Cincinnati's first-team offense Sunday until it went on a 10-play, 78-yard drive across the final four minutes of the second quarter. After beginning the drive on their own 4 -- one of three Bengals drives that began inside Cincinnati's own 10-yard line -- the offense marched into range for kicker Mike Nugent to bury a 36-yard field goal that put the Bengals up 13-3 just before halftime. The Bengals' only touchdown in the game came from cornerback Terence Newman, who returned an interception 54 yards for a score in the first quarter.

In his post-game news conference, head coach Marvin Lewis considered that drive a momentum changer. Jackson said he learned as much off it than he has any other drive this preseason.

"Our guys kept their poise, the quarterback was outstanding," Jackson said. "Anytime you don't turn the ball over, you've got a chance to win. There was a lot of good in that. Now, we like to finish drives for touchdowns. You're in the scoring zone, you need to finish."

Jackson said he'd rather have the trade-off of what he witnessed Sunday night, though. His offense may not have ended up in the end zone, but it didn't have a single turnover and still won. Turnovers were the bugaboos in the first two games, and although the Bengals' offense scored a lot more easily and efficiently, the turnovers contributed to the losses. Both the Chiefs and Jets capitalized off them. The reason Jackson was giddy over Dalton's 13-for-21, 157-yard passing performance and even respected Giovani Bernard's 10-carry, 17-yard rushing night, was because the ball stayed off the ground and out of the hands of Cardinals defensive backs.

"If you look at what's the common denominator here, there was no offensive turnovers," Jackson said. "You win the game that way. Now we've got to do some of the stuff we did the first two games -- score points -- and don't turn it over, and you see what we have the potential of being."

Dalton, as we've seen throughout his career, will put up video-game numbers for stretches, but he'll also have those nights where with poor run-support and bad blocking, it doesn't all click. It's in those times when the Bengals have to simply play a clean game and keep trying to move the ball.

"We were on the road, long flight, Arizona, different stadium. It's a big game, it's Sunday night football, and we won," Jackson said. "That's what you look for at the end of the day."

Perhaps this experience will come in handy in October, November and December.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It took the Cincinnati Bengals three tries, but they finally walked away with a preseason win Sunday night when they knocked off the Cardinals 19-13 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

While the preseason primarily is about the players and their ability to impress coaches in order to earn spots on the 53-man roster, it is also about generating some cohesion, confidence, rhythm and momentum for the entire team entering the regular season. That's the main reason why coaches and players alike were desperate this week to claim a win after two fruitless attempts to start the preseason.

Thanks to the win, momentum was generated. Confidence? Perhaps it was instilled, too. Only time will tell. As for cohesion and rhythm, it seems the Bengals still have some work to do in those areas. At times Sunday they seemed very out of sync both offensively and on special teams. The no-huddle offense that was so fluid last week against the Jets was syncopated against the Cardinals. At times the first-team offense hummed smoothly along. At others, it had trouble getting settled into its normally quick tempo because of penalties and apparent issues with communication.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason game Sunday:
  • We might as well extend the story line of Cincinnati's arrhythmic starting offense a little further. Here are two occasions when quarterback Andy Dalton didn't seem on the same page with his receivers. Once at the end of the first quarter, A.J. Green opened up to his left after running wide open into the flat. Dalton, seeing Green break open, threw over his right shoulder, clearly expecting the wideout to turn a different way. The pass fell incomplete and stalled a drive on third down. In the second quarter, tight end Jermaine Gresham cut off a route that Dalton proceeded to throw 15 yards downfield. The quarterback expected Gresham to extend the route. Some of the miscommunication could be attributed to the Bengals' mixing of lineups. Backups were inserted as early as the second play of the game as they rotated with starters for individual evaluation purposes.
  • In addition to their sporadic issues with rhythm, the Bengals had difficulty figuring out where and how to run the football early. Starter Giovani Bernard began the game dedicated to bouncing the ball to the edge. Those carries largely proved worthless. Of his 10 first-half carries, five went to the left and right edges. They gained just 3 yards. The other carries in the middle of the field resulted in 14-yard gains. Those runs came around the same time late in the second quarter when rookie Jeremy Hill came in as a backup. All four of his first-half carries went between the tackles. They amassed 23 yards. Power-run football is part of what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new offense hinges on, and it's clear the Bengals were better Sunday doing that than when they went away from it.
  • Field position also was an issue for the Bengals who couldn't seem to get out of the shadows of their own end zone. Of the 10 drives they had, seven started at their own 20 or inside it. Of those, four began inside the 10-yard line. With poor field position, the Bengals' starters had trouble moving the football and converting third downs. They were 4-for-15 on third down.
  • As it has for most of the preseason, the Bengals' defense was sound. The starters primarily played through the second quarter, allowing just one Arizona field goal in their time on the field. The base first-team defense has now allowed just four field goals in its three preseason games. Among the defenders of note: defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who saw extended action for the first time this year after returning from an ACL injury from last season.
CINCINNATI -- In no particular order, the following are six Cincinnati Bengals you'll want to pay attention to during Sunday night's preseason game at the Arizona Cardinals (8 p.m. ET).

Dalton
Dalton
QB Andy Dalton: Pay close attention to how much Dalton plays against the Cardinals in this "dress rehearsal" type of preseason game for him and other starters. Coach Marvin Lewis said this week that he wasn't going to cap the number of quarters Dalton would play. He instead wanted to see how quickly he hit a limit of snaps. It's likely we'll see Dalton late into the second quarter, and he might even sneak into the third quarter, too, if the snaps are within Lewis' range. More important to the Bengals than how much Dalton plays is how well he performs. The team is hopeful he can continue to showcase some of the impressive play that has defined his strong preseason start.

Hill
RB Jeremy Hill: Lewis and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson have both said they believe their rookie running back can play with the Bengals' first-team offense, and they mentioned that they would like to get him more reps with that unit Sunday. That doesn't mean Giovani Bernard won't be getting first-team reps, too. It just means the starting tailback might end up getting a little extra rest this week so that Hill can share a few more opportunities earlier in a preseason game. In the first two preseason games, Hill was the third back on the field, replacing Bernard's previous replacement, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. With Green-Ellis battling a stomach virus and fellow backup Rex Burkhead trying to recover from a knee injury, Hill should have several chances to augment his running backs-leading rushing average of 5.8 yards per preseason carry.

C Russell Bodine: With Dalton expected to be in the game a little longer, look for Bodine to have more reps with a less fluid offensive line. In the first two games, the rookie center remained on the field for a few series after Dalton exited, as he also snapped to backup quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Matt Scott. He also snapped with different rotations of linemen lined up next to him. In this game, he'll probably see more consistent action with the starting linemen dand Dalton as the group continues to fine-tune its timing and rhythm. He's been cleaner in recent weeks. The snap issues that bugged Bodine in training camp faded a bit last week.

Atkins
DT Geno Atkins: The Bengals' Pro Bowl defensive tackle and heralded pass rusher will be making his 2014 debut against the Cardinals, trying to help put heat on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, a former Bengal. Atkins has gone through team drills all this week, according to coaches. He's also looked good in them. Lewis said Friday that the lineman has looked like his old self, exploding off the line and maneuvering his way into the backfield. Atkins will be playing for the first time since tearing his ACL last October at Miami. As the Bengals prepare for the regular season, it's important for Atkins to get steady reps in a preseason game in order to boost his confidence in the surgically repaired knee. Definitely keep an eye on how he looks, and how conditioned he appears to be.

LB Marquis Flowers: Sunday's game will be a homecoming for Flowers, who will be playing his first professional game miles from where he grew up. The Phoenix native was drafted by the Bengals in the sixth round in May after starring at the University of Arizona. Also see how he responds to the defensive situations he'll be part of late in the ballgame. Although listed as a linebacker, Flowers also played safety in college and has been noted for his coverage skills. As the Bengals continue harping on the need to find quality backup players, don't be surprised if Flowers continues getting respectable minutes. He played 30 snaps on defense and 13 on special teams last week against the Jets.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris: Lewis-Harris could play a sizable role this week as the Bengals fight through a few injuries in the defensive backfield. Rookie Darqueze Dennard doesn't seem likely to play after missing every practice this week with a hip injury. Had this been the regular season, he probably would end up gutting out the injury. With Dennard out and Dre Kirkpatrick an uncertainty after missing Friday's practice with a stomach virus, the Bengals might be giving a few reserve corners additional playing time. Lewis-Harris would be among those to benefit.

W2W4: Cincinnati Bengals

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
12:00
PM ET
The Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) and Arizona Cardinals (1-1) play their third game of the preseason at 8 p.m. ET Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

1. Dalton's longest outing: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't tip his hand this week when asked how long he might leave his starters in this game. He wants to base their playing time on the number of plays they have, not on the quarters they play. It's possible his first-team offense plays into the start of the third quarter, but it's most likely the group calls it quits at halftime if it has reached a certain number of plays. The starters were part of eight plays at Kansas City in the preseason opener and 17 last week against the Jets. Regardless of what the number of plays will be this weekend, the bottom line is this: Look for Andy Dalton to have his longest outing of the preseason. Will he be able to keep up the strong play he has exhibited so far? Through four drives, he is 11-for-13 for 215 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals have scored on all four of his drives.

2. Watch Atkins make his debut: Early in the week, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said the plan was to get defensive tackle Geno Atkins "a couple series" in Sunday's game. Lewis added Friday that Atkins was good enough to play, even if he didn't participate in Friday's walk-through. When Atkins does take the field Sunday, he will be participating in his first game since October, when he tore his ACL on Halloween night. The injury required surgery and forced him to take his recovery quite slowly. He didn't see any 11-on-11 action during the open portion of training camp that ended last week, but Guenther said Atkins has been part of some team drills this week. We will be watching in pregame to see if Atkins gives any indication that he won't be ready. Sidelined Friday, Atkins joined linebacker Vontaze Burfict, among others. Burfict's status will be interesting to watch. He didn't practice Wednesday to Friday because of a stomach bug that has hit the team.

3. Bengals generating better depth? Lewis and Guenther were among those most adamant about generating better depth on both sides of the ball after last week's loss to the Jets. Cincinnati's hot 17-3 start was ruined by turnovers and lacking execution from players near the bottom of the depth chart. Despite their commanding lead that lasted into the second quarter, the Bengals ended up losing 25-17. The hope around Paul Brown Stadium this week has been that reserves trying to make the team kicked it into high gear just in time for Sunday's game. Watch to see if the execution is better or worse on the back end of the depth chart Sunday.
CINCINNATI -- "Revenge" might actually be too strong a word for what Dontay Moch has in mind this weekend when he heads back to his native Phoenix.

Just know his goal Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium is to let his hometown team know what it missed out on when it waived him in March.

Moch
"It's double-dipping," Moch said Thursday about going home and playing the Arizona Cardinals. "Hopefully I can go out there and just ... and show them what I didn't really get to do out there, and show Cincinnati what I can do."

Moch was cut previously by the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him in the third round in 2011. Now he's back and will play mere miles from where he grew up against the team that most recently let him go, all while fighting for a roster spot. It's almost like something out of Hollywood. Makes you curious to see if he is able to exact his revenge.

If he has a strong game Sunday, what an intriguing storyline he'll have entering the final week of the preseason.

Moch was an outside linebacker in the Cardinals' 3-4 defensive scheme at times last season before they let him go near the start of free agency. When the Bengals acquired him not long after, they moved him back to defensive end, where he is more comfortable. At end for the first time since college, the pass-rusher is one of the many players on the Bengals' roster bubble.

Though Sunday night's game will be more about getting starters extended playing time, Moch should be on the field somewhat often as an alternate on defense in the second half, and on special teams all night. He should have his share of opportunities to exact his revenge, retribution, or whatever it is that he wants to call what he's trying to do.

"It's a little extra," Moch said. "There's more energy I'll be putting in it."

That kind of sounds like revenge.

But is that a bad thing? No. If he plays well, he'll live to see another week on the Bengals' roster after Tuesday's cuts to 75, and he might create a little momentum for himself as he gets set for the Bengals' final preseason game against the Colts next Thursday.

Besides, Moch isn't the only one who will have a little extra for the Cardinals. Linebackers Vontaze Burfict (Arizona) and Marquis Flowers (Arizona State) played college ball in the state, and Flowers hails from the Phoenix area. Backup quarterback Matt Scott also played at Arizona.

Then there is the Carson Palmer angle. Sixteen current Bengals played with Palmer when he was Cincinnati's quarterback before Andy Dalton was drafted in 2011. They will want to one-up their former teammate in only the second game he has played against the Bengals since his drama-filled departure.

As for Moch, the need to play well Sunday is serious. The defensive end position is deep, even if he brings the added dimension of being a stand-up type of rusher who also can drop into space in certain passing situations.

"It's a business, so I don't really try to put that at work," Moch said of the numbers game at his position. "All I can control is what I put out there and what my output is, not who they're bringing in or who they're playing. I just have to show them I can contribute and hopefully show that amongst the others."
CINCINNATI -- Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins and Johnny Manziel are arguably the most recognizable names of this year's rookie class.

It's clear that each of the first-round draft picks will have some type of big impact on their teams, for better or worse.

So, with that said, which rookie with the Cincinnati Bengals could leave a similarly large imprint on his team this fall? Darqueze Dennard? Jeremy Hill? Nope.

Try fourth-round pick Russell Bodine.

In its breakdown of top-10 impact rookies, Football Outsiders earlier this week predicted that Bodine, the Bengals' powerful young center would be among the first-year players fans will want to keep an eye on the most. That's primarily because after earning starting reps at center both in the spring and during training camp, the rookie appears in line to do all the snapping to starting quarterback Andy Dalton this season.

The full list of Football Outsiders' top-10 impact rookies can be accessed from the link above.

While the Bengals haven't formally named Bodine the starter, offensive line coach Paul Alexander gave the rookie a ringing endorsement on Monday, saying, "right now, it's full speed ahead with Bodine." If Week 1 were this weekend, Alexander said Bodine would be penciled in at the first-team center. That means he would be placed ahead of Mike Pollak, the veteran interior lineman who had been expected this summer to take over the center duties after longtime center Kyle Cook was released.

Pollak has been in and out of practices all preseason, as he's been easing back into action after rehabbing a sore knee much of the offseason.

Here's Football Outsiders' blurb on Bodine explaining why he will be one of the top-10 rookies to watch in the league this year:
The most important third-day rookie of 2014, the former North Carolina center is being handed a starting job for a playoff team whose offense has been dependent on strong offensive line play. Bodine not only has to take a step up from ACC defensive tackles to NFL defensive tackles, but he also has to learn the intricate system of audible calls and line checks the Bengals will be using in coordinator Hue Jackson's offense.

--Football Outsiders
CINCINNATI -- With news late Wednesday that Vontaze Burfict had reportedly agreed to a multiyear contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals, the organization sent a message it was serious about locking down its stars, and doing what was necessary to keep in place the structure that has made it successful these past three years.

Quarterback Andy Dalton's extension, signed Aug. 4, was the first sign of that this year. Dalton's slated to be behind center for the Bengals through 2020. Two other key defenders, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will be in stripes through 2018 after inking their blockbuster extensions last summer.

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesVontaze Burfict led the league in tackles last season with 171.
On the waiting list of signings, Burfict was always next, with receiver A.J. Green waiting in the wings. While Green might prefer to wait until after this season to get an extension, especially because he's already set to make $10 million next year with his fifth-year option exercised, he could be in position after Burfict's deal and pending cuts to work something out before this season officially begins.

Burfict's deal hasn't been formally announced by the Bengals, although it should be made official sometime Thursday morning. Once that happens, we should learn a few more details. For now, there are conflicting reports on the length of the extension. ESPN's Adam Caplan and Adam Schefter broke news of the signing, saying it was a four-year, $20 million extension. Schefter reported that he'll make $7.6 million this season. Other reports indicate it may be a three-year extension.

Presumably Burfict would have signed Wednesday had he been around. But he felt ill early in the day and was sent home before the afternoon practice.

Regardless of the specifics, we do know this: It was smart for the Bengals to lock up Burfict now and it was smart for him to get paid right now.

It was arguably more important for the Bengals to lock down their Pro Bowl second-year linebacker for what he provides off the field as opposed to what he has done on it. True, he's been a relative terror in between the white lines, blasting any offensive player who comes into his area of the field. He's the Bengals' enforcer, and in the two years he's been on the job, the defense's reputation has gone from good to nasty.

For years, Mike Zimmer's name was the one most associated with Cincinnati's defensive success. But now that the former defensive coordinator has left, it's Burfict. His style of play set the tone for a defense that was ranked third last year. It's the same tone new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants to see all season when he puts 11 of what he calls "smart bullies" on the field.

A smart bully -- that's exactly what Burfict is.

Though Burfict may be a trash-talking bully on the field, he is intelligent off of it. Guenther has long considered him his right-hand man, an on-field extension of his own mind. Guenther has often said he hasn't been around a player who can break down game film like Burfict can. When the coach was calling players up to the front of meeting rooms to diagram defenses earlier this preseason, his prized pupil was used the most regularly. Burfict, according to Guenther, knows his scheme better than anyone else around the team.

Guenther lauds the professorial side of Burfict. Combine that value with the talents of Atkins and Dunlap, and it made sense for the Bengals to lock Burfict down when they did.
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis had to pause for a few minutes and file through his memory bank.

"The last time I talked to Carson," the Cincinnati Bengals head coach said, his eyes drifting as he visibly scanned his mind for the exact moment when he previously corresponded with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, "I guess probably was when we played the Raiders. After that game. I think so."

Aside from one other text-message conversation, Lewis admitted Wednesday afternoon that he hasn't exchanged many formalities with Palmer since the Bengals faced the veteran quarterback when he played for Oakland two years ago. It just hasn't been one of Lewis' top priorities to check in on the quarterback who soured on the team near the end of his tenure, and months before his October 2011 trade to the Raiders. That previous April, the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton, giving a clear sign they were preparing for life after Palmer, as he previously hinted they should.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer, a former Bengal, has found a home as Arizona's starting quarterback.
So far, that life has been good for the Bengals and for Palmer, who meets his old team in a Week 3 preseason game Sunday night in Arizona.

Last season, his first with the Cardinals, Palmer set a career-high in passing yards and had his highest completion rating since 2007.

"He's gone on, we've gone on and everybody's happy," Lewis said during his Wednesday news conference. "I mean, he's impressive to watch. He's still Carson. That's why it's hard coming in here and every time we look at a quarterback we bring these guys in from the street, man, it's hard to compare."

Added Lewis about Palmer's throwing ability: "It's hard to compare anybody else to [him]. I've never seen anybody like it."

Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith spent parts of three seasons Palmer was a quarterback in Cincinnati's offense. He remembers the drama associated with Palmer's departure quite well, but he wasn't trying to discuss the inner workings of it. Three times he was asked to divulge his true feelings about Palmer's Queen City finish. All three times, Smith stuck with the same answer.

"I don't think anyone on this team has any bad blood against Carson," Smith said. "It was a situation that came up and he bettered himself in that situation and we bettered ourselves in that situation."

After reaching the playoffs in 2005 and 2009, Palmer grew tired of playing in Cincinnati when the Bengals had an abysmal 4-12 showing in 2010. The No. 1 overall 2003 draft pick told the team that selected him he either wanted out or would simply retire.

Months after Dalton's drafting, Palmer got his wish.

In the three seasons since, Dalton has started all 51 games the Bengals have played. He was handed the starter's role entering the 2011 season and hasn't looked back, leading the organization to three straight playoff appearances, and anchoring a top-10 unit last season. This month, the Bengals committed to Dalton long term, signing him to a six-year extension worth up to $115 million.

"Andy's been doing a great job here leading," said safety Reggie Nelson, who was on the roster when Palmer played for the team. "That's just it. I don't think nobody thinks any different, whether Carson was here or not. Andy's doing a great job leading this team and Carson's doing a great job leading Arizona."

Besides, Nelson added: "It's a business. Things happen."

Aside from exchanging greetings with Palmer, the business the Bengals really hope to concern themselves with Sunday involves winning. They are, after all, 0-2 this preseason.

"Whether [Palmer] is out there or not, we've still got a job to do," Nelson said. "Losing is not something we want to become used to."
CINCINNATI -- It was rather surprising to me that on Tuesday, some four days after the Cincinnati Bengals' backup offenses first took blitz after first-team New York Jets blitz, we were still discussing the issue.

Scott
Was it really that big of a deal? Did the blitzes that came long after starting quarterback Andy Dalton was out of the game help fluster third-string-turned-second-string quarterback Matt Scott? Is it possible they played a big role in the Bengals' lack of offensive firepower after Dalton's departure and the eventual 25-17 loss Saturday night?

No, yes and most definitely yes.

I mean, this is the NFL. Teams blitz. Teams try to win by exploiting opposing teams' weakest links. Teams also talk trash -- even in the preseason -- and play extremely physical -- even in the preseason. It happens. So why then did this storyline take on such a life of its own early this week?

The answer to that question is unclear, but what is evident is the fact Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander didn't like the continued blitzing on his reserve-filled offensive line after the first quarter. It's also clear Jets head coach Rex Ryan isn't too apologetic for bum-rushing the Bengals' young backup quarterback and trying to intimidate Cincinnati's overall offense.

"We weren't going to be a punching bag," Ryan told reporters in New York on Monday.

Ryan's defenses have long been known for their physicality and probably had a point to prove after last October's 49-9 loss in Cincinnati. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson even said the week before he and his teammates "owed" the Bengals for the blowout. He vowed aggressive play from his team when it visited Paul Brown Stadium for the preseason game.

The Jets did just that. They were flagged 12 times for 133 yards, including a whopping six penalties that were the result of personal fouls. The most egregious came when the Jets were on offense after offensive lineman Willie Colon roughed up Bengals cornerback Terence Newman after Newman intercepted a pass. Colon contended he didn't hear a whistle and wanted to make sure Newman was down after he got up off the turf possibly untouched. Newman's helmet came off with Colon's shove, resulting in Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt violently shoving away another Jets lineman.

The two New York linemen were tagged with personal foul penalties early in a game that was filled with them.

When the Bengals were on offense, they were given similar rough treatment by a blitz assault that annoyed Alexander.

"Notice he didn't bring that stuff when our starters were out there," Alexander said Monday. "We'd have scored quicker. If he wants to put his starting defense out there and blitz all that garbage against our third-stringers, if he feels good about it, then all the power to him."

Jets defensive starters remained in the game well into the second quarter, and kept coming after Scott. Dalton and the starting offense left the field after just three series and an 8-for-8 performance from Dalton that included a 21-yard pass to A.J. Green in the flat as the Jets brought one blitz. As injured backup Jason Campbell pointed out Monday, once the Bengals beat that blitz, the Jets didn't bring another one on Dalton's crew.

The Bengals also shouldn't worry about the blitzing because it did nothing but prepare the line for what's coming in less than three weeks. Even if rookie center Russell Bodine wasn't on the field for the most intense rushes, other backups such as Mike Pollak, Trey Hopkins and Tanner Hawkinson were. On the off-chance that something happens to Cincinnati's starting linemen this season, the reserves need to be ready to communicate through such blitzes together.

"You try to think all preseason is going to be so vanilla, and then you get in a game like that where you really have to make sure you know who you're responsible for and who the other guys are going to," Pollak said. "It's just a good awakening experience to see those younger guys go through."
CINCINNATI -- If you had the opportunity to watch the Cincinnati Bengals' open training camp practices earlier this month, you probably heard one word shouted more frequently and more emphatically than any other.

Finish!

[+] EnlargeBengals offensive line
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanThe blocking by the Bengals' offensive linemen won't just be focused at the line of scrimmage in 2014.
It was a command most often given by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, receivers coach James Urban and running backs coach Kyle Caskey. Their goal: to get the skill players on offense to continue running downfield even if they had been "tackled" or stood up by a defender or series of defenders who had touched them down. That encouragement was referenced in this ESPN.com story last month on running back Rex Burkhead, the now-injured back who was upheld as an example of finishing practice-play runs even after he got knocked down.

Running backs and receivers weren't the only ones prodded to keep going, though. Offensive linemen were, too. If the 300-pound blockers get up and down the field the way they have so far this preseason, the Bengals believe they will be in good shape when the regular season starts.

"It's an emphasis every team has this time of year, but the key is we're working hard to actually get it done," right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "As you know, we had a couple of fumbling issues at times last year and it would have been nice if we had been there to pick them up."

Fumbles and the possibility of having linemen there to help scoop them up aren't the only reasons behind the added push to get linemen downfield. By getting linemen automatically running downfield, the pace of the Bengals' no-huddle offense could get quickened, too. Additionally, Jackson believes that by getting all of his players to flow to wherever the football is, he'll enhance the intensity and aggressive nature he's trying to instill in Cincinnati's offense.

"That's how you get bigger runs," he added.

In a recent film session he showed evidence of what downfield blocking can do. He put on screen one lengthy Bengals run that was sparked in part by receiver A.J. Green, who rode a defender into the sideline, helping open an alley.

"To me when our star players do that, it shows that they're into it like everybody else," Jackson said.

"It's just got to be the mindset. It's my mindset," he added Monday. "You've got to become that and do it every day. It can't be a sometime thing. I told the guys this morning, if you're going to play on our offensive football team, you've got to demonstrate those characteristics, and they have."

One of the in-game instances of finishing that Zeitler was proud of came in the first quarter of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets after he and center Russell Bodine had trouble holding off defenders at the line of scrimmage. As a result of their issue at the snap, a screen pass to the right to tight end Jermaine Gresham very nearly resulted in a lost-yardage play. But because Zeilter and Bodine didn't resign themselves to the play being over, they cleared a post-catch hole that Gresham scooted through to turn an apparent negative play into a 9-yard gain.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has noticed the extra attention his linemen have made in trying to get down the field even after the ball has been thrown, and believes it's paying off. So does veteran leader and Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who echoed Jackson's sentiments when he pushed Jackson's desire to get the entire unit to showcase that scrappy style of play.

Whitworth would rather point to some of the less recognizable intangibles like players finishing to Jackson's liking, as a theory behind why the first-team offense has looked so impressive through two preseason games. Dalton's stats, including his perfect passer rating last weekend, are good, Whitworth said. But they wouldn't be so high if it weren't, in part, for some of what Jackson is reinforcing.

"That kind of thing," Whitworth said, "is the kind of mentality that helps you win football games."
CINCINNATI -- OK, it's only Aug. 19 and there still has yet to be a single down of regular-season football to be played.

But the Cincinnati Bengals have to be feeling good about their first-team offense's impressive performance to this point in the preseason, right?

Dalton
Dalton
While you won't hear any of the coaches publicly acknowledge it, there are some people around the team who have taken note and are impressed with what they've seen so far. Namely, it's the players. To this point in the preseason, they believe members of the starting group have paid the right amount of attention to the finer details of their individual positions, and they think the chemistry that comes along with now four straight seasons of honed relationships has helped the timing and execution of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's scheme.

The starting offense was so good Saturday night against Rex Ryan's always strong first-team Jets' defense that quarterback Andy Dalton stood behind a clean pocket for most of his 17 plays, passing a flawless 8-for-8 and connecting with his receivers for 144 yards and a touchdown. He had a perfect passer rating of 158.3, and seemed as poised as he has ever been.

That performance followed up a similarly impressive, albeit shorter, outing at Kansas City the week before. Dalton went 3-for-5 for 71 yards in his lone drive against the Chiefs. All four drives he has led in limited action these two preseason games have resulted in scores. His offense has converted two touchdowns (one of them was a 1-yard Giovani Bernard rush) and two field goals. Combined, he is 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and one touchdown. This also marks the first time in Dalton's career that he's had an average passer rating (131.3) over 100.0 through his first two preseason games. It's also the first time he has thrown for more than 200 yards through two preseason games.

So what is it that has changed? Is it Dalton? Is it the offense? Is it both?

"Right now, from a stats standpoint you can say the offense looks good, but there's a lot of offenses in the league that are good in the preseason," Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It's the little things that you see -- guys hustling to the football, guys getting each other's backs, guys [doing] the stuff that we're saying is a point of emphasis that week, and guys going out there and executing the play not just because the play worked, but because it was executed correctly."

Whitworth added: "It's efficiently ran plays."

Three of Dalton's 11 completions have gone for more than 30 yards. Each of them traveled that far in the air, giving the Bengals a series of chunk plays. The two throws of that ilk Cincinnati had Saturday resulted in touchdowns. One of them, a 35-yard bomb to A.J. Green, put the Bengals in goal-line territory ahead of Bernard's dive. The other, a 43-yard strike in stride to Mohamed Sanu, was a touchdown itself, complete with a Sanu dance.

"The two throws down the field were tremendous," injured backup quarterback Jason Campbell said. "It's fun to watch, because these guys are in their fourth year together and this is kind of the year where you kind of start springing forward."

So is it better attention to detail? Is it chemistry? It actually appears to be a combination of both.

But whatever the case may be, the Bengals' first-team offense certainly appears to be rolling. Now for the big question.

Can it sustain its success for more than one quarter?

We'll find out Sunday night at Arizona when the starters presumably play a bit longer than they have been.
CINCINNATI -- Mohamed Sanu had just changed direction on his route and started running at an angle toward the goal posts when his quarterback, Andy Dalton, let go of the pass.

As Sanu sprinted past the cornerback defending him and tried to maintain separation from the closing safety, he looked to the sky.

Dalton
Dalton
 What the Cincinnati Bengals receiver saw made his eyes get big.

"I was just like, 'Gosh, what a ball,'" Sanu said, adding a giddy, school-girl laugh.

A catch, two steps and a touchdown dance later, Sanu helped preserve Dalton's perfect passing line at the start of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets. By the time his night was over, Dalton added another Sanu pass and six more to Bengals receivers to finish 8-for-8 with 144 yards, one touchdown and a 158.3 passer rating. Those statistics, combined with his numbers from the preseason opener at Kansas City the week before, make him 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and a 144.4 passer rating in limited action through the two games.

It's all evidence that Dalton really is playing better and more efficiently than he has at any other point in his career.

"I see it every year, but especially this camp," Sanu said. "I haven't seen him throw the ball so accurate, so efficient. Every time you turn around the ball is just there and you're like, 'Wow."

Dalton contends that nothing has changed from last season. In his eyes, he's still playing the same as he did before and is practicing the same. He may have made a few tweaks and modifications to better his mechanics, but he says everything else is the same. He's still having fun, too.

"When you have a game like I did [Saturday], and you have teammates like I have, it's a lot of fun," Dalton said. "It's not like it just started being fun. It's been fun since I've been here."

It's tough to argue that. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems as if he is more calm and more at ease than he's been at any other point in his career. He seems to trust his receivers more than before and has a better understanding of their routes. And he knows when he delivers the ball a particular way, he expects them to be right there to run underneath it.

Coach Marvin Lewis, bothered by the way players at the back of his depth chart allowed the Jets to overcome a 17-3 deficit to win, didn't have as much to say about Dalton's performance as he probably could have. That had nothing to do with the quarterback. Instead, he was ticked because the back-end play, in his words, tainted his starting signal-caller's strong evening.

"He's on top of his game. He's throwing the football and understands what we want," Lewis said. "Guys are doing a good job with him. He continues to play the way we think he should play all the time. It doesn't surprise me because that's the way he practices all the time. He doesn't have to be flashy, he just needs to be accurate and handle the offense. He does his thing very well."

Next Sunday night, Dalton will be challenged by an Arizona Cardinals defense that ranked sixth last season, allowing a QBR of 39.4. By comparison, the Bengals' defense ranked one spot better at fourth, allowing a QBR of just 39.0 last season.

The nationally-televised game in Glendale, Arizona, also pits Dalton against the man he replaced: former Bengal Carson Palmer. On the biggest stage he'll see this preseason, it'll be interesting to see if Dalton continues to grow.

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are now 0-2 in preseason play following Saturday night's 25-17 loss to the New York Jets.

But it's not the final score Bengals fans should be concerned about. It really wasn't indicative of how well the Bengals' first- and second-team units played in the more meaningful snaps early in the contest. It was more indicative of how wide the chasm is between the Bengals' starters and their last-string backups. Cincinnati was up 17-3 and looking to increase its lead before the lineup changes.

For most of the first two quarters, the Bengals looked nearly flawless. Quarterback Andy Dalton, in fact, was a perfect 8-for-8 on his passing opportunities. False start and holding penalties were about the only issues this group had offensively. Defensively, the Bengals had to watch for swinging arms and hard shoves from Jets linemen. In all, the Jets were flagged six times for committing either personal foul or unnecessary roughness penalties.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason game Saturday:
  • Not only was Dalton perfect from an accuracy standpoint, but he also passed for 144 yards and rushed for seven. He also had a passing touchdown and has led scoring drives on all four of the series he's been in for this preseason. Two field goals have resulted from drives he's led, and two touchdown have as well. In addition to Dalton's 43-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu on Saturday, Giovani Bernard capped another drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Dalton's three-series day began with a 4-for-4 performance on the opening drive that included Sanu's touchdown catch. That score came when Dalton dropped a well-placed pass into Sanu's hands at the top of a post route. Sanu beat his cornerback and caught the pass as a safety closed on him. At halftime, Sanu said this about the throw: "Andy just dropped it on a dime. All I had to do was stick my hands out and not drop it."
  • The Bengals' no-huddle offense really has taken shape this preseason. It was evident all throughout the game, most notably in the first and fourth quarters. At one point on Dalton's second drive, the Bengals called five straight no-huddle plays before the Jets finally called a timeout. The offense was in sync during that five-play portion of the series, too, gaining 70 yards and getting into red-zone territory after A.J. Green caught a 35-yard pass that he might have tried pushing for a score in a non-preseason game. It seemed as if he stepped out of bounds early to avoid contact. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been coy about how much he plans on using the no-huddle segments of his offense, but it has been clear the Bengals are going to make it a focal point of their more aggressive and rhythm-based scheme.
  • Last Saturday, Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told his team's website that New York "owed" the Bengals for the 49-9 thrashing Cincinnati handed the Jets last October. Apparently his words struck a nerve. The Bengals came out with a slightly sharpened edge defensively, and it seemed to rub off on the similarly anxious Jets, who couldn't avoid committing the aforementioned personal-foul infractions.
  • Injuries were an issue late for the Bengals as several were run from the game. Most notably, rookies Darqueze Dennard (hip), Jeremy Hill (shoulder), Marquis Flowers (ankle) and Jeremy Wright (hip) -- all draft picks -- were banged up. Flowers was the only one of them who returned. Along with them, linebacker J.K. Schaffer (head), running back Rex Burkhead (knee) and quarterback Tyler Wilson (head) were lost for the game, too.
One of the toughest balancing acts for a coaching staff at an NFL training camp is determining how much contact will be allowed in practices -- and how hard the contact can be.

As the Cincinnati Bengals wind down their training camp portion of the preseason Thursday, we can safely say the team had as good a mix of hitting and non-live activity as you're probably going to find in the league these days.

 They never did formally tackle live in practices, but some defenders made just enough contact with various offensive skill players -- primarily rookies and young free agents -- that it caught some attention. It was common for linebacker Vontaze Burfict to give rookie running back James Wilder Jr. a firm thud on a screen across the middle of the field. Burfict did the same thing to the since-released Jeremy Johnson when he'd catch passes in his area.

On Wednesday, safety George Iloka got in on the popping action, delivering a couple of hard forearms to first-year receiver Colin Lockett. Like some of Burfict's hits, those came in a practice that saw the Bengals wearing only shoulder pads and helmets. One of the forearms to Lockett's back came after players all took their pads off in favor of finishing the practice in only their jerseys and helmets.

"We're not playing against the Bengals, they're not on our schedule, but some things happen in practice," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "You can't tell a dog not to eat red meat."

Still, Bengals coaches hope their defensive dogs know that for now, they only want them nibbling on the offensive prey that are in their way. When they suit up Saturday and the following Sunday and the Thursday after that, then they can deliver whatever hard blows they want to deal.

"We've just got to take care of our guys and continue to be aggressive," Guenther added.

So considering how bad some of the collisions were, should Guenther and his assistants rein in their players?

No.

Again, the group wasn't out to maliciously hurt anyone during this camp. They were primarily out to test the toughness of some of the newest members of the team. If Burfict could hit Wilder or one of the young receivers like Lockett hard enough and they could bounce right up, a message was sent to the locker room that the struck player could match the toughness the rest of the team believed it had.

Not to mention, sometimes, the hitters were just following orders.

"Sometimes I'll tell a guy that if I don't think practice is going the way we want it, to get some stuff going," Guenther said. "It gets everybody into the practice a little bit."

That means there will be no reining in of defenders going on in practices any time soon. Besides, before too long they'll be into the regular-season mode of practicing, meaning their in-practice contact will soon decrease dramatically.

Wilson will play: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during his news conference Wednesday that backup quarterback Tyler Wilson will end up playing at some point Saturday against the Jets, despite having less than a week of practices.

Wilson was signed last Saturday after brief stints with Oakland and Tennessee. He's excited for this opportunity, and hopes that by the end of camp he can prove he belongs on an NFL roster.

It's tough right now seeing him on the Bengals' roster in three weeks. He's currently the No. 4 quarterback on a team that signed him in response to No. 2 quarterback Jason Campbell's elbow injury that occurred a week ago Thursday. The former Arkansas standout has at least one familiar face in the Bengals' locker room: Cobi Hamilton was his go-to receiver in college.

"When you've been sitting on the street, you learn fast," Lewis said of Wilson.

The coach didn't say how much he might use Wilson this weekend. But with backup Matt Scott working through a sore shoulder and starter Andy Dalton likely limited to 15-25 early snaps, Wilson could see his fair share of action.

"He's been able to learn things to go out and operate," Lewis said. "He handled the verbiage and the terminology well and the adjustments he needed to make. He did a good job."
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 16 of training camp, here are three items we are going to be watching:

Closing out camp. That's right, the Bengals are officially ending the training camp portion of their preseason with Wednesday's late-morning practice. That means this 16th session marks the last time this season that a Bengals practice will be open to the public and reporters. Starting Monday, media will only be permitted to watch the first half hour of practices through the end of the season as the team's in-season practice policies are implemented.

Walk-through speed. Because the Bengals have a game Saturday and will have Friday off, they will mostly treat this final training-camp practice as if it were the traditional Friday practice they'll have throughout the regular season when Sunday games dot the schedule. So we won't be expecting many high-speed, high-intensity drills during this workout. Walk-through speed should dominate this session as the Bengals try to get into the game as healthy as possible.

Using Matt Scott. I'll be interested to see how the Bengals use backup quarterback Matt Scott in practice after his Wednesday workout was shortened because of shoulder soreness. At one point in the middle of Wednesday's practice he was wearing an ice pack on his throwing shoulder. Coach Marvin Lewis said later that afternoon that Scott should be OK to play Saturday, along with reserve Tyler Wilson. Both Scott and Wilson could see their share of action against the Jets on Saturday since starting quarterback Andy Dalton is only expected to see between 15-25 plays. Dalton played just one series last week at Kansas City. Don't be surprised if he's out there for two this week. The Bengals still haven't ruled out the possibility of Jason Campbell getting behind center for a few snaps, but since he has yet to practice this week, it appears unlikely that he will play because of an elbow bruise he got last week against the Chiefs.

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