Rookie left guard Cordell Volson jumped off the line of scrimmage too soon to back the Bengals up five yards to the Giants’ 48-yard line. Jake Browning connected with Trenton Irwin on the next snap, but after catching the pass, Irwin lost the ball when it popped out on the tackle. The Giants had just regained the lead with 42 seconds left after running back Jacques Patrick put Cincinnati ahead on the previous drive.
Here are five things learned from the Bengals’ second preseason game:
1. Evans all but locked into kick return role
Chris Evans again had some carries wiped by holding penalties, so his production in the running game has been limited, but if he hadn’t yet locked down the job returning kicks, he might have done that Sunday.
The second-year player found a hole and cut to the outside for a 73-yard kick return early in the second quarter after the Giants took a 7-3 lead on Jashaun Corbin’s 1-yard touchdown run. His return put the Bengals just outside the red zone and set them up for a 44-yard field goal from Evan McPherson.
Evans took hold of the role late last season when the job opened with Brandon Wilson’s season-ending injury in Week 9. Evans returned kicks in the last two regular-season games and throughout the playoffs.
2. Offensive line ups and downs
Injuries and illness depleted the Bengals’ offensive line this week with Jackson Carman out because of COVID and Isaiah Prince unavailable because of a biceps injury. With the four established starters not playing preseason games, the Bengals only had three tackles available, and then guard/center Lamont Gaillard went down with a right calf injury in the first half Sunday.
That meant Volson, center Trey Hill and left tackle Hakeem Adeniji had a chance to play the whole game. Volson had another strong performance, despite a mistake that led to a Brandon Allen sack and apparent miscommunication between him and Hill that impacted a Chris Evans rush for a loss. Patrick ran right between Volson and Adeniji on his fourth-quarter touchdown for a 22-18 lead.
Cincinnati’s three quarterbacks took just one sack, but penalties were an issue, especially for right tackle D’Ante Smith, who had two holding calls early.
3. Dax Hill keeps making plays
After missing two near-interceptions in the preseason opener, rookie first-round draft pick Dax Hill got his first pick Sunday in the first quarter and continued his impressive showing.
Hill returned the interception 23 yards and the Bengals got on the board on their ensuing drive with a 50-yard field goal from McPherson. Hill finished with six tackles, including a big stop on third down that helped lead to a turnover on downs, and he pressured Daniel Jones on a blitz as well.
“On gameday, he’s shown up,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said on the Local 12 broadcast. “That’s exactly what you want out of a high pick. He’s really given us a lot of comfort there.”
4. Top performers
Undrafted college free agent Kwamie Lassiter and linebacker Clay Johnston were two big performers Sunday. Lassiter led the Bengals’ receivers with 91 yards on seven catches, and Johnston put up a convincing display in his quest to make the 53-man roster, recording 20 tackles.
Although Lassiter has shown his ability as a receiver, making several impressive catches this preseason, he didn’t get much of a chance to show himself on returns, where he may need to stand out to earn a roster spot. He returned one kick for 21 yards but wasn’t given any chances on returnable punts. Lassiter had one blip on offense when he dropped a two-point conversion pass.
Johnston was just all over the place on defense, making 16 of those tackles alone. He stepped in when injuries depleted the linebacker corps last year but the Bengals only use two linebackers and likely will only keep five or six – with four of those jobs seemingly secure.
5. Defensive backups prove up to task
While it’s hard to read much in terms of what to expect this season based on these games without any established starters playing, the Bengals can take some positives from how the defense – with second- and third-string players – performed against the Giants’ starters in the first half.
Cincinnati went into halftime up 9-7, then scored on the opening drive of the second half but then let New York back in the game while the offense struggled, especially on third downs.
The Bengals will get a better idea where they stand this week in two joint practices against the L.A. Rams, when starters will be getting a lot of reps against the Super Bowl champions.
Rams at Bengals, 6 p.m., Ch. 12, 22; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7