Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
Television: National FOX-TV broadcast with Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst) and Erin Andrews (sideline reporter). The FOX affiliate in Cincinnati is WXIX-TV (Channel 19). Additional regional FOX affiliates include WGRT-TV (Ch. 45) in Dayton, WTTE-TV (Ch. 28) in Columbus, WLIO-TV (Ch. 8.2) in Lima, WDKY-TV (Ch. 56) in Lexington, Ky. and WDRB-TV (Ch. 41) in Louisville, Ky.
Radio: Coverage on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).Flagship station WLW-AM (700) will join the Bengals broadcast as soon as Cincinnati Reds game coverage is over (the Reds play at 1:10 p.m., with postgame show to follow).
Setting the scene: The Cincinnati Bengals step onto the big stage this week with a Sunday afternoon meeting with the Washington Redskins at FedExField that is televised nationally on FOX-TV. It’s the third exhibition contest for the Bengals, who are 1-1 midway through preseason after suffering a 30-12 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last Saturday in Cincinnati.
First-teamers typically see their most exhibition playtime in the third preseason game. So, for coaches, the game will provide the opportunity to develop the cohesion of the veteran starters, and to test combinations of younger players with those first-teamers.
“You don’t want to lose preseason games of course, but really these games are played for Sept. 10 (the regular-season opener vs. Baltimore) and making sure we have the right 53 players on the roster at that time,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. “This year on defense, as much as any other, there are a lot of battles here where veterans can’t take things for granted. I need to get the young guys in there against (an opponent’s) good players and see if they can play.
“It’s a fine line. Do we want to play the 11 guys we think are going to be the starters the most and let them build up their chemistry in a game? Or, do we want to put some ‘bubble’ guys in there with our best players against their starters in a bit-and-piece type of a defense, to get a good picture of how they are doing? As a coach, I’m always thinking, ‘Do I want the first unit to have some good possessions and then get them off the field, or do I want to evaluate the young guys (by playing them with the first unit)?’ This year (on defense), I’m leaning toward evaluating guys, because that’s important for us right now.”
Another important point, which head coach Marvin Lewis stressed after the Chiefs game, is the fact that extended exhibition playtime raises the level of players’ physical conditioning.
“I want them to get their wind,” Lewis said. “The only way they can get their wind is to stay out there and play. That is good for those guys to have to play through that. My concern is that they go in there, the drives end too early, and then they come out — because then, we are not ready for the regular season. I can’t simulate playing in a long drive against a real football team (in practice) — the pushing and the shoving, the wear and tear on your legs, and all the things that happen up front. There just is no way to mimic the physical part.”
When making that comment after the Kansas City game, Lewis was referencing the fact that the Bengals’ defense played against a Chiefs offense which generated long drives of 12 or more plays in three of its first four possessions. Nevertheless, that sentiment also can apply to the conditioning of the team as a whole, and to the idea that the third preseason game typically is the longest dress rehearsal for the starters in preparing for kickoff weekend.
So, as the starters ready themselves for the regular season and the coaches mix in some of the team’s youngest talent, Bengals fans who are eager for an extended preview of this year’s squad surely will want to watch Sunday’s game. And, while doing so, there are several key storylines they may want to keep their eyes on:
● The starting five on the offensive line: The Bengals lost two veteran offensive linemen in free agency this offseason — 12th-year OT Andrew Whitworth (signed with Los Angeles Rams) and sixth-year G Kevin Zeitler (signed with Cleveland Browns). Both were longtime starters, and there’s no doubt their absence will be felt, but the Bengals had prepared for O-line departures by selecting OTs Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first and second rounds respectively in the 2015 draft. Ogbuehi looks to start at LOT, while Fisher’s ascension at ROT allows the team to move veteran Andre Smith inside to G.
Smith, a 2009 Bengals first-round draft pick, was the team’s starting ROT from 2011-15 and returns to Cincinnati this season after playing with the Minnesota Vikings last year. He is battling second-year player Trey Hopkins for the starting RG position. Hopkins, who originally signed with the Bengals as a college free agent in 2014, started the first two preseason contests at that position and is proving to be a tough competitor, despite having spent his entire rookie season on Reserve/Injured and virtually all of ’15 and ’16 on the practice squad.
● A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert on the field at the same time: Green and Eifert, the Bengals’ top two receiving threats, were fully ready and in the lineup together for only two games in 2016. Green was on pace for the best season of an already remarkable career before playing only two snaps in the last seven games, due to a hamstring injury. And Eifert, a Pro Bowler with 13 TDs in 2015, played in only eight games in ’16 due to ankle and back injuries early and late in the year.
● Rookie skill players on offense: WR John Ross, the team’s first-round pick out of Washington (ninth overall), brings record-setting speed to the team, but he has been slowed while rehabbing a shoulder injury and is looking for his first game action of the 2017 preseason. Ross clocked an exceptional 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine — considered to be a combine record — and he posted career totals of 114 catches, 1729 receiving yards and 22 receiving TDs over three seasons at Washington.
Second-round pick Joe Mixon, a 6-foot-1, 228-pound HB considered to have excellent speed for his size, posted lofty career totals of 300 carries for 2027 yards (6.8 average) and 17 TDs, as well as 65 receptions for 894 yards (13.8) and nine TDs at Oklahoma, despite splitting time in the Sooners’ backfield. He has played in both of the Bengals’ first two preseason games and displayed flashes of his abilities to avoid, shed and outrun would-be tacklers, but a longer look certainly is in order. His preseason totals include 12 carries for 47 yards (3.9-yard average) with two catches for 26 yards (13.0).
Additionally, WR Josh Malone, a fourth-round selection, not only was a deep-ball-specialist at Tennessee with 104 career receptions for 1608 yards (15.5 average) and 14 TDs, he also posted a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the combine, third best among wide receivers and eighth overall. His preseason totals currently stand at five receptions for 47 yards and one touchdown.
● Several new faces on defense: CB William Jackson and DT Andrew Billings both were notable draft picks last year who missed their entire rookie seasons due to injuries suffered early in training camp. Jackson was the team’s first-round pick and had suffered a pectoral muscle tear, and Billings was its fourth-round selection and had suffered a meniscus tear in his knee. Both are competing for significant playing time, and possibly even roles as starters.
Two promising veterans join the Bengals in 2017 — fifth-year LB Kevin Minter and fourth-year DE Chris Smith. Minter signed with the Bengals as an unrestricted free agent in March, after four seasons with Arizona, and is listed as the starting “Mike” LB. With the Cardinals, he started every game the last two seasons and finished second on the team in tackles in each of those campaigns. The Bengals traded with Jacksonville to acquire Smith in April. He was the Jaguars’ fifth-round pick in 2014 and played in just 19 games in Jacksonville from ’14-16. The Bengals’ scouting report on Smith, however, appears to have been a good one, as he has been a noticeable addition to the defense in the first two preseason games. He has totaled just four preseason tackles, including a sack, but he has been visible as a consistently disruptive pass rusher.
Cincinnati also boasts three noteworthy draft picks on defense — DE Jordan Willis of Kansas State (third round), LB Carl Lawson of Auburn (fourth round) and DT Ryan Glasgow of Michigan (also fourth round). Willis was widely considered to be one of the best defenders in Kansas State annals, recording 114 career tackles, including 40.5 for losses and 26 career sacks. Willis’ 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine led all defensive linemen, and his 39-inch vertical leap ranked second. Thus far in preseason, Willis has been impressive in pressuring passers from various spots on Cincinnati’s defensive line, as well as in hustling to make tackles downfield. Lawson played mostly on the defensive line at Auburn, but has moved to LB with the Bengals. He totaled 24 tackles for losses in three seasons with the Tigers, including 14 sacks. At the combine, Lawson’s 35 bench press reps of 225 pounds led all defensive linemen and linebackers, and tied for the top mark overall. Glasgow was considered a strong run defender after a standout career at Michigan. The former walk-on had 91 career tackles with the Wolverines, including 18.5 for losses and five sacks.
And, while he may not be a new face to the defense, second-year LB Nick Vigil certainly is a new name to the starting lineup. Vigil, the team’s third-round pick out of Utah State last year, played as a sub in all 16 games as a rookie. He is penciled in at “Sam” LB this season, and after two preseason games, he leads the team with 14 tackles, which already matches his 2016 regular-season total.
● The safety positions: With injuries removing both starters from the lineup, the Bengals are expected to take long looks at various combinations of DBs at the two safety spots. Sixth-year player George Iloka, the team’s starter at FS, suffered an injury in the team’s third training camp practice and has missed the first two preseason games. Fifth-year player Shawn Williams, the starting SS, suffered an elbow injury in last week’s game against the Chiefs.
The two backup safeties on the depth chart who figure to get the most snaps at those spots are third-year player Derron Smith and second-year player Clayton Fejedelem. Smith, a 2015 sixth-round pick, has played in 28 games in the past two seasons. Fejedelem, the team’s seventh-rounder last year, saw action in all 16 games as a rookie. The lone remaining available safety is rookie Demetrious Cox, a college free agent out of Michigan State. Cox has six tackles after two preseason games, and he has one of the defense’s preseason highlights — an INT in the team’s win vs. Tampa Bay in the first game, made on the the Bengals’ 11-yard line and returned 37 yards near midfield. Rookie S Brandon Wilson, a sixth-round draft pick out of Houston, currently is on the Active/Non-Football Injury list.
The Bengals also are expected to take a good look at third-year CB Josh Shaw at one or both of the safety positions. Shaw, a 2015 fourth-round draft pick out of Southern California, started 12 games last season — 11 as a nickel DB, and one at SS. He finished the season with 47 tackles and he had one INT and three passes defensed. He also ranked third in special teams tackles, with nine.
The series: The Bengals lead the preseason series with the Redskins 5-2-1, including a string of three straight victories. The teams last met in preseason in 2006, with the Bengals prevailing 19-3 at home. Washington’s last victory in the preseason series came in 1983.
Of the eight preseason meetings between the two, four have come in Washington, three in Cincinnati and one in Canton, Ohio. The meeting in Canton occurred on Aug. 2, 1975, and was the Bengals’ first appearance in the Hall of Fame Game. The game is famous — or infamous — in Bengals lore, as it was in 105-degree heat. It’s believed to be the hottest game conditions ever for any Bengals game. The Redskins won that matchup, 17-9.
In regular-season play, the Bengals lead the series 5-4-1. The last meeting was played in London, England, on Oct. 30, 2016, with the teams battling to a 27-27 tie (see “The last meeting” on the next page). Previous to that meeting, the Bengals had won the last three matchups. The Redskins’ last regular-season series win was a 34-27 decision at Cincinnati in 1991.
The regular-season series includes a pair of decisive results for the Bengals:
● In the 1988 season finale, at Riverfront Stadium, the Bengals won 20-17 in overtime, finishing 12-4 and clinching the AFC home field advantage for
the playoffs. But it took a stroke of good fortune to reach Jim Breech’s
20-yard winning field goal 7:01 into OT. On the final play of regulation, Washington K Chip Lohmiller had a 29-yard FG try glance off an upright for a miss. The Bengals went on to win their two home playoff games and advance to Super Bowl XXIII.
● In Game 15 of 1985, the Bengals traveled to RFK Stadium, fresh off a 50-24 shelling of Dallas that had Cincinnati tied at 7-7 for the AFC Central lead. The playoffs seemed to beckon when the Bengals took a 24-7 lead on the Redskins, but Washington scored 20 unanswered points to win, 27-24. Redskins WR Art Monk caught 13 passes for 230 yards, both figures setting Bengals opponent records at the time. The Bengals’ playoff hopes were extinguished prior to their season finale the next week. Their only title hope was in a three-way tie with Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and prior to Cincinnati’s finale at New England, a Pittsburgh loss to the N.Y. Giants in a Saturday game clinched the title for Cleveland.
Bengals on big stage in preseason: The Bengals’ success in recent seasons has made national television games a regular feature of the preseason. This week’s game is the Bengals’ 12th national preseason contest under head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals are 7-4 for the previous 11, including 2-0 on FOX.
“It’s good for the team to have this experience in preseason,” Lewis said. “The atmosphere is a little different for a national game. We’ll have our share in the regular season, and it’s all a part of getting prepared for that.”
Here’s a recap of the Bengals’ nationally televised preseason appearances under Marvin Lewis:
DATE OPPONENT RESULT NETWORK
8-13-06 WASHINGTON Bengals, 19-3 NBC
8-28-06 GREEN BAY Bengals, 48-17 ESPN
8-27-07 @Atlanta Falcons, 24-19 ESPN
8-11-08 @Green Bay Bengals, 20-17 ESPN
8-8-10 Dallas* Cowboys, 16-7 NBC
8-20-10 PHILADELPHIA Bengals, 22-9 FOX
8-16-12 @Atlanta Bengals, 24-19 FOX
8-8-13 @Atlanta Bengals, 34-10 ESPN
8-24-14 @Arizona Bengals, 19-13 NBC
8-24-15 @Tampa Bay Bucs, 25-11 ESPN
8-28-16 @Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-21 NBC
* — Pro Football Hall of Fame Game (Canton, Ohio).
Bengals-Redskins connections: Redskins head coach Jay Gruden was Bengals offensive coordinator from 2011-13. Gruden is also from Tiffin, Ohio, and played at the University of Louisville ... Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was the Redskins’ defensive coordinator in 2002 ... Bengals LB Nick Vigil and Redskins LB Zach Vigil are brothers ... Five Bengals assistant coaches have spent time on the Redskins’ coaching staff: linebackers coach Jim Haslett (2010-14), defensive coordinator Paul Guenther (2002-03), defensive line coach Jacob Burney (2010-14), quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor (2004-07), and strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton (2002). Lazor also coached at the University of Virginia from 2010-12. ... Redskins WR Terrelle Pryor played at Ohio State University and was with the Bengals for a portion of the 2015 offseason ... Redskins LB Chris Carter was with the Bengals from 2014-15 ... Bengals HB Cedric Peerman is from Gladys, Va., and played at the University of Virginia ... Bengals DT David Dean is from Virginia Beach, Va., and played at the University of Virginia ... Bengals C Russell Bodine is from Scottsville, Va. ... Redskins WR James Quick is from Louisville, Ky., and played at the University of Louisville ... Redskins WR Jamari Staples and LB Josh Harvey-Clemons also played at the University of Louisville ... Bengals secondary coach Robert Livingston played at the College of William and Mary ... Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban played at Washington and Lee ... Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle coached at the University of Maryland from 1994-96 ... Bengals assistant linebackers/quality control coach David Lippincott coached at the University of Richmond from 2005-07 ... Redskins assistant offensive line coach Kevin Carberry played at Ohio University from 2001-04 ... Redskins defensive quality control coach Cannon Matthews attended Ohio University and coached at Kentucky Christian University in 2012.
BENGALS-REDSKINS 2016 NFL RANKINGS
SCORING (AVERAGE POINTS):
Points scored.................... 24th (20.3) 12th (24.8)
Points allowed.................... 8th (19.7) 19th (23.9)
NET OFFENSE (AVERAGE YARDS):
Total................................ 13th (356.9) 3rd (403.4)
Rushing.......................... 13th (110.6) 21st (106.0)
Passing........................... 15th (246.4) 2nd (297.4)
NET DEFENSE (AVERAGE YARDS):
Total................................ 17th (350.8) 28th (377.9)
Rushing........................... 21st (113.3) 24th (119.8)
Passing........................... 11th (237.5) 25th (258.1)
Differential..................... 12th (plus-3) T-17th (even)
The last meeting: Bengals 27, Redskins 27, Oct. 30, 2016, at Wembley Stadium (London, England). Appearing for the first time in the NFL’s International Series, the Bengals played their third tie in nine seasons, with missed place kicks playing a significant role in the deadlocked result. Bengals K Mike Nugent missed a PAT in the third quarter, a factor in the game reaching OT, and Redskins K Dustin Hopkins missed a 34-yard FG try late in the OT period. Hopkins had made an apparent game-winning kick just moments before, but officials ruled that the Bengals had called a timeout to “ice” Hopkins just an instant before the snap. The Bengals were bested in yards (546-415) and turnover differential (minus-one), but they cashed all four of their red-zone opportunities for TDs while holding the Redskins to one of four. Cincinnati had a pair of 100-yard receivers — WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert — in the same game for the first time since September of 2011. Washington QB Kirk Cousins passed for 458 yards, most by any passer against the Bengals since 2006. Cincinnati exited the contest with a 3-4-1 record, while Washington went back to the states at 4-3-1. The game was not only the first tie among 17 contests in International Series London games, it was the first to go to overtime.