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Cincinnati Bengals: Five Things to Watch as Bengals Take on the Titans
By James Mummert
With the NFL preseason fully underway, football is officially in the air. For NFL fans, there is no greater time of the year than the start of the season. While there is plenty to complain about with the preseason, namely teams charging full ticket prices to watch a glorified exhibition game, there are also plenty of questions surrounding your favorite team. It is no different for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals, a team who went 10-6 a year ago before losing in the opening round of the playoffs to Houston.
Wins and losses in the preseason typically correlate very little to overall success in a regular season. Since 2000, 25 teams have gone undefeated in the preseason, and of those 25, only 13 actually made the playoffs. Two of those teams, the 2001 Chargers (1-15) and the 2008 Lions (0-16) were abysmal. The 2006 Bengals went undefeated in the preseason, only to post an 8-8 record and miss out on the playoffs that year. Needless to say, fans need to pump the brakes when placing expectations based on preseason performance.
The Bengals will look to build off a solid 34-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in their first preseason game, as Saturday the Tennessee Titans come to Paul Brown Stadium for the first home NFL game of the 2013 season for the Bengals. Here are five things to watch as the Bengals head into their second preseason game of the year.
The Continuing WR Battle
After star wide out A.J. Green, there still is a bit of mystery about who will step up across the field from him. With Andrew Hawkins (51 rec, 533 yds, four TDs) possibly being placed on the injured reserve-recall list, it would mean he couldn’t play in a game until Week 8. That leaves a pair of second year wide receivers in Marvin Jones (18 rec, 201 yds, one TD) and Mohamed Sanu (16 rec, 154 yds, four TDs) to fight for that spot opposite Green. Neither is going to completely blow a defensive back off the line, but both seem very capable for the role they would play. This battle is Sanu’s to lose, but the Bengals would be in a great position if Jones puts direct pressure on his job.
How will the Bengals keep Tyler Eifert on the field?
When Eifert was drafted with the 21st pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, it didn’t exactly instill a vote of full confidence in incumbent starter Jermaine Gresham. With Eifert’s extraordinary leaping ability, the goal line offense is poised to be a multi-dimensional threat this year. While Gresham will still be the starter, his injury history and lack of ability to consistently block means Eifert should see plenty of time on the field. While offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has publicly said the Bengals aren’t the Patriots (pre-Aaron Hernandez release) and they will stick to Bengals football, it will be interesting to see if that dialogue changes. It could be in the hands (and feet) of Eifert to dictate given his performance in the preseason.
How does Giovani Bernard continue to develop?
The Bengals other highly touted rookie, Bernard, was the first running back taken over other notable names like Montee Ball (DEN), Eddie Lacey (GB) and Le’Veon Bell (PITT). He continues to be behind BenJarvis Green-Ellis on the depth chart, but just as Gresham, the “Law Firm” has to earn his starting role this year. Comparing stats from the first game is unfair to Green-Ellis, as the starters played much less than the backups, but it’s worth noting that Bernard also had three receptions with five targets. His pass catching ability, coupled with his return skills, guarantee we will see Bernard in some capacity come regular season. As he continues to learn the ropes of being a rookie, especially blitz pick-ups and blocking, if not a starter, he will prove an invaluable back-up moving forward.
James Harrison’s role on the team
No doubt any Bengal fan turned up the dance music when Harrison did not re-sign with the Steelers, and ended up signing with the Bengals. Harrison, long a nightmare of the Bengals and fans nationwide, provided leadership from the day he signed. It is well documented that Harrison is not a fan of HBO’s Hard Knocks filming the Bengals this preseason. His championship pedigree is unquestionably the biggest intangible the Bengals are gaining.
However, his role on the field presents a few more questions. While a starter in Cincinnati’s base 4-3, it’s when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer changes to a nickel that begs the question, “What do you do with Harrison?” While still a force, it would be ignorant to say he hasn’t lost a step from his prime, and he may not be an every down backer like he is familiar with anymore. At a two-year, $4.45 million contract, it’s a low risk, high-reward play the Bengals made. Harrison’s off the field mentality and his leadership in the locker room should end up being where he contributes the most, and the Bengals could absolutely use that.
Will a clear backup emerge at QB?
With Andy Dalton firmly planted as the starter, it’s up to two completely different style backups to win the No. 2. Enter Josh Johnson, originally drafted by the Buccaneers, who found himself in Cleveland last year. His quarterback makeup falls along the lines of a Cam Newton or Michael Vick, your prototypical dual-threat QB. He is currently battling with John Skelton, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. With both quarterbacks career ratings looking like two amazing rounds of golf (63 for Skelton, 57 for Johnson), the word fans are looking to define their backup would be “serviceable”. With Johnson more of a dual-threat, look for him to edge out Skelton.
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