PHOENIX, Ariz.- Sure, the first-team defense has been brilliant in the first three preseason games. No touchdowns. Three field goals. And after Sunday night's 19-13 victory over the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, 2-0 against old friend Carson Palmer.
But everyone figures this defense is going to be OK. It's the offense that is going to make or break this team and that's why offensive coordinator Hue Jackson saw another reason to be confident about Sept. 7 in Baltimore.
It was ugly. It was like trying to run on Pittsburgh and Baltimore with the first teamers mushing it for a measly 2.7 yards per. Four times in the first half they started inside their 10. Quarterback Andy Dalton got nailed in the pocket and then got nailed for intentional grounding. For the first time in the preseason the Ones didn't sore a touchdown.
"On the road. Have a long flight. Arizona. Different stadium. Sunday Night Football," said Jackson, ticking off all the things that could have made it go south. "And we won. No offensive turnovers and we win the game. Now we have to do what we did in the first two games and score some points. Then you can see what our potential can be."
And, let's face it. If the offense is going to make or break this team, Dalton is going to make or break the offense. In the first two games, he was swashbuckling with long bombs and touchdowns. On Sunday he was steel-belted with no turnovers while authoring two field-goal drives taking nearly 10 minutes.
Heading into Thursday's 7 p.m. preseason finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Colts (11:35 p.m., Cincinnati's Channel 12), the count is 11 series for the Ones with three touchdowns and four field goals. The four unsuccessful drives started Sunday's game.
Jackson pronounced Dalton, "On his way," as the Bengals rushed to race the sun home. When they get back home about 5 a.m., Dalton's passer rating is 116 for the preseason while completing 70.6 percent of his passes. His career marks are 85.7 and 60.7, respectively in those two departments.
"I have a veteran quarterback I trust," Jackson said. "We threw it out from back there. It wasn't like we said we're not going to run our offense. We did and that's what I needed to do. I need to continue to keep finding out who he is. Will he take care of the ball? And that's what it's going to take to win some of those games. He's been outstanding and I think he's getting better and better in all the situations that happen."
Here's what Jackson also liked about Sunday night. When Dalton faced a third-and-10 he got some pressure at the knees and he rifled a 13-yarder to Mohamed Sanu over the middle.
"He put his back foot in the ground and let it rip," he said. "That's what you need to do as a quarterback."
This is what Jackson also liked about Sunday night. After the intentional grounding call, Dalton came back to the sidelines and asked Jackson if he should have taken a sack.
"That's one thing we're talking about all of the different scenarios, especially after that one," Dalton said. 'Should I take the ground game? Should I take the sack? What do you want to do in this situation?' I also want to protect myself, too. Yeah, I think just the relationship that we have makes it easy. its dialogue and trying to see what he has to say about all of the situations I'm being put in."
Jackson said next time take the sack. Can't lose the down and 10 yards.
"The things he talks about are good, his eyes are good," Jackson said. "This guy's on his way and I'm excited for him."
This is why Jackson liked Sunday night. The 33-yard seam ball Dalton floated to tight end Jermaine Gresham when the safeties rotated and left the middle of the field wide open.
"They had a blitz on where we were able to attack," Dalton said. "There was a seam and Jermaine just did a good job of getting open and made a good play."
Jackson, of course, would like the red zone drives finished. He would like the running game to be better. But this is what he had in mind this week when he told his team he hoped they would have to overcome some adversity.
"l think that's the big thing we've been preaching," Dalton said. "We've got to take care of the football. You win the turnover battle; you've got a good chance to win the game."
This is why Hue Jackson liked Sunday night. One of the two quarterbacks made a mistake in a defensive game and it wasn't his.