After the Cincinnati Bengals’ performance in week one, the football world learned plenty about the new-look franchise.
Still, there were plenty of positives to take away from Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. A good looking defense, a poised signal-caller under center, and solid special teams play are among the reasons for optimism this season.
As we attempt to digest our first look at this iteration of the franchise while also preparing for a quick turnaround on Thursday night, let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about the club so far.
1. The young linebackers are going to play an integral role
While Josh Bynes and Germaine Pratt stood out early and often for the Bengals, the young linebackers on the squad left their mark as well. It took all of three plays before we saw this year’s third and fourth-round picks, Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither.
If defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo keeps the schemes the same, we’ll be seeing the young duo on the field for the majority of passing downs. Considering Cincinnati’s outstanding defensive showing in week one, that’s certainly a good thing.
A year ago, this defense would have likely been gashed by the likes of tight end Hunter Henry and running back Austin Ekeler. This year? Not so much. The unit was able to keep those two at bay, ultimately holding Los Angeles to just 16 points.
2. The offensive line is still a mess
Both the coaching staff and the front office preached all offseason how much they believed in the offensive line. It’s still early, so there’s time for a turnaround, but if week one was any indication of the performances to come, the decision-makers were wrong to willingly go into this season with the current crop of talent on the roster.
The first half of the game against the Chargers saw Joe Burrow hit the turf far too often. Tackles Jonah Williams and Bobby Hart were the main culprits. Granted, they were facing one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league, but Hart has been awful for years now, no matter who he’s lining up against.
The second half saw improved play in the trenches, but not by much. The Chargers may be one of the best at getting after the quarterback but if the Bengals are going to keep Burrow healthy, they’re going to need to come up with a solution quickly.
3. The run defense is heavily improved
It’s early, so there’s no reason to make bold claims, but the run defense looks much better than it did a year ago. The defense, without Geno Atkins, held a Tyrod Taylor led offense at bay on the ground.
That’s no small feat, although the fact that the Chargers were missing two starting interior offensive linemen detracts from the accomplishment. The Bengals will surely face more stout linemen as the season progresses but the early returns are positive.
You can’t overstate how integral a role D.J. Reader plays in this team’s run defense either. When he went out in the third quarter due to muscle cramps, the Bolts’ started punishing Cincinnati on the ground.
Regardless, if Reader can stay healthy and Atkins can return soon, the Bengals should have a solid defense not only in terms of defending the run, but in all aspects.
4. Joe Burrow has ice in his veins
Again, it’s week one, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, but did you see the poise of Joe Burrow on the drive to end the fourth quarter? Prior to that series, the cigar-smoking signal-caller had just thrown an interception after dealing with intense pressure all day. He responded by walking the Bengals down the field as if there was no defense, with no timeouts, mind you.
In the words of A.J. Green, “We’ve got a special one in Joe.”
5. A.J. Green is still A.J. Green
With A.J. Green missing so much time, there were many who began wondering if the star wideout could ever reach the level he had once achieved. He showed enough on Sunday to put those kinds of questions to rest.
Of course, the franchise cornerstone still has a ways to go before he proves he can stay healthy, but he was clearly the best receiver on the field in week one. For all the talk about the rest of the receiving corps., when it comes down to crunch time, Green is still the alpha among the group.