Friday night was a great night all around. It was a great night to be out and about on the banks with great weather, a glorious sunset and the wreckage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ ship sank while it docked in the Queen City, all on a night of some libations for the fans in attendance and those watching at home. The first quarter proved that the starters, while still having a little off season rust, are mentally and physically ready for the long haul of the season.
Cincinnati’s backups, for the most part, came to play and it was best to get out of their way. Many rookies, undrafted free agents and other new faces made an impact, including Josh Malone. Malone, the rookie wide receiver from Tennessee, caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone near the goal post off of the hot pass from Jeff Driskel. Driskel’s performance in the game proved that he belongs in the NFL. Driskel ran for a touchdown, putting the Bengals ahead and threw a touchdown scoring pass to Malone, augmenting the lead and showing that he is a versatile playmaker that can challenge not only for a roster spot but the first man off the bench if Andy Dalton goes out of the game.
The official box score provided by the NFL’s website show that starting at quarterback Dalton went 4 for 5 acquiring 38 yards in his only series. AJ McCarron was disappointing at best, throwing 5 for 8 for just 49 yards and was also credited with a -1 yard running play. The bright spot is that McCarron did not throw an interception like Dalton did in the red zone to kill early momentum. Jeff Driskel was the human highlight reel when he got his time going 8 for 9 passing for 97 yards and the touchdown pass to Malone. Driskel wasn’t afraid to tuck it and go as he was the team’s leading rusher with 34 yards on five carries, scoring with his feet and smiling while doing so. Driskel had a stellar passer rating was 148.6 which may have been higher had he not taken a couple sacks along the way.
When it comes to running the ball down Tamp Bay’s throats, Tra Carson and Joe Mixon moved the ball up the field with ease. Carson had 32 yards on eight carries, averaging 4 yards per carry. Mixon, who gathered mostly cheers from the home crowd, dazzled early and showed the first round talent he possesses by running for 31 yards on six carries, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. At that rate, if Mixon gets the ball 20 times in a game he will gather 104 yards per game. Jeremy Hill, on the other hand, was already in midseason form, toting the rock for 26 yards on seven carries for 3.7 yards per carry. The rest of the players credited with running plays had 16 yards between five men on 10 carries, so that will just be overlooked for now.
The aerial assault looked like it had kinks at times, but for the most part was effective. The ball was spread all around as a dozen different players found themselves in possession of the ball. Alex Erickson paced the group with three catches for 50 yards, with his longest gain being a 21-yard haul in. Carson had one catch down the field that he turned into 23 yards. AJ Green, in his limited time, had 21 yards on 2 catches. Cody Core ran great routes all night, making it all the more surprising that he only had a single reception for 17 yards on the night. Kermit Whitfield also reeled one in for 15 yards. Ethan Carter caught a pair for 14 yards. Brandon Lafell, Tyler Boyd, Tyler Eifert, Chris Brown and Mixon round out the one reception performances on the night, while the receiving star of the night goes to Malone for hauling in an eight-yard touchdown pass to complete a two catch 12-yard night.
The boots were perfect on the game. Randy Bullock nailed his one extra point and two field goals for 7 points on the night. Jake Elliott had 4 points nailing a 45-yard field goal and a PAT.
Defensively, Will Clarke and Michael Johnson showed signs that they are here for the money and not for love of the game. Both were negligible Friday night and hopefully will not stick around too much longer. Maybe the Bengals could trade Johnson to the Minnesota Vikings and see if he is more productive under long time Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, possibly gaining a draft pick in exchange for him or one of Vikings’ back up offensive lineman to compete for a spot on the Cincinnati offensive line.
On the other hand, the bright spots on the defense are just as numerous as the offense. William Jackson III was stellar in his debut in the defensive backfield. Jordan Evans played with a chip on his shoulder all night long and paced the team with five tackles on his own while assisting on another. Demetrius Cox hauled in pass that he cut off and returned it up the field to help set up the Bengals’ offense in good position. Kevin Minter and Nick Vigil showed that they are going to work great together when paired with Vontaze Burfict. All three of them hit hard, fast and often, the result showing that they can be a nightmare for anyone on a drag route over the middle because they know the boom is coming. Jordan Willis also showed up with a trio of tackles on the field and his speed will catch everyone’s attention if he is able to consistently perform at this level throughout the season, he may go down as the steal of the draft. Clayton Fejedelem had a big hit that stopped Tampa Bay’s tight end Cameron Brate dead in his tracks with only a two-step lead before the tackle, which is not an easy feat.
Based on the performances shown on both sides of the ball, the offensive line showed they are not as bad as they look on paper but still are not able to assure fans that they are good enough to make a playoff run. The quarterback situation became more muddled with Driskel’s performance. Some players on the defense, such as Chris Smith, showed that they will require more time to develop. Smith was all over the place in the Buccaneers’ backfield.
The remaining three preseason games should result in a clearer picture for Cincinnati. The Bengals received a victory but there is still plenty of room for improvement before they take on the Kansas City Chiefs on August 19th in Cincinnati.
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