Yes, it's only preseason. But after what has widely been perceived as a disastrous off season and being outscored 60-10 in their first two preseason games, the Cincinnati Bengals need an impressive showing at home tonight against the Carolina Panthers. The Bengal bandwagon is emptying faster than the parking lot after a Florida Marlins game. Tonight marks the last game fans are going to see the starters on the field for an extended period until the regular season begins. Marvin Lewis and company are looking to see something positive emerge.
Andy Dalton has two NFL appearances under his belt now. In the first two, he struggled out of the gate. Tonight, Dalton needs to show some of the accuracy and play making ability early in the game he's shown on the two scoring drives he's directed so far. What's more, it would be reassuring to see Dalton make a play down the field. To this point, Dalton's longest completion in the air has been a 12 yard throw to Jordan Shipley. While Jay Gruden's offense doesn't require Dalton to be Daryl Lamonica, his longest throw to this point has been a 33 yard screen pass to Brian Leonard that was actually caught two yards behind the line of scrimmage. For fans used to Carson Palmer, a little bit of over-the-top success would be nice.
Along with Dalton, AJ Green needs to show he's not just a workout wonder. We all heard the raves from training camp about his acrobatic grabs and athleticism. That has not shown up yet on the field. This week Green won't be seeing Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie, so it will be a good test of how far he's come with the NFL game.
The defense improved last week against the Jets, limiting them to field goals even given several short fields because of turnovers. Still, the team let down at the end of the first half when they had the Jets pinned at their own one yard line and allowed the Jets to go 99 yards for a score. Tonight, the team needs to avoid giving Cam Newton and the Panthers offense any long drives. To do that, the Bengals must keep Newton in the pocket, limit any long gains from DeAngelo Williams and the Panther backs, and cover Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey in the seams. Oh, yeah, a turnover or two forced giving the Bengal offense a short field wouldn't be bad either.
Kevin Huber will hopefully continue to boom punts, though not as often, and Mike Nugent won't have to kick in a monsoon this evening, so we might se some touchbacks.
We'll know a lot more about this Bengals team for 2011 after the first half tonight. Let's hope it's encouraging news.
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