So what should we make of Thursday’s 27-13 loss to the Packers?
I learned my lesson in last season’s preseason opener. After the Bengals got stomped 34-3 in Detroit, I remember people joking that Cincinnati was “on the clock” to select Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 draft. Instead, the Bengals went to the playoffs and sent rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to the Pro Bowl.
In other words, there’s no reason to panic after a preseason loss.
But the Bengals have to learn from it.
Perhaps the biggest lessons were provided by Green Bay’s defensive coordinator Dom Capers who did not go with a “vanilla” game plan for week three of the preseason. Capers hit the Bengals with a wide variety of looks and blitzes that limited the Bengals first team offense to two field goals and five first downs in seven possessions. Capers’ 3-4 defense is similar to what Cincinnati will see in the regular season opener at Baltimore.
“They have a lot of young guys defensively and (Dom) is trying to get those guys playing,” said Marvin Lewis. “They have the whole gambit going right now in order to evaluate players and get them going for the season. We have to do a better job of protection and make sure that we give our quarterback an opportunity.”
“In a 3-4 defense they have a lot of options and they played well,” said rookie Kevin Zeitler. “I give them a lot of credit. Their scheme was good and we have a lot of work to do as a team. It’s nice to see the weaknesses now so that we can improve for the regular season.”
One of the Bengals weaknesses last year reared its ugly head again vs. Green Bay – the inability to score touchdowns in first-and-goal situations. Last year, Cincinnati only scored a TD on 14 of 26 (54%) first-and-goal opportunities to tie for 24th in the NFL. In contrast, the Packers scored touchdowns on 80% of their first-and-goal chances. That’s one of the reasons why the Bengals signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a free agent and his imminent return from a foot injury should help, but that’s no excuse for having it first-and-goal at the one yard line and losing 11 yards in three plays.
“What we’re doing is different from what we would do in the regular season, but we still ought to be able to score a touchdown from the one yard line,” said Coach Lewis.
“As an o-line, you always feel like you should be able to get at least one yard,” said Zeitler. “Stuff happened and we have to figure out how to improve so we can get it next time.”
The other valuable lesson on Thursday was provided by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers who gained 52 yards on six scrambles, including a pair of rushing touchdowns. With games against Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, and Ben Roethlisberger on the regular season schedule, the Bengals will have to be able to contain mobile quarterbacks.
“It’s tough to win when you allow the quarterback to run,” said Terence Newman.
“We needed that as a defense,” said Taylor Mays. “We’re trying to figure out what we need to get better at and that’s something that we definitely need to get better at as a whole. We’ll watch the film and find out how we can get better at that, because we can’t win if we don’t get better when the quarterback runs the ball.”
“We did a good job in coverage, but we have to do a better job in containing the quarterback,” said Coach Lewis. “We were making him put it down and run it, but we weren’t put together well enough in the back to do that.”
After dropping their first two games, including an embarrassing 35-10 home loss to Cleveland last week, the Packers responded with their best performance of the preseason on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium. We’ll see if the Bengals bounce back from their first loss with a solid showing next Thursday at Indianapolis.
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