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Five things to watch: Bengals at Falcons

WR Trenton Irwin catches the ball during the Packers-Bengals preseason game at Paycor Stadium on Friday, August 11, 2023.
WR Trenton Irwin catches the ball during the Packers-Bengals preseason game at Paycor Stadium on Friday, August 11, 2023.

The Bengals continue their preseason slate with a Friday night matchup against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game airs at 7:30 p.m. on the Bengals Preseason TV Network (Local 12 in Cincinnati). Here are five things to watch:

1. The backup quarterback competition heats up

Quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Jake Browning have been splitting reps with the first team since Pro Bowl QB Joe Burrow sustained a calf strain on July 27. Nailing down a definitive QB2 is certainly a priority for head coach Zac Taylor and the Bengals. In his Monday news conference, Taylor did give a hint to how the load will be shared in Atlanta.

"The plan is for Trevor to get the first half of the game and Jake to get the second half," Taylor said.

Browning started and played the entire first half against the Packers, hitting 10 of his 17 passing attempts for 95 yards with an interception. Siemian clocked in for the second half and went 15 of 28 for 121 yards and a pick.

While both quarterbacks continue to battle it out in practice, Friday's contest will provide another opportunity for one to get a leg up in the competition.

2. A wealth of talent at receiver

Preseason offers a glimpse at the depth in the Bengals' wide receiver room.

Andrei Iosivas, the team's sixth-round pick out of Princeton, has been turning heads all throughout camp with his 6-3, 205-pound frame and physicality, as well as his ability to make contested catches. He led the Bengals with 50 receiving yards on four grabs in the preseason opener and now looks to follow that performance with more highlights in Atlanta.

Trenton Irwin has carried a strong finish to the 2022 campaign into training camp, as the fourth-year pro is making impressions on a near daily basis with consistency bookending his acrobatic catches in team drills. Irwin's lone reception versus Green Bay was the Bengals' most explosive play through the air, a 32-yard catch and run that set up a first-quarter field goal.

The remainder of Cincinnati's receiving room is chalk-full of young contributors with speed and finishing ability. Names to look out for on Friday include Kwamie Lassiter II, who had a team-high six catches in the opener, and Shedrick Jackson, who saw action on 23 offensive snaps while also returning three kickoffs for 65 yards.

3. Chrisman re-enters the punting competition

The Bengals began training camp looking forward to an open competition for the team's punting role between second-year pro Drue Chrisman and rookie Brad Robbins, but the evaluation was put on pause as Chrisman dealt with a medical issue.

Robbins has handled all of the team's punting and holding duties over the past two-plus weeks, and in his preseason debut recorded five punts for 224 yards (44.8 average). His longest boot, a 65-yarder in the fourth quarter, crept into the end zone for a touchback, but earlier in the period he had one downed at the Green Bay 19-yard line.

Chrisman returned to full participation during Sunday's practice and projects to get reps in the second preseason game. After taking over the punting job in Week 11 last season, he averaged 47.8 yards on 28 punts with 13 downed inside the opponents' 20.

4. Anderson looks to build on memorable opener

Perhaps the most optimistic performance in the preseason opener came from second-year safety Tycen Anderson, who had two interceptions in the second quarter alone including a 43-yard pick six. A Toledo, Ohio native, Anderson showed promise in last year's preseason, but a hamstring injury kept him on the Reserve/Injured list for nearly his entire rookie campaign. Now fighting for a spot on 53-man roster, he hopes for a repeat performance Friday night.

"A lot of hard work went to get to this moment here," said Anderson following the Packers game. "A lot of things that you guys didn't see that I was going through last year – I'm just blessed to be part of this with the group of guys that we're here with. I'm happy to be able to make those plays when the ball comes my way."

5. Pass rush aims to get home

The Bengals have sought to solidify depth along the defensive line over the past three drafts, bringing in the likes of Joseph Ossai (2021), Zach Carter ('22) and Myles Murphy ('23). Each player figures to see substantial action on Friday, and getting a sack on the stat sheet could go a long way toward consistent playing time in the regular season.

Cincinnati got to the quarterback just once in last week's preseason opener, when Raymond Johnson III forced an Alex McGough fumble in the fourth quarter that was recovered by Domenique Davis. While several newly minted position groups behind the D-line are still developing chemistry, the Bengals will rely on their pass rushers for production over the next two weeks.

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