It's the preseason. It's not about winning and losing, but getting ready for the regular season. This year's preseason is even more important for the Cincinnati Bengals as they enter 2011 with a new offense centered around young players and have had no offseason program in which to get familiar with each other.
Last week, Cincinnati looked the part of an inexperienced team as the Detroit Lions beat them in every facet of the game. So after a week of practices and film study, what should we be looking for tonight to judge the Bengals improvement as they face the Jets?
Health Every team's first goal in the preseason is to stay healthy. This is especially true for the young and depth-challenged Bengals. Regardless of whatever else happens on the field tonight, if the Bengals can emerge with their key players ready to play next week, that's a victory.
Protect Andy Dalton Andy Dalton got a rude awakening to the NFL last week courtesy of the Detroit Lions defensive line. Ndomakong Suh nearly decapitated Dalton on one trip through the middle of the Bengals offensive line. Simply, the offensive line must allow Dalton time to throw, specifically, the guard spot… even more specifically, Nate Livings. Livings was dying in Detroit last week, pass protecting much like a lawn statue protects the front door. Marvin Lewis said this week that Clint Boling, the rookie from Georgia will see more time with the first team this week. Livings should know that his job is in jeopardy. The Bengals linemen don't have to protect in Bob Bratkowski's seven step drop scheme any more. Dalton is instructed to get rid of the ball quickly. Last week, he didn't even have time to do that.
Give Ced the Rock! The lone bright spot (besides punter Kevin Huber) was the play of running back Cedric Benson. He looked both agile and powerful in his brief time. He should get a few more carries tonight. Also, Bernard Scott is back from injury, so the Bengals have gained a little depth for the running game. Scott also gives Dalton a more dangerous option passing out of the backfield. Scott's blitz pickups, however, have been a little shaky in the past. Against the Jets, that could be an issue.
Play well in space Last week, the Bengals linebackers struggled making plays in the flat and covering backs and tight ends. They'll have to improve upon that tonight facing Ladanian Tomlinson and Dustin Keller.
Press coverage The Lions exploited the Bengals soft cornerback coverage last week. In response, Mike Zimmer had his corners pressing all week in practice. Leon Hall and Nate Clements will be sizing up Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. The defensive line has shown better ability to get after the quarterback. If Hall and Clements can keep the receivers locked up, the line could get to Mark Sanchez.
Don't look at the final score tonight. Whether or not the Bengals win is irrelevant. Look instead at whether Andy Dalton has time to throw, Cedric Benson continues to look sharp, and the defense forces a few three and outs.
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