Since Marvin took over the team in 2003 the Bengals are 2-7 in the first preseason game of the season. The typical theme in every first preseason game: lots of mental mistakes and no spark. Expect nothing but the same tonight. Reedy, if you are reading this please ask Marvin why his teams are always flat for the first preseason game in the post-game conference interview.
Last season with only two weeks of cramming a new offensive playbook and two rookies at two critical spots (QB and #1 WR), the first preseason game was advertised to be the most unorganized and sloppy Bengal's game we may see in years. They didn’t fail to deliver. I don’t see why this game will look any prettier. For those that gamble, the Jets are an easy -105 giving up 1.5 points.
While Hobson is throwing another $10 cover pep rally over on Bengals.com, here at WDR we are going to help you with what really should be watched tonight.
When the Bengals Have the Ball
1. The Retooled Offensive Line
Forget all the talk of the WR’s. This will work itself out as the season progresses. In the end, I believe it will be a mix of Bimms (85) & Sanu (12) by the end of the season. However, WR’s don’t catch balls if the QB is being constantly pressured and the timing is thrown off. Ask the Patriots how that worked out in the Super Bowl.
Dalton may now actually have the protection he needs to succeed. The mistake (Livings) is finally gone to the Boy’s (good luck with that one Romo). Bobbie Williams should have retired, but left for the Ravens. After years of neglect, Marvin and company finally upgraded the guard spots by investing in a run blocker known for his consistency, Wharton (70), and drafting 1st rounder mauler, Zeitler (68). The key to the offense this year is how fast the lines gels.
Although the talent is there, fans need to anticipate growing pains along the OL with 2/5 of the line being retooled. Typically it takes half a season for an OL to gel and work out any communication errors. Seattle last year best exemplifies this process. Compare Lynch’s stats for the start of the season to the end; you will clearly see when their OL gelled and Lynch's fantasy value skyrocketed.
Since Rex Ryan’s scheme is all about creating confusion along the OL, expect plays to look completely fugly at times tonight. This will improve as the season progresses, but the execution could be lacking at times. If they can execute on a consistent basis, then that means they are ahead of the curve.
2. The Chess Match
This is my favorite part of the game. This is a good first test of 2012 to see if Gruden can broaden the attack abilities of the offense. Last year he was a clear upgrade to Bratkowski, which isn’t saying much. But I was not impressed with his inability to spread the ball around once defenses began taking AJ Green out of the equation. However last year, he did have the deck stack against him with only a few weeks to install a vanilla offense in the preseason, had rookies in two critical spots, and a patch work OL to work with all season. The result was a passing tree that, although it was better than Brats, was not very aggressive nor did it take advantage of the true receiving talent that the team possesses. Tonight he faces the toe hugger, Rex Ryan, whose scheme is a great trial run for opening weekend against the Ravens.
A key indicator to follow the chess match at home is whether in certain game situations, i.e. 3rd & short, plays are getting blown up. They may because of the OL, but if the Jets are stunting to a side of the field and they get to the hole before the ball carrier, then the league is on to Gruden’s play calling trends. At the end of last season, Gruden’s play calling became very predictable - almost telegraphed at times. By going against a derivative of the scheme that he will face four times during the regular season, it will be interesting to see how capable Gruden is at mixing things up and getting multiple players involved in moving the ball.
If he can create mismatches to take advantage of the holes in the Jets defense, then it could be sign of good things to come. However from what I observed last season, I don’t have high hopes for Gruden’s upside, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hue Jackson takes over the play calling duties at some point this or next season. But I could be wrong like I was once before...
Red is for real. I have to retract my statement from last year about his inability to succeed on this team. Last year with no offseason, a questionable OL, and a thinned WR corps due to injuries, Dalton put together a fantastic season for a rookie QB.
To put it in perspective:
Palmer in his first year under center threw for 2,897 yards 18 TD’s and 18 INT’s for a QB rating of 77.3 in 13 games.
Dalton produced 3,398 yards, 20 TD’s and 13 INT’s for a QB rating of 80.4.
To add to this, the QB that everyone is comparing Dalton to threw for 3,284 yards, 17 TD’s and 16 INT’s for a rating of 76.9. That QB was Drew Brees. We all know what Palmer did his second season behind center and what Brees eventually became.
However this is actually not a fair comparison because Palmer played behind one of the most dominant OL’s in the league in 2005 and had a young, but experienced, WR corps at the time. Behind a gelling OL and inexperienced young WR corps, I don’t expect to see Dalton really begin to develop until later in the season.
Tonight will be a showcase of his ability to withstand pressure while finding the open man in a confusing defensive scheme. He showed us last year as a rookie he has the ability to read this defense. Now he has to show us he has developed by executing and spreading the ball around down the field to take advantage of the holes the Jets give him.
When the Jets Have the Ball
Forget the secondary tonight. There are too many injuries to truly assess its development tonight. The key to watch on the defensive side tonight is the new D-line.
The other major offseason move was the investment in the defensive line by drafting DT’s Still in the 2nd round and Thompson in the 3rd. Both are strong as hell and known to be run stuffers – something this team has been lacking for decades. The Texans took advantage of this weakness in the Wildcard game, and I was amazed when the Bengals logically addressed this hole.
The Jet’s OL is not as strong as it was in the past, but it still has the ability to control the line of scrimmage in both the running and passing games. Tonight will be a great test of both.
Keys to watch are:
a) How does the DL rotation that Zimmer created in 2010 and continued to develop last season incorporate Still and Thompson into the mix? Look for who they team Atkins (97) up with in different situtations.
b) Will the rotation be able to hold the line against one of the most formidable OL’s in the league in the first quarter? On running plays, watch to see if they can control the LOS or even dominate it at times.
c) Will the new DT’s free up the linebackers to finally allow them to make plays in space?
d) Most importantly, can the defense apply pressure to Sanchez on third down by only rushing four linemen?