In a contest between two teams that made the playoffs last year and then didn’t make all that many changes in the offseason, this game had exactly what you would expect out of a preseason game. The most talked about aspect was Cedric Benson facing his former team, the game plans were vanilla, but in the end there were a few plays that looked enough like normal football to make it exciting to watch.
Thanks to it being Week 3 of the preseason, we got to watch the starters for a half of football. As always, we’re just watching when the starters were in, most interested in seeing the top units square off.
Cincinnati Bengals – Three Things of Note
1) The Battle at Cornerback
Last year the Bengals had some trouble at the cornerback position after Leon Hall went down with an injury. Cincinnati addressed the position by adding Terence Newman and Jason Allen in free agency, and then drafting Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round. Here the Bengals were without Allen and Kirkpatrick, so for most of the game the Bengals were in a nickel defense with Hall and Newman on the outside with Nate Clements playing in the slot.
Throughout the half, there were also plays where the Bengals used a base defense even though the Packers were in 3-WR sets, and also used a formation with Jeromy Miles as the slot corner while Clements went to safety.
Leon Hall struggled the most out of the secondary, after allowing two straight catches by Greg Jennings for first downs. A quick out followed by a slant by Randall Cobb caused Hall to slip and led to another big Packers play. Later in the second quarter, he redeemed himself by stopping potential big catches by both Jennings and Donald Driver. Newman also had Jordy Nelson get the best of him twice, but had an interception for a mark in his favor. Although Clements was in for nearly the entire half, he went untested.
2) Few Passing Options
The Bengals’ depth at wide receiver wasn’t all that impressive in 2011 behind A.J. Green, with Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell filling the second and third receiving role. The Bengals are replacing them with Brandon Tate, Andrew Hawkins, and Armon Binns; all players who were lower on the depth chart for Cincinnati in 2011.
Throughout the half, the Bengals went back and forth between Tate and Binns as the receiver opposite Green. When Cincinnati went to 3-WR sets, Hawkins came on the field and played in the slot. Considering Andy Dalton completed just five of 16 passes, it doesn’t look like the Bengals have much more to be optimistic about after this week.
Out of the three, Tate had the best day with two catches. The first was on a comeback route, and the other he found a hole in the zone followed by making a move which caused Jarrett Bush to miss a tackle. If you’re a Bengals fan and looking for some hope, just watch Binns’ one catch as Dalton threw it at just the right time. On more plays than not, the Bengals’ offense looked flat, and the lack of receiving options is partially to blame.
3) Depth at DT
The story of the Bengals’ 2011 season was their rookies on offense, but the emergency of Geno Atkins into an elite defensive tackle was right up there. Next to him was Domata Peko who is far better known thanks to his hair, and a decent player when it comes to run defense. Behind them, the Bengals drafted Devon Still in the second round and Brandon Thompson in the third.
Cincinnati typically substitutes their defensive linemen in and out a lot over the course of the game, and based on how they used Still in this game, it looked like they are ready to give him significant playing time in the regular season.
Still didn’t start the game, but was in later on the first drive to rush the passer. He started the second defensive drive, came back for part of the fourth, and started the fifth drive. Despite all this playing time, he didn’t do all that much with it. The Packers used a quick passing attack with a high number of targets to backs, tight ends, and interior receivers–this didn’t give him much of a chance to succeed as a pass rusher. There was a play where he got some push on Josh Sitton, but Sitton recovered to keep his quarterback clean. In the run game, there was a play that he was able to drive by Jeff Saturday to the correct direction of the run, but the run gap was too far away for Still to hinder the offense.
Green Bay Packers – Three Things of Note
1) Changing of the Backs
Last year the Packers went with Ryan Grant and James Starks at runningback. This year it seemed like Starks would be the guy, but after an injury, Green Bay decided to add veteran Cedric Benson.
2011 third round pick Alex Green got the start and saw significant playing time, but it was Benson who stole the show. Green never had a run go for more than 3 yards, while Benson had a few that involved quick cuts into the opening. While he had just six carries, his 38 yards at 6.3 a clip were good enough to be optimistic about his future in Green Bay.
This is a complete role change for Benson: along with a completely different style of offense, he was used as much on passing plays as on runs. The Packers kept Benson in for drives at a time, including plenty of pass blocking plays and a few routes. He had a nice 10-yard catch which was as big of a pass play as he ever had with Cincinnati in 2011. The only time he typically left the field during drives was after a big play; they let John Kuhn spell him in pass protection for a play.
2) D.J. Smith’s Opportunity
In 2010, Desmond Bishop broke out as a star player when Nick Barnett went down with an injury. Then in 2011 Bishop missed a few games with an injury which allowed D.J. Smith a chance to start and shine. Earlier this preseason Bishop went down again and will miss significant action, so again Smith will be given a shot to show what he can do.
There was a mix of good and bad in Smith’s play. The majority of time he was back into coverage and never tested. The biggest problem is when he was trying to bring down a runner in the open field. On a pass play, he slowed down a receiver but couldn’t bring him down, and on an Andy Dalton scramble, he took a bad angle.
On the other hand, he shined when the Packers were at the goalline. He was successful in covering one of the few tight end receiving targets, and on the following play he helped bring Cedric Peerman down for a loss. There were two plays where he blitzed. On the first a teammate made a sack, and the other came on a quick pass. While it wasn’t quiet the dominant play against the run we saw in 2011 it wasn’t a terrible performance by the second-year player either.
3) Same Old Newhouse
For most of the 2011 season Green Bay had Marshall Newhouse as their left tackle, representing the one weak spot on the offensive line. While the rest of the line are all in the conversation as to the best at their position, Newhouse was amongst the worst pass-blocking and run-blocking tackles in 2011. There was no effort to improve the position over the offseason, so at least as long as Derek Sherrod is out with an injury, the Packers are stuck with Newhouse.
It started out as an embarrassing outing, as on the first drive Newhouse was called for a false start and then a declined holding penalty the following play which ended the series. By far the best outside pass rusher for the Bengals is Carlos Dunlap who missed the game, so for the most part he played against below average pass-rushing talent. He allowed a pressure despite Rodgers typically getting the passes off quickly, and was beaten quickly on a few other plays as well. There were plays where Newhouse got a little help, and we can expect to see more of that as the season goes on if he continues like this.