The Cincinnati Bengals will be in Dallas on Saturday night to play the Cowboys in what is as close to an ideal scenario as they could ask for in the preseason.
The Cowboys are a playoff-caliber team with some high-end talent that will not only provide a challenge, but also a little extra motivation after Dallas rallied to beat the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in December.
The chance to play in Dallas also will serve as a homecoming of sorts for 10 Bengals players who hail from Texas — only California, with 11, has produced more players on the team’s rosters — and for defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who coached the Cowboys for 13 seasons and won a Super Bowl and raised his kids there.
And Cincinnati’s biggest offense’s biggest weapon, wide receiver A.J. Green, is expected to return to action just in time for tonight’s dress rehearsal game, where the starters usually play the first half and sometimes into the second half. Although Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said he doesn’t expect Green, who suffered a knee injury in the first practice of training camp, to play as long as the other starters.
“Internally, this is to get guys more on a regular schedule,” he said. “It is to get the new guys comfortable with the regular-season schedule.
“This is a good team we’re playing,” Lewis added. “They are physical and strong. They have a good quarterback, big and strong wide receivers. A hard running back. Defensively it will be a good challenge for us. For our offense, they have (Anthony) Spencer and (DeMarcus) Ware, good rushers outside and corners. They are tight man to man and linebackers. It’s a good challenge to play a team like that.”
The Bengals first-team defense has yet to record a sack in its first two games, and if it is going to get one tonight it will have to contain the elusive Tony Romo.
In the Dec. 9 game last year at PBS, the Bengals sacked Romo three times. But he also was able to scramble a way from pressure late in directing back-to-back scoring drives that rallied the Cowboys for a 20-19 victory.
“Yeah, he made some plays on us last year,” defensive end Michael Johnson said of Romo. “This is just an opportunity to go compete and put our best foot forward.”
While the first half will look more like a regular season game, the second half may feel like one.
The Bengals, along with the rest of the teams in the NFL, will have to trim their rosters to 75 players by Tuesday and 53 by next Saturday.
“There is still some opportunity for some guys, the ones who are in a ‘this guy or that guy’ situation,” Lewis said.
The Bengals currently have 87 players on the roster, which means 12 will be let go Tuesday. Regardless of what positions they guys on the bubble play, the decision on whether they stay or go ultimately may come down to how they perform on special teams.
“They can make the biggest splash and turn the most heads that way,” Lewis said. “Very few of these guys were special teams players in college after their first or second year in school, because most of them have been two or three-year starters.”
And even if things don’t work out on a deep Bengals roster, there will be an opportunity for some of them to catch on with another team.
“If you look around the NFL, there are guys who have been in that situation, and if you’re deserving you’re going to get another opportunity,” Lewis said. “There are guys who are deserving and are big-hearted and give their all out there. I think people recognize that.”
Who: Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Dallas Cowboys (1-2)
When: 8 p.m.
Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas
TV: Chs. 12, 45
Radio: WCKY-AM (1530), WEBN-FM (102.7), WTUE-FM (104.7)