- By Laurel Pfahler Contributing Writer
The Cincinnati Bengals looked to be in midseason form Sunday in the most important game of the preseason.
Playing a Buffalo team they helped to the playoffs last year, Cincinnati’s first-team offense grabbed 17 points in a quarter and a half, the defense pitched a first-half shutout and the Bengals went on to earn a 26-13 win in the “dress rehearsal” to the regular season.
Among the most anticipated performances this preseason, Tyler Eifert appeared in his first game since Sept. 14, 2017, and while he played just 14 snaps, he did have one catch and came out appearing healthy despite being man-handled on another target.
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The Bengals are now 3-0 in the preseason heading into the finale Thursday at home against Indianapolis, when the starters will give way to backups fighting for jobs.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the game:
1. Injuries take a toll
The Bengals received a scare with left tackle Cordy Glenn exiting in the first half with a shoulder injury; however, head coach Marvin Lewis said after the game that Glenn is fine. Glenn was standing on the sideline, talking with teammates while still in pads, after being declared out for the game, which seemed to be a good sign.
Backup left guard Christian Westerman suffered a back injury after playing just six snaps.
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Brandon Wilson also left the game with an undisclosed injury that could create some depth concerns at safety if it ends up being anything significant. Trayvon Henderson could benefit in that regard. He has been impressive this summer and had a sack on Sunday in the second half.
2. Passing game is back
Quarterback Andy Dalton got a standing ovation from Buffalo fans who still appreciate his game-winning touchdown in the 2017 finale to beat Baltimore and send the Bills to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. His performance was just as worthy of the attention of Bengals fans Sunday.
Dalton looked composed in completing 11 of 16 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns before exiting late in the second quarter. The highlight of the passing game came on a 57-yard highlight reel catch-and-run touchdown by John Ross, and A.J. Green got in on the action as well with a 14-yard grab for a score.
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The Bengals have emphasized a need to get back to the deep ball after some struggles in that area last year. Sunday was a good sign Dalton can have that not only with Green – his usual target – but also with Ross, the 2017 first-round draft pick who saw limited snaps last year while dealing with injuries and struggling in the adjustment to the NFL.
Ross did have a disappointing third-down drop, but finished with two catches for 66 yards.
3. Running game needs work
The talk of training camp was a greater focus on the running game in Bill Lazor’s new offense but he’s yet to see the results on the field. Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard combined for just 10 yards on 10 carries in the first half, and the Bengals finished with just 68 yards on 27 rushing plays with seven of those resulting in losses.
Second-year players Tra Carson and Brian Hill led with four carries for 24 yards each and rookie Quinton Flowers had a team-high seven rushes for 12 yards.
4. Defensive line shines
The defensive line has been solid all preseason and on Sunday that was especially the case in the pass rush.
Coming off the edge, Carl Lawson finished with 2.5 sacks and Jordan Willis had a half-sack. Tackle Andrew Billings got in on the action with 1.5 sacks, and Geno Atkins was a force in the middle, as well, pushing Bills guard Vladimir Ducasse into Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s lap on a couple occasions.
The Bengals’ 12.0 sacks this preseason ranks them second among teams that have played just three games so far (two teams have played all four).
5. Offensive line improving
The effort by the D-line shows the Bengals’ offensive line isn’t the worst in the league, but in regard to the pass protection, it’s actually been decent.
The offensive line didn’t allow a sack Sunday, and among the highlights, rookie center Billy Price allowed zero total pressures across his 30 pass-block snaps and hasn’t allowed a single pressure through three games and 59 total pass-block snaps.
The right side of the line continues to be a concern. Alex Redmond got the start at right guard, ahead of incumbent Trey Hopkins, and had a slow start to the game. He allowed slight pressure on the Ross touchdown and had two penalties on the second possession, including a holding call that halted the drive. Bobby Hart played 68 percent of the snaps at right tackle and continues to be the front runner there.