Cincinnati used Sunday’s scrimmage as an opportunity to give players the feeling of competition at Paul Brown Stadium since preseason games were eliminated to keep teams isolated until the regular season begins Sept. 10. The Bengals open at home Sept. 13 against the Chargers.
Crowd noise was pumped into the stadium during the scrimmage, which featured the offense against the defense with a scoring system that allowed the defense to earn points for making stops and getting turnovers. The defense won 22-13, though there was no live tackling. The offense won the first scrimmage of camp Aug. 21 on the practice fields.
Here are five things to know from the scrimmage:
1. Burrow wasn’t satisfied
Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow wasn’t pleased with his individual performance but Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he’s seen enough to know Burrow is the Week 1 starter and will be ready for the opener.
Burrow started 0-for-3 passing but then completed eight straight and nine of 10, including a 28-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd. He finished 19-of-33 for 202 yards, but that does not include a pass intercepted by Jessie Bates in the end zone after the intended receiver fell down. Taylor wasn’t sure if it was a clean interception or pass interference, and Burrow also heard conflicting reports of what was called (there were no officials).
The offense was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 10 to end the scrimmage, as Burrow was blitzed and had to dump off to Jacques Patrick, who only got to the 6.
“I mean, it’s not my best,” Burrow said when asked how he assessed his performance. “Obviously, I’m always striving for perfection. Today wasn’t perfection, but we’re still working through some kinks and some logistics stuff, so I’m still confident that we’ll be ready for the first game. But it’s not what you’d like to see today.”
Burrow said his performance was better in the last scrimmage, but overall he feels like he’s getting better and more comfortable every day. Taylor has seen exactly what he wanted from the No. 1 overall draft pick.
“His command of the offense, leadership in the huddle, understanding what he’s got to do to move this offense, his competitiveness and his urgency,” Taylor said. “Certainly, there are areas to clean up, there’s no question about that. But he’s got a great grasp. … He’s been impressive. He’s what we expected when we took him No. 1 overall. He hasn’t disappointed one day he’s been out there.”
2. Key players still out
A.J. Green was hoping to get some reps in the scrimmage as he slowly returns from a hamstring issue, but he was one of the non-participants Sunday, along with wide receivers John Ross and Auden Tate, defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson, linebacker Jordan Evans, safety Shawn Williams and cornerback Darius Phillips.
Burrow hasn’t gotten much time with Green yet, as he missed more than a week of practice and didn’t participate in either scrimmage day. The Bengals will do mock game Thursday but Taylor indicated it will be more to get the feeling of the atmosphere and routine on gameday.
“We get our individual routes that are full speed,” Burrow said when asked if he’s concerned about not having scrimmage experience with Green. “I just need to see him run full-speed routes and I’ve seen that and I feel comfortable with how he runs routes. I feel comfortable with how I’m going to throw them.”
Ross was held out for precautionary reasons, Taylor said, after he injured his arm in practice this week.
3. Linebackers showing progress
The linebackers continue to be an area of question for the Bengals with so many young guys in the mix after the Bengals drafted three guys at that position, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said he’s starting to see what needs from that group.
Veteran Josh Bynes didn’t get many reps in the scrimmage, which gave rookies Akeem Davis-Gaither, Logan Wilson and Markus Bailey more chances, along with second-year player Germaine Pratt. The group looked active in pass coverage, batting down a few balls, but it was difficult to truly assess them without tackling.
“It’s hard without tackling no question, but the one thing we can see and grade them on the communication, getting lined up, getting aligned, getting other people lined up and being in the right gap,” Anarumo said. “The tackling portion itself will be live and in person here in two weeks. I’ve been impressed with the job Al (Golden) has done with those guys and their all as advertised. It’s a really competitive group right now and there are obviously roles for several of those guys.”
Anarumo said the rookies in particular seem to be doing well with being in the right spots. Asked specifically about Pratt, Taylor said he “doesn’t look like a rookie anymore.”
4. Short-handed secondary steps up
The secondary was missing Williams, cornerbacks Trae Waynes (injured reserve), Mackensie Alexander (personal absence) and Phillips, but a few individuals stood out among that position group.
Bates got the interception that might or might not have counted and had a big stop on third down, and cornerback Tony Brown had two near interceptions on Ryan Finley’s first two drives. Brown did end up knocking down the passes and was one player that might be on the “bubble” who helped his case Sunday.
“I’m happy with Tony,” Anarumo said. “He did a good job of playing technique, playing it the way it’s supposed to be played, and when you do that, you give yourself a chance, you know, and now he’s just got to finish them, like I told him in the locker room. I said, ‘Those are those are good plays that you made, now turn them in INTs because again, those are game-changing picks when you make those plays on the outside.’”
5. Offensive line
The Bengals seem pretty set on their first-team offensive line, but both the first and second units had trouble at times with the pressure from the defensive line.
Burrow threw a touchdown to Boyd on his first drive but it was ruled a sack, and Finley was sacked at least once by Sam Hubbard, who was pretty disruptive throughout the scrimmage. Three near interceptions came with pressure coming to Burrow as well.
“There’s obviously some challenges from our defensive line and as a playcaller it effects the way you think with those guys up front,” Taylor said. “There are some things we have to clean up, but there were some positives. We get some nice runs and had time on some of those throws and on those extended plays they did a good job of covering up those guys so Joe could move around a little bit.”
Burrow said his biggest concern is not having the experience of what an NFL pass rush will actually feel like when he’s getting hit to the ground. He’s lobbied for live tackling but likely won’t get his wish before Sept. 13.