The Bengals didn't put a lot of great things on tape in Saturday's 24-18 loss to the Cowboys during their first trip to JerryWorld, but they had enough players in the DNP column to wonder what it all means.
They didn't get a great pass rush, but two of their best ends were on the bench.
They got an unsettling and unsteady game from a first-round draft pick in cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. But the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart didn't play.
The NFL's No. 1 running game stalled with the starters, but the team's best run blocker went down with a knee injury, the Pro Bowl left tackle still has yet to play this preseason, and the Bengals only ran it eight of 21 plays in the first half.
And that's as good as any place as any to start.
It's probably why the Bengals only cut six players Sunday and not the full dozen. They have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to get to 75 players from 81 and they can use the 48 hours to see where some of their injured guys are as they prep for Thursday's 7 p.m. preseason finale against the Colts (11:35 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium.
It's believed the Bengals dodged a bullet with right tackle Andre Smith's benign MRI Sunday. He was walking around smiling after the game and head coach Marvin Lewis said he'd be back for the Sept. 8 opener, but he'll most likely get shelved this week.
Throw into the mix left tackle Andrew Whitworth's rehabbing knee. He thought he was going to be ready for training camp and he did work the first three days. Then the club backed him off for 10 days and eyed his debut against the Cowboys when he came back to practice about 10 days ago. After stringing together a few days, he's been in and out and he didn't make the trip to Dallas. Whitworth has been insisting his experience allows him to be able to play in the opener with little work.
Ends Carlos Dunlap (concussion) and Robert Geathers (shoulder), cornerbacks Adam Jones (rib) and Brandon Ghee (concussion), SAM backer James Harrison (unknown) and tight end Tyler Eifert (wrist) didn't play Saturday and they may not Thursday but indications are the club expects all of them to be ready for the opener that is now just two weeks away.
Kirkpatrick and cornerback Shaun Prater may also be limited this week. They suffered hits to the head late Saturday.
It's those guys that are going to play Thursday. If the starters even play, it will be very little.
A look at the roster after Saturday's work (NFL years in parenthesis):
Josh Johnson (5), John Skelton (4), Andy Dalton (3), Zac Robinson (2).
Skelton didn't play Saturday, which indicates the No. 2 job seems to be Josh Johnson's. But Skelton is going to play plenty Thursday night and, who knows, maybe the Bengals keep three. Johnson showed up again running and passing (his best throw may have been a bullet on the run dropped by tight end Richard Quinn) in leading the Bengals to another touchdown, the fourth he's engineered this preseason. His pick with 38 seconds left came when he got blown up in the pocket as he threw.
Dalton put on a pretty good show Saturday, although no doubt he'd like to have his interception back. He was hurried by Cowboys right end DeMarcus Ware, but there were too many white shirts down there to chuck it.
His passer rating was only 68, but Dalton completed 12 of 16 and he came within a heel (A.J. Green's that barely stepped out of bounds on the fade for a TD) of a 93.5.
Brandon Tate (5), A.J. Green (3), Andrew Hawkins (3), Ryan Whalen (3), Dane Sanzenbacher (3), Marvin Jones (2), Mohamed Sanu (2), Taveon Rogers (2), Cobi Hamilton (R), Roy Roundtree (R).
OK, so if Hawkins (ankle) goes on injured reserve-recall, who is the fifth guy that is active on Opening Day behind Green, Sanu, Jones and Tate? Sanzenbacher may very well have locked up a spot with his 53-yard kick return on top of his 71-yard punt return in the opener. If so, the battle for the sixth spot brewed into the fourth quarter.
Hamilton, the powerfully-built sixth-rounder, bounced back from a lost fumble earlier in the game by converting a fourth down and scoring a touchdown on a four-yard catch-and-run bulling his 205 pounds over 178-pound cornerback B.W. Webb. Whalen then caught the ensuing two-point conversion by doing what he does and finding a hole in the zone.
It's the classic debate. Right now, Whalen is the better all-around player with tenacious blocking, reliable hands, and alert special teams play. Hamilton may—may—have more upside but he's not there yet. Whalen has a better shot being active in Chicago and helping the team this season if that's what it is seeking.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (6), Bernard Scott (5), Cedric Peerman (4), Daniel Herron (2), Giovani Bernard (R), Rex Burkhead (R).
The Bengals keep four, right? The two behind BJGE and Bernard? (Both BJGE and Bernard looked excellent, by the way, on Saturday.)
If you want to read between the NFL's snap counts, Burkhead had 11 plays Saturday, Herron six, and Peerman four. That would suggest Peerman isn't on the bubble and is safe as a special teams quarterback. Burkhead had another solid night running and catching. Herron flashed with a good block on Sanzenbacher's return but he also didn't pick up a blitz. The sense is that Peerman and Burkhead can do more things backing up and playing special teams, but as Marvin Lewis would say, play it out.
Scott (knee) is ticketed to PUP and it was interesting that he made the trip home to keep his rehab going.
Chris Pressley (5), John Conner (4), Orson Charles (3).
Tough one to call here if you're going by the Saturday snaps. Conner got four and Charles two. But Charles nearly had twice as many snaps on special teams, 11-6. Yet on the first third-and-one, Conner rolled out and paved the way for BJGE's six-yard run. But Charles also made hay as the lead blocker Saturday. Maybe the number of special teams snaps is a guide and maybe it's not but it highlights Charles's versatility. Conner is clearly a better lead blocker because he's done it. But what Charles has going for him is he has been trained in two spots and he can do more damage in space. Yet in the end the Bengals could opt for that crushing fullback.
Alex Smith (9), Jermaine Gresham (4), Bryce Davis (1), Tyler Eifert (R).
Smith was used plenty Saturday (47 percent of the snaps) and he displayed why the club likes him. He knows who to block, he's willing, and he was a figure of prominence in that second-half TD drive the Bengals rushed for 27 yards on five carries. He also had a big block on Johnson's 14-yard zone-read run.
So there's a real possibility the Bengals keep four tight ends, if you count Charles, and no fullback.
LT Andrew Whitworth (8), T Anthony Collins (6), C Kyle Cook (6), T Dennis Roland (6), G Mike Pollak (6), RT Andre Smith (5), G Clint Boling (3), G Kevin Zeitler (2), C Trevor Robinson (2), G Otis Hudson (2), T Tanner Hawkinson (R), T Reid Fragel (R), C T.J. Johnson (R), T Jason Weaver (R), G John Sullen (R).
Interesting that no offensive lineman got cut Sunday. With the starting tackles going into the season with knee issues, the club has to be careful. How careful? Do the Bengals keep 10 instead of nine and go light elsewhere? Or do they stay with nine, but go heavier at backup tackle than center-guard?
Pollak has had a pretty good camp and Robinson played well as a rookie last year in the center-guard category, but Cook looks to have beaten him out with steady improvement since the opener as he continues to knock the rust off. Can the Bengals afford to keep two backup centers with the health issues at tackle?
In Collins and Hawkinson they've got two tackles that can also play guard. So can right tackle Dennis Roland. The Bengals like the potential of a project at right tackle in converted tight end Reid Fragel. Does he have enough polish to make the 53? He gave up the pressure that allowed Johnson's pick but is a good athlete with upside.
Collins looked like he held up well against one of the game's elite rushers in Ware. Ware got a hand in as Dalton threw a pick and made him get rid of it quickly a few times, but Collins also kept him off enough to help Dalton complete 72 percent of his passes. Collins really did a nice job on the third-and-11 on the cusp of the red zone where Dalton had time to hit wide receiver Marvin Jones over the middle for that 16-yard gain that resulted in a fumble.
E Robert Geathers (10), NT Domata Peko (8), E Wallace Gilberry (6), RE Michael Johnson (5), LE Carlos Dunlap (4), DT Geno Atkins (4), LE Dontay Moch (2), DT Devon Still (2), NT Brandon Thompson (2), RE DeQuin Evans (1), RE Margus Hunt (R), NT Terence Stephens (R).
Before we say anything else, let's just say this: Atkins is a beast, a monster, a load. Whatever. Tony Romo had to wake up Sunday thankful Atkins doesn't play in New York or Philly because the Cowboys didn't lay a hand on him.
Thompson finally made his debut Saturday after hurting his knee in the first padded practice and took 44 percent of the snaps. Some good, some bad, but he showed his strength at times and how he can use it with unique athleticism.
When he plays high and gets blown up, Hunt keeps showing why he's not going to play much early this season. When he plays low and gets a sack like he did Saturday, it's why the Bengals think they're going to have an emerging player a year from now.
Moch continues to flash in passing downs (he had his second sack of the preseason Saturday), but the reigning project is Hunt. Moch may get a shot on the practice squad.
James Harrison (10), Rey Maualuga (5), Vincent Rey (4), Vontaze Burfict (2), Emmanuel Lamur (2), Brandon Joiner (1), J.K. Schaffer (1), Sean Porter (R), Jayson DiManche (R), Bruce Taylor (R).
Rey played nearly half the snaps from scrimmage and more than half on special teams and with no one playing lights out behind him he figures to be the fifth backer behind Lamur because he can play all the spots. With Joiner (knee) and possibly Porter (shoulder) headed to injured reserve, that would indicate DiManche and Schaffer are vying for the 53 and the practice squad. Both played well in spurts Saturday, but both also made some mistakes. Stay tuned.
Harrison practiced just once last week before not playing Saturday, but that looks to be the benefits of being 35 and a one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Just show him to the hotel lobby in Chicago.
CB Terence Newman (11), CB Leon Hall (7), CB Adam Jones (7), S Reggie Nelson (7), CB Brandon Ghee (4), S Taylor Mays (4), S Jeromy Miles (4), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2), S George Iloka (2), S Tony Dye (1), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (1), CB Shaun Prater (1), S Shawn Williams (R), CB Onterio McCalebb (R).
With Ghee and possibly Kirkpatrick and Prater battling blows to the head, if the Bengals didn't think they should have kept six corners then they do now. It sounds like Jones (rib) and Ghee are going to be OK for the opener.
When Kirkpatrick got promoted to third corner Saturday in their absence, he was far from good. But at times he displayed excellent man coverage. On one play he was all over Cowboys Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant, but didn't turn his head around in time and was flagged when the ball hit him in the back. Then Bryant had to sky over Kirkpatrick for a third-down, five-yard TD catch with Kirkpatrick again all over him. But no doubt the coaches are going to emphasize ball skills to Kirkpatrick, among other things.
With Iloka (hand) out for the second straight week, nobody took the bull by the horns at the safety opposite Nelson. Mays did what he has done since he got here two years ago and struggled in coverage on Romo's TD pass to Miles Austin. It remains to be seen if he's in a battle with Miles on the bubble, or if the fourth safety is on somebody else's team at the moment. Whatever goes down, it looks like six corners are going to be involved and that would suggest Prater and Lewis-Harris are going at it. Lewis-Harris got flagged for a 36-yard penalty Saturday and Prater got dinged, so that's playing out. The Bengals do like Prater's possibilities in the slot.
K Mike Nugent (9), P Kevin Huber (5), LS Clark Harris (5).
With rookie kicker-punter Quinn Sharp released Saturday, the trio is simply tuning up Thursday for their fourth straight Opening Day start together.