While it was only preseason, man was it great to have football back. We saw an encouraging performance from the Bengals starters in their 30-27 victory over the Chicago Bears. Here are a few of the winners and losers from the first game of the year.
John Ross – Wide Receiver
I am listing Ross as a winner, despite him falling down on a route resulting in a pick six early in the game. Ross did not play a perfect game, however he had flashes that showed why the Bengals picked him 9th overall in 2017. Ross’s one catch for the night was a short route where he caught the ball about four to five yards from the line of scrimmage, right in front of the defender. Most wide receivers would have fought for an extra yard or two and been tackled, but this is where Ross is different. Ross juked out the defender and turned on the jets, accelerating for 20 yards and nearly scoring. It was the type of play that showed just how dangerous he can be in the open field. Ross also remained in the game and got a lot of targets even after his mistake. It was a good sign that Marvin Lewis left him in rather than benching him for the mistake. Ross got a few red zone targets later in the night, one in which he went up in the air to snag the ball and nearly drug both toes in the back of the endzone. Some will say both feet were down, but regardless he showed just enough to flash his monster upside.
Matt Barkley – Quarterback
Going into Thursday night Barkley was the second quarterback on the Bengals depth chart, but if he continues with performances like he did against the Bears, Barkley could find himself as a free agent. Barkley showed next to nothing in his time against the Bears, completing just five passes for 64 yards. He was able to lead a few drives resulting in field goals, but gave Bengals fans no confidence if something were to happen to Dalton. Barkley will need to seriously step up his game to avoid being passed up by Jeff Driskel, who played very well.
Geno Atkins – Defensive End
Geno was his usual disruptive self against Chicago, contributing to the first team defense that held Mitchell Trubisky to only four yards passing. Early on in the game versus the Bears first string offense, Geno bulldozed an offensive lineman to the ground getting right to Trubisky for the sack. It was a reminder that Geno is still one of the league’s most elite defensive tackles. A few plays later Geno rushed into the backfield drawing an offensive holding penalty after the Bears line was forced to hold him to keep him from recording his second sack of the night. A five yard penalty is as good as a sack for the defense. Geno showed us that even if you don’t let him get to the quarterback, he can still be a defensive nightmare. Geno should once again be one the key players on this Bengals defense.
Malik Jefferson – Linebacker
It is not a huge red flag as this was Jefferson’s first NFL game ever, but Jefferson didn’t flash much. Outside of his one tackle we saw Jefferson miss a tackle on a run to the outside that led to the Bears getting a big gain. As if him being a liability on the ground wasn’t enough we also saw him struggle in pass coverage, getting beat several times. It is likely Jefferson was not ready for the speed of the NFL and will be able to better prepare for their week 2 Preseason matchup, but for someone who was taken in the third round Jefferson must improve. With Vontaze Burfict out for the first few games, Malik has a huge opportunity to showcase what he can do with an expected increase of snaps. Jefferson is still raw and developing his instincts, expect him to improve in week 2.
The Cincinnati Bengals Offense
After an embarrassing 2017 filled with bad line play and no creativity, we saw a new look Bengals offense against the Bears. With a full offseason of Bill Lazor, young wideouts like Ross, Boyd, and Malone, and a new line, this Bengals offense gave fans hope. The Bengals came out firing and moved the ball very effectively. We saw AJ Green lined up in the slot against linebackers, Joe Mixon lined up wide running wide receiver routes, and we also saw Tyler Boyd shine from the slot. Bill Lazor will not be short on weapons this year, and while it was only one game it appears he knows how to utilize them. We saw one blunder by the first team offense, John Ross’s slip, but was otherwise lights out and appeared to be clicking well. Bill and his new offense bring excitement the Bengals have been missing.
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