ANALYSIS: 5 takeaways from Bengals’ preseason opener

CINCINNATI — A few key position battles became a little clearer after the Cincinnati Bengals’ preseason opener.

The Bengals lost 36-19 to the Green Bay Packers in their first of three preseason games Friday at Paycor Stadium. While one game won’t necessarily make or break anyone on the roster, much could be learned from both the good and bad moments for certain players.

Safety Tycen Anderson perhaps came out the biggest winner with two interceptions, including a pick-6 to account for Cincinnati’s lone touchdown, but just as telling was the list of who didn’t play Friday while the team decided not to use most starters.

Here are five takeaways from the first preseason game ...

1. Quarterbacks struggled; Burrow works out

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he saw some good things from Jake Browning and Trevor Siemian but didn’t sugar-coat the fact neither one of them carried the offense into the endzone Friday. A defensive touchdown and 12 points on field goals accounted for all of Cincinnati’s points.

Browning and Siemian are competing for the backup job and are getting chances in training camp to run the first-team offense, but even the team’s elite receivers haven’t been able to make them look up to standard. None of the starters on offense played Friday, so the weapons weren’t as plentiful, but Green Bay backup Sean Clifford managed to lead his reserve-laden offense to the endzone three times during his time in the game.

Both of the Bengals’ quarterbacks threw interceptions, but Siemian was nearly picked off two other times. Browning, who started and played the first half, struggled slightly less and has probably had the stronger camp to this point. Meanwhile, Reid Sinnett did not play Friday.

“They moved the ball at times,” Taylor said. “Ultimately, their job is to get us in the end zone. Offensively, we didn’t get the ball in the endzone at all. Kicked some field goals, had the defensive touchdown. Ultimately, that’s what we’re judged on — protecting the football and getting the team in the end zone. Not enough of that tonight.”

Joe Burrow was throwing 50-yard passes without issue before the game.

Burrow has not practiced since he strained his right calf during the second day of training camp July 27, and Friday marked the first activity he’s done in public. He wasn’t even using the protective compression sleeve he’s been seen wearing since the injury, a good sign he’s recovering.

2. Offensive line depth still a concern

The Bengals have not named Jonah Williams their starting right tackle yet, but if his exclusion from the game along with the other starters wasn’t further indication of the pecking order, the struggles of Jackson Carman showed the competition isn’t that close.

Carman did have some good reps, including a block that proved key for Chris Evans’ 33-yard run in the second quarter, but he also got beat by his defender on multiple occasions, and he especially struggled in the fourth quarter. Carman did not play in the third quarter and it seemed his night was done but he was called upon to return.

The second-team offensive line had a chance to showcase the depth the coaches are expecting in 2023, but Green Bay was able to put pressure on the quarterbacks. Max Scharping and Trey Hill swapped spots at left guard and center but no one particularly stood out in terms of the offensive line play.

Taylor didn’t have any initial thoughts on Carman or the offensive line play.

“We’ll have to watch the tape on that,” Taylor said.

3. Young secondary stands out

One big concern for the Bengals this season is the youth and inexperience in the secondary and particularly the turnover at safety, but a few of those individuals expected to play roles stood out for good reason Friday. Anderson and new starting safety Dax Hill stood out most but Jordan Battle and Turner also showed flashes.

Hill, the team’s first-round draft pick last year, was the lone defensive starter to play and he showed exactly what Cincinnati hoped to see in his three series. He finished with just two tackles, but his biggest contribution was on a deep ball where rookie second-round draft pick DJ Turner got beat by receiver Christian Watson, and Hill was able to slide in across the middle of the field and breakup the pass to prevent a likely touchdown.

Anderson’s two interceptions were big moments for him, after missing all of his rookie season because of a hamstring injury suffered in the second preseason game last year. He picked off Sean Clifford in the second half and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown, cutting Green Bay’s lead to 14-13. His second interception came after Cincinnati had taken its only lead of the game, but Browning was picked off two plays later and the Packers ended up with another touchdown to go up for good before halftime.

“Just a lot of hard work went through to get to this moment here,” Anderson said. “I’m just so blessed to be in this position. A lot of things that you guys didn’t see that I was going through last year, and I’m just blessed to be in this, part of this, with the group of guys that we’re here with. (I’m) just happy to be able to make those plays when the ball comes my way.”

4. ‘Money Mac’ back on track

Evan McPherson seemed off at times last year, perhaps part of a “sophomore slump,” but he was perfect on four field goal attempts, including a long of 51 yards, and made his one PAT. Two of his kickoffs went for touchbacks.

Last season, the third-year kicker missed four PATs and five field goal attempts, including a 29-yarder in the opener that accounted for his only failed attempt under 40 yards. That one was with an emergency long snapper, and then McPherson had a new holder later in the year when Drue Chrisman took punter Kevin Huber’s job.

Taylor noted that rookie punter/holder Brad Robbins played a significant role on McPherson’s field goals Friday, saying he “thought that operation was really good.” Taylor said Chrisman is expected back in practice this week, following a medical procedure that prevented him from opening training camp with the team, and the punting competition will be in the spotlight then.

5. Rookie spotlight on offense

The Bengals offense wasn’t as productive as Taylor would have liked but a couple rookies stood out, including sixth-round receiver Andre Iosivas and fourth-round running back Chase Brown.

Iosivas has been solid in training camp and led the team with 50 yards receiving on four catches. He was targeted 10 times, so he could have been better, but he nearly came up with a spectacular play in the end zone when he made a leaping grab and just couldn’t get his second foot down on the way to the ground. The play showed his athleticism that was talked about so much after he was drafted.

“It was good,” Iosivas said. “I thought I made some plays; I left some plays out on the field as well. It was a really good learning experience for me, just getting out (there) in my first NFL game.”

Brown, who is getting more reps with Trayveon Williams (ankle) out, finished with just 12 yards rushing on eight carries, but had two third-down conversions, and Taylor was glad to see him showing some physicality. He also had three catches for another 33 yards.

“I feel like in preseason, that’s your time to show that you can make plays and show your skill set and what you’re able to do,” Brown said. “And honestly, I wanted to be more successful in certain areas of the game. But like I said, you learn from this week, you learn from these plays and going into the next week even better.”


Bengals at Falcons, 7:30 p.m., 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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