After Cincinnati’s 34-10 dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night, it would be easy to rush to judgment and declare the Falcons to be in more trouble than we thought and the Bengals to be a solid Super Bowl contender.
While the latter may be true anyway, the usual reminder that “It’s only preseason” must be made. Both teams did not have a star wide receiver playing at all.
The starters played only a handful of series to start the game. Both teams were giving new guys a chance to not only shine, but to make their respective squads.
That said, however, there were several things we learned from this first game of the preseason.
Here are five of them.
The Bengals are deep at running back
We all knew coming into the season that BenJarvus Green-Ellis was going to be the No. 1 guy for the Bengals and that the team had several options for backing him up. What we didn’t know was just how many options Cincinnati truly has.
Although the stat sheet will not reflect it, Giovani Bernard (10 rushes, 28 yards, 1 touchdown) appears to be the real deal. The North Carolina product showed why the Bengals drafted him early on with a 15-yard catch off a screen play that could have netted a great deal more yardage if he had not slipped.
That pass-catching ability is something the Bengals coveted from their backfield and Bernard did not disappoint, catching three passes for 16 yards. Bernard also showed that he can bull his way through a hole, as well, with a straight ahead, one-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Speaking of bulls, Rex Burkhead got a head of steam on several plays and plowed through the Atlanta run defense. Burkhead was the leading rusher amongst Cincinnati running backs on the night (more on that in a minute) with 10 rushes for 59 yards. The Nebraska product averaged 5.2 yards per carry over the course of his college career and looked like he could keep up that pace in the NFL.
Cedric Peerman added seven rushes for 26 yards and Dan Herron another 30 yards on eight touches, showing that the Bengals may have some choices to make before the preseason ends.
The Bengals may have found their backup to Andy Dalton
Josh Johnson’s stat line may not look Aaron Rodgers-esque (9-16, 100 yards, 1 TD), but what he did with the ball when he had the opportunity made him look very much like the Green Bay signal caller. Granted, it was just the first preseason game, but Johnson threw the ball well, leading the Bengals to 17 second-quarter points, and also ran the ball well.
And it was that running that added a different dimension to the offense. Atlanta has never done well with mobile quarterbacks, including Rodgers, and Johnson took advantage of that fact on a couple of occasions.
When flushed from the pocket, Johnson took off down the field and was Cincinnati’s leading rusher with 64 total yards, including an explosive 43-yarder.
John Skelton also led the Bengals on a scoring drive in the fourth quarter and had good numbers in limited playing time (4-5, 72 yards, 1 TD), but it was Johnson’s decision-making that really impressed. His athleticism adds something different to the Bengals' offense and coach Marvin Lewis has to be pleased with the results so far.
The Falcons had better hope their offensive line holds up
As good as Josh Johnson looked for the Bengals, Dominique Davis looked bad for the Falcons. Davis’ numbers weren’t horrible (8-19, 78 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), but the East Carolina product often looked confused on plays and made some terrible decisions, including the interception when he was flushed from the pocket, rolled to the right and tried to force a pass along the sidelines, which was picked off by Brandon Ghee.
Davis had flashes of brilliance, such as the touchdown pass to Jason Snelling while under pressure, but he mostly looked pedestrian (49.9 passer rating) and simply couldn’t get the Atlanta offense moving.
Sean Renfree performed in a limited role and completed only two of four passes, so the position appears to be Davis’ to lose. Based on last night’s performance, the Falcons had better hope that the inexperienced offensive line matures quickly and protects Matt Ryan from harm.
Robert Alford is the real deal
The Falcons traded up in the first round to get Washington’s Desmond Trufant at cornerback and Trufant is definitely a future star, especially with the hard-hitting Asante Samuel as a teacher to help guide his career.
However, Alford has had the team buzzing during training camp with his work ethic and playing ability. While he may ultimately end up playing the nickelback role, Alford showed in the game against the Bengals just what Atlanta’s secondary will look like for many years to come.
His stats, again, will not truly reflect what Alford accomplished as he had three tackles and two passes defensed.
It was the nature of the tackles and the passes defensed, however, that should give Atlanta fans cause for cheer in an otherwise dreary preseason opener.
On one of Josh Johnson’s scrambles, Alford came up and met the Cincinnati quarterback and tackled him hard. On the two passes defensed, Alford showed that he will play physically, as he tangled with the receiver and made a play on the ball.
The Falcons let him stay in the game for an extended time and Alford showed that not only is he one of the fastest men on the field, but with his physical style of play, he could be terrorizing wide receivers for years to come.
The Bengals could be a legitimate threat to advance deep in the playoffs
Okay, okay, it’s only the first game of the preseason and the Falcons weren’t exactly playing at 100 percent, so I’m not handing them the Lombardi Trophy just yet, but the Bengals looked good on both sides of the ball.
The run game, as noted above, has several different options, including a pass-catching running back. Tyler Eifert didn’t catch any balls, but looked good in run-blocking for Bernard. Josh Johnson’s running added a different wrinkle that would make A.J. Green even more dangerous if the two get to play together during the season.
Rex Burkhead could definitely add goal-line power to the offense. And I haven’t yet mentioned Dane Sanzenbacher, who not only caught a pass for a touchdown, but also returned a punt for one, as well.
On defense, the Bengals pressured Dominique Davis most of the night. The Falcons negated that pressure when Ryan was in the game by playing from the shotgun formation, but the fact remains that the Bengals knew the Falcons had an inexperienced offensive line and brought the rush.
The result was hurried passes and quick dumps or bad decisions by Atlanta’s backup quarterback. While Ryan did a better job under the pressure, he was hit on several occasions by the Bengal rush, as well. The Falcons made a couple of plays on the Bengals secondary, but not with any consistency, and the Bengals held the potent Atlanta offensive game in check.
Yes, the Falcons were without Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez and played with backups most of the game, but an offensive gameplan is still an offensive gameplan and, simply put, the Bengals' defensive game trumped Atlanta’s offense.
Add to that the special teams play of the Bengals, with a touchdown returned off a punt and Atlanta’s returners struggling to get anything to bring out of the end zone on kickoffs, and it was a thorough domination by the Bengals.
Simply put, they looked good on a night when Atlanta did not.