ReFo: TEN @ CIN, Preseason Week 2
The great thing about PFF analyzing preseason football for the first time is that we get to see how players progress each week. We saw some players step up with big performances last week but, with an even smaller sample size for the vast majority of players, it’s important that they step up again and show that this is the level they can play to consistently.
That leads us to the preseason tilt between the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans, two teams with settled quarterback situations that are trying to unseat a division rival from their throne. The 27-19 score won’t be overly concerning to either set of coaches, with the exception perhaps of the Titans’ special teams coach who saw his unit miss three field goals.
So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the performances that stood out, both good and bad, throughout the Bengals’ and Titans’ rosters in this encounter.
Tennessee — Three Performances of Note
Two New Additions at Guard
With a big focus on their interior offensive line this offseason, the Titans used their top draft choice on Chance Warmack (+3.2), and spent big on free agent Andy Levitre (-3.3). A week ago it was Levitre who looked the better of the pair, but this time the roles were reversed. Warmack, who would finish as the game’s second-highest graded player, was perfect in pass protection but it was as a run blocker that he shone. Sealing defenders well at times, he showed his athleticism with a pair of nice pull blocks in the first half.
Contrasting that was Levitre’s day where, like many before him, he struggled to get to grips with Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (+3.6). Beaten by the star defender for three pressures, including a bull rush that saw him driven back into quarterback Jake Locker as he got rid of the ball on 1st-and-10 with 11:32 left in the first quarter, he just never looked settled. Once you add in a false start penalty from the end of the first half, it was a game that he’ll want to forget in a hurry.
Two Plays Zach Wants Back
As his grade indicates, it wasn’t the best day for Titans linebacker Zach Brown (-3.1). Both of his pressures, one hit and one hurry, were of the unblocked variety with nothing doing when he was asked to beat a blocker, and he made just one solo tackle in the running game — also unblocked. However, there were two plays in the passing game that were particularly frustrating for him.
Firstly, on 2nd-and-3 with 4:53 left in the first quarter, he took a poor angle when trying to close on running back Giovanni Bernard, and allowed the rookie to speed by him on his way to a 22-yard gain. Then, on 2nd-and-5 with 5:13 left in the first half, he bit briefly on a play-action fake, allowing a big gain to the Bengals’ other star rookie, tight end Tyler Eifert.
Verner Buried Down the Depth Chart
Given how well he has played for much of his career, it was surprising to see Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner (-0.6) fall down to, what appeared to be from this game anyway, fourth on the depth chart at the position. We’ve been high on his play since he was began coming onto the field in nickel situations in Tennessee, and he handled himself very well for the first three-quarters of his first season as a full-time starter.
That being said, if he wants to climb back up, he’ll have to do better than he did here. He started his half of play well, with a pass breakup on a slant route to Cobi Hamilton on 3rd-and-5 with 9:25 to go in the third quarter. From that point on however, he allowed three receptions from the four passes thrown into his coverage, with all three going for first-down yardage. On 2nd-and-4 with 11 seconds left in the third, Hamilton got the better of him on a slant route and, when Verner failed to secure the tackle, it went from a first-down catch, to a 30-yard gain.
Cincinnati — Three Performances of Note
Harrison Makes His Mark
When the Bengals signed James Harrison (+1.4) it seemed like they were the only ones interested in the veteran. On top of that, many questioned how he would fit in Cincinnati’s 4-3 after spending his whole career in the Steelers’ 3-4 under defensive co-ordinator Dick LeBeau. On viewing this game however, he’s going to be just fine. His pair of run stops in the first half were particularly impressive, showing that he’s still more than capable of having an impact against the run on the edge, and that he can still destroy a lead block when he needs to.
Dalton’s Struggles Hidden?
On a night where Andy Dalton (-1.6) struggled early, with a fumble and two overthrows, it became apparent the Bengals have enough weapons to hide their quarterback’s failing better than in seasons past. He showed last season that he is capable of some good games, while also still having a few really poor ones per season, but, with the additions of Bernard and Eifert, and a return to health for Mohamed Sanu (+1.6), the offense looks ready to roll in 2013.
In addition to forcing a missed tackle and amassing 37 yards on the ground from seven carries, Bernard also showed his versatility with a 22-yard reception. While Eifert will be disappointed with his drop, he added 40 yards on three receptions through the air and, with the Bengals moving him around, showed he can be a valuable weapon against defenses. Lining up in the backfield, the slot and split out wide, Eifert is someone defenses will be forced to keep an eye on going forward. Meanwhile, Sanu is back from his late-season injury and looks better than ever, forcing two missed tackle and scoring a touchdown on three receptions. All that, with star receiver A.J. Green sidelined, and it’s easy to see why people are getting excited about the Bengals’ offense.
One of the more interesting positional battles in Cincinnati this year will decide who sits at No. 2 at quarterback, with Josh Johnson (-1.5) and John Skelton (-0.5) dueling it out. Neither were particularly impressive here, but Johnson had two mistakes in the fourth quarter that won’t have gone unnoticed by his coaches. The most notable of the two was his fumble on 3rd-and-3 with 1:54 left in the game, where his poor ball security gave the Titans a chance to mount a late game-winning drive. However, he also had a throw a few minutes earlier that was just as turnover-worthy, as his fumble. Throwing the ball late on 2nd-and-21 with 5:59 remaining, he allowed Coty Sensabaugh to undercut the route in a play that had pick-six written all over it.
— Tennessee receivers combined to drop four passes, compared to just one from their counterparts in Cincinnati.
— The Bengals’ defense combined for just two missed tackles, far better than the 11 we saw from the Titans.
— Andy Dalton had a NFL QB Rating of 133.1 on throws where he got rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less.
PFF Game Ball
As one of the three biggest threats for the Bengals’ offense, Mohamed Sanu gave the Titans’ defense constant cause for concern whenever he was on the field, with his touchdown sealing the deal.
Follow Gordon on Twitter.