Andy Dalton, Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap, Case Keenum, Chad Kelly, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Ezekiel Elliott, Geno Atkins, George Iloka, Hard Knocks, Jaylon Smith, Jeff Driskel, Jessi Bates III, Jordan Willis, Matt Barkley, Mitch Trubisky, NFL, Nick Foles, Pre-Season, Roquan Smith, Sam Hubbard, Sean Lee, Trey Burton
Having concentrated on the Cleveland Browns and Hard Knocks over the weekend it’s now time to focus in on the week two pre-season games for the teams I’m following.
Firstly we have the Cincinnati Bengals who travelled on the road to face the Dallas Cowboys and got their second win of the pre-season running out 20-10 winners but I am not getting over excited yet. What won the game for the Bengals was their depth as for a lot of the game they were losing and they didn’t score any points in the first half.
The big question for this team is still the revamped offensive line and the reason that is important is that Andy Dalton’s strength is his quick decision making and ability distributing the ball but he is not able to play like that under pressure and so far the offence hasn’t sparkled. The big pre-season test is coming this week in the third game, but the truth is that as well as a revamped line the offence has a new playbook and calling system so it may well take some time for things to truly bed in. We will know more once the regular season has been under way for a couple of weeks, but Dalton cannot miss the throws he did in this game and hope to succeed. That said, there are flashes from the young receivers and again Jeff Driskel led the quarterbacks in yardage although he did throw an interception, whilst Matt Barkley got himself a touchdown.
The Bengals’ defence also has a new approach as they have a new co-ordinator this year and the big news post the week two game is the surprise release of George Iloka. There has been a lot of talk about the focus being on turnovers this season, and the Bengals clearly have been looking at this position all off-season as they had free agents come in before they picked Jessie Bates III in the second round of the draft, but I don’t think anyone was expecting the Bengals to cut their starting safety.
It really looks like the Bengals are placing a premium on speed at the moment but the strength of the Bengals’ defence looks to be pass rush and they were able to get pressure throughout the game and finished with five sacks and seriously exposed some of the backup Cowboys’ offensive linemen. It’s good to see rookie Sam Hubbard getting a strip sack and Carl Lawson also got a sack picking up from his strong rookie season last year while Jordan Willis (another of last season’s rookies) managed a pair of sacks so the depth of rusher really seems to be there without mentioned Geno Atkins or Carlos Dunlap.
As for the Cowboys, we don’t know how Ezekiel Elliott will play this year but if he plays the full year at something like his best they will be a difficult team to deal with and to me the defence looked good early in this game. They could still be as reliant on Sean Lee as they were last year but fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith looks like he is finally beginning to get back some of the form that made him such a tantalising draft prospect before the horrible knee injury in his last college game. It was a shock to many for Smith to be picked in the second round and he was still hampered last year (wearing a brace to support his foot) but he could be a big addition to the defence this year.
The Chicago Bears travelled to Denver to face the Broncos and they may have conceded the first safety that I have seen this year, but they ran out 23-24 winners to give the Bears their first win in three attempts.
The Bears revolution on offence continues and whilst there is still plenty of work to do I would say they are better than last year. There were several additions in the off-season but the obvious one in their game against the Broncos was tight end Trey Burton, he of the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl. He lined up in several places round the formation and caught four balls for forty-five yards and a touchdown as well as appearing to be one of Mitch Trubisky’s favourite targets. There were some problems in pass protection, but when you’re the right tackle with no obvious help, pinned behind your own five-yard line, and Von Miller is lurking I think I might have false started too. The problem with pre-season re-surfaces here as you have to really know who is playing for what reasons and with the lack of coaches tape it’s hard to really dig into plays but I do see a step forward for the Bears but they have an incredibly tough division so let’s not get too excited yet.
The Bear’s defence got pressure in the game and came up with three sacks but this is one of the games where multiple lowering the head penalties came up and whilst everyone is adjusting to the new rule (and it is incredibly hard to adjust when the game is played at such a pace) the Bears will have to watch out for this if the officials call the penalty in the same way during the regular season. It doesn’t seem that surprising that rookie Roquan Smith is being eased in slowly after holding out through the start of camp until last week, nor that he didn’t finish practice Tuesday because of a tight hamstring. The Bears will need to get him into football shape before he hits the field and so the fans will have to wait for their first glimpse of the first round pick and it could be the regular season before he makes the field.
As for the Broncos, the offensive line still seems to be a worry but Case Keenum is an improvement on what they had last season at quarterback and it appears that Chad Kelly has overtaken Paxton Lynch on the depth chart. The defence is different, having lost still more players from the Super Bowl winning iteration but it can still be scary and so this could be an improved year for the Broncos but I’m not confident enough to declare that it will be.
Next week is the dress rehearsal games and the most we will see of the starts before the start of the regular season, which feels much closer than it ought to.
I’m sure the coaches feel the same.