Posted: 5:30 p.m.
In the wake of Thursday night's 24-21 preseason loss to the Rams, the Bengals now get ready to cut five players to get down to the maximum of 75 by Tuesday. Some observations.
1. DON'T WRITE IT IN PEN: Some of the guys that are going to make this Opening Day roster aren't here yet. Particularly at tight end and cornerback and despite the heroics of Quan Cosby and Tom Nelson against the Rams, we could see them going after a seasoned punt returner if one is cut.
Dan Coats and Chase Coffman are two of the three tight ends, but the next big call is going to be with Ben Utecht. If the concussion is going to linger, the Bengals may have to IR him for the rest of the year to make room. J.P. Foschi is a Tony Stewart disciple, a smart guy who made a big 20-yard catch Thursday, but there could be a tight end with more years in that gets cut.
2. NO SAFETY IN NUMBERS: You can do this stuff all day. You figure there are seven defensive backs that are going to make it. Cornerbacks Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, David Jones, Morgan Trent. Plus, safeties Chris Crocker, Roy Williams, Chinedum Ndukwe.
But, do they keep nine or 10? Hard Knocks tells us safety Corey Lynch entered the game against the Rams on the bubble because of tentative play in the first two games. He played better Thursday night and how guys play not just in the secondary but elsewhere is going to determine if the Bengals keep nine or 10 DBs.
How well is rookie fullback Fui Vakapuna playing? If the coaches think he's playing well (and they like his athleticism) and decide to keep two fullbacks, they have to determine he's playing better than Nelson, or whoever would be the 10th DB. And if Nelson is the 10th guy and they decide to go with just one fullback in Jeremi Johnson, would that leave punt returners like Cosby and Antonio Chatman out in the cold?
Nelson had the big punt return Thursday, but he didn't have any defensive stats even though he's got an edge in this scrum because he can play corner and safety. Yet they have to make a judgment if he's developed enough to be ahead of other bubble guys but veterans like Lynch and Marvin White. But don't forget the other safety, Kryries Hebert, last year's leading special teams tackler. You can be sure teams coach Darrin Simmons hasn't.
3. NICE CHANGE: Boy, you don't know what you got if you've never had it. After the dust cleared following the work of Cosby, Nelson and punter Kevin Huber, you can see how excellent special teams can bail out teams that are having horrendous games offensively or defensively or both. With six sacks and four turnovers, the Bengals had no right to be within three or driving for a winning touchdown near the two minute-warning.
Just look at how much of a desert it's been for punt returns during the regular season and how much they mean. Cosby's touchdown return went 49 yards, Nelson almost got one but it went for 44. The Bengals haven't had a 40-plus return since 2004, when Keiwan Ratliff had a 49-yarder against Cleveland and a 42-yarder against the Giants. Both were tight games the Bengals secured in the last two minutes.
4. HOLD ON NOW: The Bengals have to be concerned about the holding calls on the first offensive line. There have been six and everyone has been nabbed but left guard Nate Livings. The latest two came against the Rams from both centers, Kyle Cook and backup Jonathan Luigs. Cook's erased running back Cedric Benson's 16-yard run.
"It stinks because it hurts the team and I don't know who was back there; I think it was Ced, but you hate to lose that and tack on another 10," Cook said. "I thought I just spun him around, but the ref obviously thought differently. You're trying to find out things. Where to put your hands, get better and get ready for the season."
Of course, theren won't be the same number of holds in the regular season. And take Luigs' penalty. He got called for a takedown, but the only reason it was a takedown is his guy's feet got tangled.
It appeared on O'Sullivan's last sack on the first series of the second half that Cook got pushed back and he's going to take a look at the film.
"They had some good guys inside bull rush a little bit," Cook said. "They brought the blitz. They're good players. They're heavy guys. They push you back a little bit. So obviously that's something you know you have to work on. Go into practice and sit down a little bit more, go against it and improve on it."
The Bengals can't have any pushback in the AFC North. But head coach Marvin Lewis and left tackle Andrew Whitworth pushed back after the game when asked if the six sacks and six runs of negative or no yardage meant a step back for the line.
"No, I actually thought it went pretty well," Whitworth said. "There is nothing we can do. We can only block the five guys that we can block, and when they are bringing extra guys and getting sacks, there is nothing we can really do about that. We don't carry the football either. We can only knock holes in people and block people. I definitely think things are going better. The backs are running good, and the line is blocking better. It's just the little things that have to get better. The mistakes are killing us. We are driving on people, then making silly little mistakes and killing ourselves."
5. DEFENSE HANGS IN: After playing their worst drive of the season in allowing the Rams a 71-yard, 11-play touchdown drive on their second series (following a three-and-out drive they allowed minus-one yard), the Bengals defense finished like it has played much of the preseason: Strongly. The next 17 points came off turnovers in drives of 20 and three yards, as well as a 73-yard fumble return for a score. After that second series, the Bengals gave up 173 yards in the final three-and-a-half quarters.
6. TRADE WINDS: Shouldn't the Bengals be able to get something in a trade for the two running backs that don't make it if they indeed keep three and Benson and Bernard Scott are in?
Brian Leonard has proven to be reliable and resourceful. DeDe Dorsey continues to get real estate whenever he plays and Thursday night it was 5.5 yards per pop on four carries. James Johnson always seems to do something positive and Thursday night he was the guy that picked up the blitz to keep Jordan Palmer clean on the 54-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Chris Henry.
Look at Dorsey's numbers in a Bengals uniform; they're quite remarkable. In his rookie preseason of '06, he averaged 7.5 yards per 20 carries. When he rejoined the Bengals at the beginning of the '07 season, he finished at 8.7 on 21 carries before injuries pretty much wiped out '08.
7. HENRY'S PRESEASON: It's hard to know what is more surprising. Henry's numbers that are positively '05-06 like, or Lewis' observation of his all-around play, which he expressed after the game with "Chris scored another touchdown, and Chris also didn't make a tackle on an interception return and had a number of plays that weren't very good. Again, there's more to playing receiver of the football than just catching. There's a lot of other things that have to occur."
Henry has 13 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns, good for 16.7 yards per catch and one TD every 4.3 catches. In '05-06, he was 67 for 1,027 and 15 TDs. Or 15.3 yards per catch and one TD every 4.5 catches.