The Bengals wrap up their preseason slate on Saturday when they take on the Washington Commanders at FedExField. Cincinnati is looking to close the preseason on a winning note, after suffering a 36-19 defeat vs. Green Bay on Aug. 11 before tying Atlanta 13-13 last Friday. The game against the Falcons provided more takeaways than the final score, however, as the Bengals trotted out their first-team defense for the opening series then continued evaluations on several depth pieces.
The defensive starters had to come up with answers quickly, as Atlanta received the opening kick and marched 78 yards on 16 plays to set up a goal-togo opportunity. The Falcons moved the ball effectively despite having the drive sidetracked by four pre-snap penalties, and were ready to score before QB Desmond Ridder's pass intended for WR Scott Miller was broken up by CB Mike Hilton and intercepted by DE Joseph Ossai. Ossai returned the pick 17 yards, ending the scoring threat and putting on display an opportunistic Bengals defense that ranked in the top 10 leaguewide in red zone defense in 2022.
"It was great experience for them to have to sustain a long drive and find a way out of it, which is what they did," said head coach Zac Taylor after the game. "It's what they tend to do. I think it was good for them to feel game-like conditions against a starting offense and have their back against the wall a little bit and find a way to make a play."
Much of the storyline offensively continues to revolve around the competition for second-string QB. With Pro Bowler Joe Burrow sidelined due to a calf strain, ninth-year veteran Trevor Siemian and first-year pro Jake Browning have shared equal reps in practices as well as the two preseason games. While the Cincinnati offense remained stagnant at times in Atlanta, it put together two drives — one at the end of each half — that resulted in crucial points for the Bengals. Following a turnover on downs at the Cincinnati 47-yard line, Siemian had just 29 seconds to work with in the second quarter and completed passes of 11 and 10 yards to land K Evan McPherson in FG range. The third-year kicker proceeded to nail a 50-yarder as time in the half expired, giving the Bengals their first points of the night and knotting the game 3-3.
In the fourth quarter, the Bengals got the ball back at their own 20 with 3:15 remaining and down 10-6. Browning went four of four on the ensuing drive — completing passes to four different rookies — while scrambling out of the pocket for a first down on back-to-back plays. An 18-yard completion down the left sideline to WR Andrei Iosivas set Cincinnati up with a first-and-goal at the Falcons' five, and two plays later HB Chase Brown plunged into the end zone for the team's first offensive TD of the preseason.
Though the offense still aims to find more consistency heading into this week's game at Washington, Taylor was pleased with both QBs' ability to steer a scoring drive in a hurry-up situation.
We got points on our last drive of each half, which is critical for momentum there," Taylor said. "Trevor did a good job in a tight situation, putting us in field goal range. He made an audible during the drive, did a great job managing and stepped up in the pocket. Then at the end of the game, Jake obviously had the big drive that took us down and scored a touchdown. He had to make some plays with his legs and had to scramble. I thought he saw the field really well. So, I thought there were some positives to build on for both those guys."
While nearly all the offensive starters did not suit up, fifth-year pro Jonah Williams made his first start at right tackle, playing the opening series. Williams, who started 42 games at left tackle over his first four seasons, made the transition across the line during the offseason while also working his way back from a left knee injury sustained in last year's Wild Card Playoff. And though he saw action on just 11 snaps at Atlanta, Williams' performance in camp has impressed the Bengals coaching staff.
"He's made a pretty seamless transition, truthfully," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "Probably better than a lot of guys might have. I think he deserves a lot of credit for that, for his approach, for how well he's played in training camp and in the preseason game. I'm very excited about where he's at and very appreciative of how he's handled that transition."
Check out the best photos from the Bengals-Falcons game in week 2 of the 2023 preseason.
Saturday's matchup serves as a final audition for numerous Bengals players as they aim to crack the 53-man roster. Cincinnati will cut down from 90 to 53 players on Tuesday, Aug. 29, which is 12 days away from the regular-season opener at Cleveland on Sunday, Sept. 10.