Five Things to Watch: Bengals at Cowboys
1. O-Line Continuing To Gel – A notable storyline for the Bengals-Cowboys matchup will be the offensive lines of both teams, which swapped OL coaches this offseason. Bengals OL coach Frank Pollack came to Cincinnati after five seasons (2013-17) in Dallas, while Cowboys OL coach Paul Alexander joined Dallas after serving as a Bengals assistant from 1994-2017. Alexander's 24 seasons as a Bengals position coach (23 as OL coach) are second-most in team history.
The switch so far has been positive with Pollack at the helm. In the Chicago contest, the Bengals' revamped offensive line provided a clean pocket for quarterback Andy Dalton and created lanes in the running game. Now in mid-August, the linemen recognize there is still progress to be made but believe they have taken a collective step in the right direction.
2. Turnover Trends – Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers. It was a huge emphasis in the offseason with the coaching staff. After the first preseason game against Chicago, highlighting turnovers paid early dividends with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
The numbers back up the importance of having a positive turnover differential. The Bengals are 76-19-1 in the regular season under Marvin Lewis with a positive turnover differential (.797 winning percentage), but only 18-69-2 with a negative turnover differential (.213).
3. John Ross - The second-year wide receiver had a dazzling 20-yard catch against the Bears, showcasing the athleticism that made him Cincinnati's first round pick in 2017. Healthy and enjoying a strong training camp, his performance translated into more run with the first-team offense in practice.
Life as a second-year wide out is all about improving and building toward consistency. Saturday night's contest provides Ross another chance to continue to build on his early success.
4. Youth Movement - The addition of 11 picks in April's draft, coupled with the departures of players like CB Adam Jones and WR Brandon LaFell, have played roles in a Bengals youth movement for 2018. It also means Cincinnati has a chance on opening day to be even younger than they were at the same point last season, which at an average age of 25.45 was the youngest opening-day roster in Marvin Lewis' tenure. (Opening-week roster information, released each year by the NFL, is considered the baseline for comparing year-to-year roster information.)
The defensive side of the ball has seen a significant influx of young talent. Fourteen of the 30 Bengals players to see time on defense last season were either rookies, first- or second-year players, including eight who were on the field for more than a quarter of the team's 1,146 defensive snaps.
That type of volume showcases the importance of Cincinnati's youth movement and finding defensive depth, with 2018 draft picks Jessie Bates, Sam Hubbard and Malik Jefferson getting valuable reps in the preseason.
5. Maximizing Opportunities - There are few opportunities for starters to hit and scrimmage in "live," competitive settings on the practice field.
But with the increased amount of reps this weekend, there will be quality tape to study and corrections to be made before the regular season kicks off in September. That also provides opportunities for players on the 53-man roster bubble to stand out.
For example, one of the most talked-about offensive plays of the Chicago game belonged to rookie seventh-round pick Auden Tate, who out-positioned and out-jumped a Bears defender for a 33-yard TD grab with 2:14 left, giving Cincinnati the lead for good. That play, along with his progress in camp, has opened up some eyes about the depth of the wide receiver group.
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Eastern.
Television: Live coverage on the Bengals Preseason Network with broadcasters Mike Watts (play-by-play), Anthony Munoz (analyst) and Mike Valpredo (sideline reporter). The network is led by flagship WKRC-TV (CBS Channel 12) in Cincinnati. Also on the network are WKEF-TV (ABC Ch. 22) in Dayton, WSYX-TV (ABC Ch. 6) in Columbus, WLIO-TV (FOX Ch. 8.2) in Lima, WDKY-TV FOX Ch. 56) in Lexington, Ky. and WDRB-TV (FOX Ch. 41) in Louisville, Ky.
Radio: The game will air 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).