Posted: 8:30 p.m.
Five observations from Monday night's 24-19 loss in Atlanta. Or as many cornerbacks the Bengals at least have to have on the roster.
Joseph1. Who's healthy on the corner? Marvin Lewis wasn't pleased with the Falcons' completion percentage, but it's something the Bengals have seen all preseason. Opposing quarterbacks have rung up a 101 passer rating against them and the 14 passes of 20 yards or more they have allowed are tied for the NFL lead.
And it's hard to blame the pressure because their 11 sacks are tied for second in the NFL and their run defense is rated second at 66.7 yards per game.
Now the hard part comes because the Bengals have been so nicked in the secondary with injury that they may have to start the season without some people. Cornerbacks Blue Adams (neck) and Ethan Kilmer (quad) have virtually not taken a snap this camp, and with starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph still having some foot soreness, you figure they have to go heavy at corner with six.
That would leave Joseph, Deltha O'Neal, Leon Hall, Keiwan Ratliff, Brandon Williams and rookie free agent T.J. Wright if Adams and Kilmer can't help. But they are knocking out some good safeties if they go with just 10 defensive backs, and Brandon Williams has been hurt himself and hasn't played in the last two games.
Joining the theoretical six corners are starting safeties Madieu Williams and Dexter Jackson, and it's widely believed that rookie safeties Chinedum Ndukwe and Marvin White are going to make it. That's 10, but how can you leave off two of the team's best special teams players in safeties Herana-Daze Jones and John Busing?
Madieu Williams could count as both a safety and corner to get another safety that way. Or maybe they keep 11 DBs and go light somewhere else. That's why the injury to Kilmer (quad) is so tough because if he had been healthy all spring and summer, he probably could have also been counted as a swing safety-corner, too.
Anderson2. Tackles Will Be OK: It's huge news that Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson is coming back to practice this week. The coaches feel like Scott Kooistra, except for a couple of breakdowns in pass protection, has been solid. It shows how much the club thought of him when it didn't have to move Stacy Andrews out of left guard and put him at right tackle when left tackle Levi Jones came back.
But Willie is Willie. You're talking about the best right tackle of his era, and that's Warren Sapp talking.
And it shouldn't be taken for granted what Anderson is doing. News of his return dovetails with news out of Baltimore that left tackle Jonathan Ogden doesn't know if he'll be ready for the Bengals in the Sept. 10 opener.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth may have had two false starts Monday night, but people are buzzing about how well he blocked Pro Bowler John Abraham. Abraham had two tackles and no sacks, and then Whitworth didn't bat an eye when he went over to play right tackle for the first time in a game.
Jones may have looked rusty at times, but wouldn't you? The guy has pretty much not played in a year as he tries to get his knee right and it's not going to all come rushing back in the 20 or so snaps he took in Atlanta. The big thing is he felt good and the knee isn't flaring up on him. Remember, when Jones is right he's as athletic as any tackle in the game and a nightmare for the Pro Bowl speed rushers.
So those are the seven top linemen, right? The four tackles, Andrews, right guard Bobbie Williams and center Eric Ghiaciuc. Because everyone is so versatile, figure the Bengals keep nine. It's an assumption, but Alex Stepanovich is a vet who's played in the pros and is a guy the club seemed to envision backing up center. That leaves a tough choice with some interior guys they really like, like Nate Livings, a guy they've already had for a year, and Dan Santucci, a guy they liked well enough to draft in the seventh round.
Why they haven't been able to run the ball better, though, is a good question. Yet the first group, without its top two tackles, has kept Carson Palmer pretty clean.
Another big question is do the Bengals keep two fullbacks or three tight ends? They could go one fullback and two tight ends, but fullback Jeremi Johnson just played for the first time Monday night and backup tight end Daniel Coats is a rookie.
Thornton3. Time To Get Off The D-Line: One of the nice things about the preseason is that there hasn't been much griping about the defensive line, the favorite whipping boys.
But they're getting sacks and they're stopping the run. They're giving up 2.7 yards per rush, tied for best in the league with the Colts.
The Falcons couldn't block right end Justin Smith or the defensive tackles, John Thornton (two sacks) and Domata Peko (one sack and a hurry). And third tackle Michael Myers is proving to be a very solid addition, as is Kenderick Allen, coming off a five-tackle game. Myers and Allen have combined for 11 tackles this preseason. Sam Adams had 25 all last season.
The Bengals figure to keep nine defensive linemen and they already have nine veterans with rookie tackle Matt Toeaina and rookie end Xzavie Jackson currently making it heavy with 11. Third-year man Jonathan Fanene, an end/tackle, always draws raves when he's healthy and so far he's stayed that way.
Brooks4. Backer Beware: Middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks did some good things Monday and, really, he must be doing something right because the numbers are so good against the run, and he's played a lot of snaps. Maybe more importantly is that he thought he played his best game.
Although he took a bunch of snaps at rush end, don't look for that to be a steady staple. The linebacker who has some pro experience rushing the passer is Jeanty. He had 13 sacks during his final two seasons in the CFL.
Because the DBs have been banged up, the team may have to keep six linebackers instead of seven. If starters Brooks, Jeanty and Landon Johnson, and backups Caleb Miller and Lemar Marshall are leading in the clubhouse, does that mean Ed Hartwell and Andre Frazier are battling for the last spot with rookies Matt Muncy and Earl Everett watching?
But the coaches have to like what Marshall did because he showed exactly why the club signed him last week. Even though he didn't practice until Thursday, he showed up Monday with a stoic professionalism and said he took every special teams snap as well as playing a bunch of snaps in the second-half defense.
But Frazier and Hartwell have been two of the most productive players on defense in the preseason.
5. Flea Market: Yes, even before Tuesday's cut to 75 players, the Steelers released a former 1,000-yard rusher in Kevan Barlow on Monday, but don't look for the Bengals to pursue him. That 1,000-yard season came four years ago, his yard per carry hasn't been better than 3.4 since, and he's been a free agent enough that the Bengals could have pursued him long before this.
Except for a kicker that it looks like they need to work on Friday because of Shayne Graham's hip pointer, the Bengals figure not to jump on anybody cut now and will wait until Saturday's final cut to 53. Part of the thinking is the other guy isn't that stupid and going to cut a guy good enough to make your club that couldn't make his top 75.
The Bengals have the same mindset every year. They're looking for guys that are going to be better than the last guy at each position. That's why that speed back may just not be available with a waiver claim of No. 18.