AJ Green made his first appearance of the preseason. He had three catches for 42 yards, and made it look easy. Green's ability to get open and catch everything thrown his way makes Dalton's job a lot easier, though Dalton and the offense still had quite a bit of success without Green against the Titans and Falcons.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished with five carries and five yards rushing, but he only had the room that the offensive line gave him. He is automatic during short yardage situations, adding another to his extensive resume. Pass protection is another advantage that he has over Giovani Bernard, who wants to prove that he can be an every down back. It's apparent that Bernard is more talented as a runner and receiver, but until Bernard figures out pass protection, it'll take time before he becomes that every-down player. Remember, the health of the quarterback is more important than anything.
Jermaine Gresham continues to prove that he is one of the best tight ends in the league -- once he has the ball in his hands. Gresham led the league in yards after catch last year and it looks like Gruden wants to use Gresham similarly this year. Screens and short passes to Gresham figure to be heavily utilized this year, so Gresham can take advantage against favorable matchups.
Marvin Jones has been excellent at getting separation and catching the football, but fighting for extra yards was costly. After a lengthy opening possession, Jones coughed up the football within the five yard line of the Dallas end zone. Lesson learned for Jones, who was tied up by multiple defenders. Sometimes there are battles that just can't be won.
Brandon Tate had been doing well as a receiver through the first two games, but he finally showed up in the return game against the Cowboys. The first punt by the Cowboy's Chris Jones hit the mega scoreboard, forcing a re-punt. Tate responded by returning it 75 yards for the touchdown.
Andy Dalton finished the night going 12/16 for 113 yards with an interception. Dalton generally did well, but the interception was a glaring mistake. He tried to hit Sanu deep down the middle, but Dalton wasn't able to step into his throw. Nonetheless, it was both a poor throw and decision as the defender was clearly shadowing Sanu underneath. Dalton continues to show the good and the bad every game. He certainly needs to improve his consistency.
Cobi Hamilton was up and down. He fumbled the ball fighting for extra yards on an end-around. Then he made up for it by diving for a touchdown on a bubble screen later in the game. It's clear that Hamilton has a unique skill-set (size/speed) that other receivers vying for a spot (Ryan Whalen and Dane Sanzenbacher) don't have. If Andrew Hawkins is the fourth receiver and Brandon Tate is the fifth, Hamilton is fighting for only one or two spots against Whalen and Sanzenbacher. If Andrew Hawkins goes on IR (which it looks like he will) that will free up an extra spot, increasing Hamilton's odds to make the team. Whalen and Sanzenbacher recorded a catch in the game, but Sanzenbacher elected to return a kickoff 53 yards with under a minute remaining in the game.
Josh Johnson has definitely established himself as the Bengals backup QB, considering John Skelton didn't play. Johnson hasn't run away with it though, continuing to make poor decisions late in the game protecting the football. The Bengals must be uneasy about their backup QB situation.
Orson Charles and John Conner got a combined seven snaps. Is fullback being removed from this team entirely? We will see.
Emmanuel Lamur got the start at strong-side linebacker in place of James Harrison, who sat with an unknown ailment. Lamur is the first backup behind Harrison but a primary defender during nickel situations. Obviously he poses no threat to overtake Vontaze Burfict or Harrison, but Maualuga's starting spot might not be as secure. Keep an eye out. We also still don't know how often the Bengals will use the nickel this year, where Burfict and Lamur are likely to be the only two linebackers.
Dre Kirkpatrick literally became exposed last night. It started when he was forced to match-up against one of the best receivers in the league - Dez Bryant. Kirkpatrick's initial problems were mostly related to not turning and playing the ball. He was close to Bryant each time, but he was flagged for pass interference on one play, gave up a touchdown to Bryant on another when he didn't play the ball early enough. Later in the game, the Cowboys backup receivers continued to beat Kirkpatrick. They mostly used crossing and comeback routes to beat Kirkpatrick. Then Kirkpatrick missed a tackle on a Cowboys touchdown later in the game. Definitely a game he wants to forget. Fortunately, Kirkpatrick is only the fourth corner at best on the team right now. He has time to learn and develop. Maybe one day he'll be able to replace Terence Newman as the second starting corner. Just not today.
Wallace Gilberry continues to prove that he is a great backup behind Michael Johnson. Gilberry is one of the best pass rushers on the team in terms of pressure per snap numbers. He also consistently makes hustle plays and is always near the ball. Yesterday he forced a fumble when he punched the ball out of DeMarco Murray's hands. Gilberry is a playmaker.
Dontay Moch was used a lot and he even generated a sack late in the game. He flashes potential, but it hasn't been consistent enough. Right now, he is the odd man out of the defensive end battle, theoretically sixth behind Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, Gilberry, and Margus Hunt. Fortunately, Moch is eligible for the practice squad if he clears waivers.
The backup defenders showed why they are backups last night. The defensive line didn't play well, making it hard for linebackers J.K. Schaffer, Vincent Rey, and Jayson DiManche to do their jobs. DiManche's play against the run concerns me; he isn't quite physical enough at the point of attack yet. With the first four linebackers already set, there is a battle for only two or three spots. Schaffer, Rey, DiManche and perhaps Sean Porter are involved in this battle. Porter may be headed to IR with a torn labrum.
Devon Still and Margus Hunt got the most snaps of any defensive lineman on the team. Still made a couple plays and Hunt got a sack late in the game. They need the experience, considering they are both backups who have already made the team. Still is currently backing up Geno Atkins as the three-technique defensive tackle with Brandon Thompson second behind Domata Peko at nose tackle. Hunt might not get a lot of snaps with the defense this year because he needs a lot of development, but it was nice to see his tools at work. Hunt's strength and size is impressive. When he gets his pad level down and adds to his pass rushing repertoire, he could be great.