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Bengals-Bucs: What we learned, 3 thumbs up, 3 thumbs down

Richard Skinner analyses the Bengals preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (WKRC).

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Here is an an analysis from Friday's Bengals 23-12 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with what we learned, three thumbs up and three thumbs down from the game and any injuries (click here for a story from the game that includes video highlights):

What We Learned

The Skinny: Neither the Bengals first-team offense nor defense played great, but the defense did limit Tampa Bay to a field goal after it drove 92 yards to the Bengals 2, and the first-team offense - at least with Andy Dalton at quarterback - marched 70 yards to the Buccaneers 5 before Dalton was intercepted at the 1-yard line.

The Bengals flashed their depth in many areas when the starters were pulled, which is a big reason they rallied from a 9-3 deficit to the victory.

"I'm pleased overall, I think, with the football game and the fact we (put ourselves) in good some situations," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We had a good opportunity for our young guys to experience NFL football.

"Obviously we don't want (to have) a turnover with the first (team) offense with Andy. It was a great drive down the field. Defensively, (Tampa Bay) converted some third downs and we've got to be better at (that)."

While Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green were pulled after the first series, most of the starting offensive line played the entire first half with Trey Hopkins starting at right guard in place of Andre Smith and then Christian Westerman playing left guard in place of Clint Boling for the final drive of the half. Center Russell Bodine, left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and right tackle Jake Fisher played the entire first half.

The Bengals managed just two field goals in the first half, but they only had three full possessions in the half.

Neither Dalton nor McCarron were sacked in 13 pass attempts and the Bengals rushed for 56 yards, averaging 4.0 yards per carry.

The defensive backups consistently harrassed Tampa Bay's assortment of backup quarterbacks and lineman, and while the Bengals recorded just two sacks (one by rookie defensive Jordan Willis and the other credited to a team sack) they hit those quarterbacks seven times (two each by Willis and Chris Smith).

Three Thumbs Up

1. Third-string quarterback Jeff Driskel shined

The Skinny: Driskel didn't play last preseason with the Bengals. He was signed by the team just prior to the 2016 regular season starting after being cut by San Francisco. The Bengals thought enough of him to place him on 53-player roster all of 2016 even though he didn't play a snap.

Driskel played very well in last Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage and was outstanding on Friday night.

He led the Bengals to touchdowns drives of 75 and 84 yards on their first two possession of the second half and had a big hand in each drive. He went 5 or 5 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown and rushed three times for 36 yards and a touchdown on the two drives.

"He did a good job managing (the game), and he’s done a great job thus far in camp, so his first time getting out in a game, (it was) good exposure for him," said Lewis. “He can make something out of a broken play with his athleticism, athletic ability and speed.”

The touchdown run came from 18 yards out after he faked a handoff to running back Tra Carson going right, cut off a block from rookie tight end Mason Schreck,then forced two Tampa Bay defenders to collide and rolled into the end zone from there.

"I haven’t seen a run like that from a quarterback in this league in forever," said Dalton. "I don’t even think he realized what he did until after the fact. I'm happy for him."

Driskel said he's hoping his ability to run in addition to being able to pass will give him an added dimension that some team will want.

"That’s something that’s not going to show up in a training camp practice, but once you get into a game where the quarterback run is more part of the game that’s something I can bring to the table," said Driskel. "It’s not something that I’m going to hang my hat on, but it’s a weapon that I have and I’m going to keep using it, not every play, but it’s definitely something to have and something that defenses have to prepare for."

Driskel wound up completing his first seven passes in a row and finished 8 of 9 for 97 yards and an eight-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Josh Malone on his favorite throw of the night.

"It was just a high ball," said Driskel. "We always talk about once we get down there in the red zone you want high balls at their facemask and above and trusting the timing. Josh did a good job of getting behind the safeties and I thought I did a good job of laying it high."

2. Rookie Joe Mixon showed off talent he's flashed in camp

The Skinny: Mixon seemingly provided at least one "wow" play in every practice since training camp started on July 28 and while he didn't have any of those he still had a performance that showed his potential to be a star.

Mixon played only the first half in place of Giovani Bernard, who sat out after having offseason knee surgery, but rushed for 31 yards on only six carries and had 11 yards on his lone pass reception.

"I thought he did a good job," said Lewis. "We’ll make sure he’s on track. He did a nice job and he’s just one ankle (injury) from having an opportunity to do a little bit more."

Mixon admitted to having some butterflies before the game.

"Yeah, really just going out there and getting that first contact (helped)," said Mixon. "Once I got that I was able to get moving.”

His first carry of the night came on the opening drive and went for five yards and he also had runs of 13, eight and six yards and on one run that he was stopped for no gain he came up smiling as if he was upset with himself for not making a much bigger run.

"I saw green grass and I got roughed up and I know was really close to making a big play," said Mixon. "I really don't try to worry about hitting a home run. At the end of the day, my line, they block hard every play and the receivers do their thing, too. Once I pass the line, then that's all on me. I just try to put myself in the best situation."

3. Kickers have perfect night

The Skinny: Both incumbent Randy Bullock and rookie fifth-round pick Jake Elliott were perfect on their three combined field-goal attempts and two extra-point attempts.

Bullock convered from 54 yards out on his first attempt in the second quarter, then Elliott drilled a 45-yard field goal with 1:04 left in the firt half. On the first touchdown of the second half Bullock made the extra point, then Elliott made the extra point after the second touchdowns of the half before Bullock attempted the only other field goal of the night and made it from 49 yards out.

Elliott said he thinks the competition is good for both kickers.

"I think it brings out the best in everyone," said Elliott. "I think I’m pushing Randy and I think Randy’s pushing me. I think it’s bringing out the best in both of us and we’re both kicking pretty well in camp and both had a good night tonight."

Bullock made all three field goal attempts in last Saturday's scrimmage (52, 40 and 35), while Elliott missed a 52-yard attempt, then an extra point before making a 32-yard field goal and then a 51-yard attempt.

Each kicker has missed just one field goal in the 10 days of training camp.

Bullock said he's simply focusing on himself and hopes his experience of kicking in the NFL already will help.

"To be honest I don’t really think about (the competition) when I’m out there working in a game or in a practice," said Bullock. "I’m just focused on myself and what I need to do. I think that’s really translated into my performance and my results. This will be my sixth year and you can’t put a price tag on experience so that’s really benefitted me throughout the whole process whether it’s game situations, practice, I kind of know what to expect."

Kickoffs are also an important part of the battle and that was a close contest as well. Elliott said the kickers were told to kick it as far as they could down the middle to not only see how well they would perform, but to watch the entire coverage unit perform.

Elliott's first kickoff was fielded five yards deep and returned to the Tampa Bay 12.

Bullock's first kickoff was fielded at the 1-yard line and returned to the 38, where only a shoestring tackle by KeiVarae Russell saved a touchdown, although it should be noted that Bullock slowed up the kick returner enough to turn him inside where Russell made the tackle.

Elliott's next kickoff went for a touchback as did Bullock's next kickoff.

Eliott proceeded to hit his next kickoff one yard deep into the end zone, but it was returned only 18 yards.

Bullock's final kickoff went for a touchback.

Three Thumbs Down

1. Missed tackles, third down conversions during Tampa Bay's opening drive

The Skinny: A missed tackle on each of Tampa Bay's first two offensive plays of the game allowed the Buccaneers to move out of the hole of their own 6 to their own 23, and then the Buccaneers converted two third downs to eventually drive to the Bengals 2 before the drive stalled and they had to settle for a 20-yard field goal.

On the first play of the game Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans caught a short pass off a bootleg from quarterback Jameis Winston and then bounced off Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and wound up turning about a four-yard gain into an 11-yard gain. On the very next play, defensive tackle Geno Atkins had running back Doug Martin in his sights to stop him for no gain, but missed and Martin wound up gaining five yards.

"We still have work to do and get used to tackling and being around the ball and all those things that you don't get to do in practice," said Lewis. "We've got to keep working on that. We had them backed up and we've got to keep them backed up, and that's good lesson."

The first of the two successful third-down conversions came when Martin gained two yards on a third-and-one run and the other came when Winston rolled away from pressure and dumped a short pass to a wide open Evans for a 12-yard gain on third-and-eight that took the ball to the Bengals 4.

"We've got to be better at that (stopping third down conversions)," said Lewis.

2. The interception Dalton threw in the red zone

The Skinny: Over the last two regular seasons covering 29 games Dalton did an exceptional job taking care of the ball, throwing just 15 interceptions in 949 attempts. With the Bengals facing a third-and-two from Tampa Bay 5 on their first possession of the game Dalton tried to hit wide receiver Brandon LaFell near the right front pylon, but Buccaneers corneback Vernon Hargreaves stepped in front of the pass to intercept it before stepping out at the 1-yard line.

“I shouldn’t have (thrown) it on my back foot, and I held on to it a little longer than I should have," said Dalton. "I tried to lift it far enough outside, and the guy made a great play. I shouldn’t have held on to it. I’ll get the next one.”

The Bengals had driven from their own 25 to the Tampa Bay 5 in 11 plays. Dalton had gone 4 for 4 for for 38 yards and the Bengals had rushed for 27 yards on seven carries in those 11 plays.

"I thought it was a great drive — we just didn’t come away with a touchdown," said Dalton. "It was my fault. I can’t make that throw.”

3. The second-team defense allowing a long second-quarter TD drive

The Skinny: The second team defense forced Tampa Bay's first-team offense to punt on its first series of the game, then allowed the Buccaneers second-team offense to march 62 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown in the second quarter the first time it had a possession.

Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played for the Bengals in 2007 and 2008, engineered the drive and capped it off with a six-yard scramble up the middle for the touchdown. Fitzpatrick was 3 of 5 for 16 yards, while Tampa Bay rushed eight times for 46 yards on the march, including converting a fourth-and-one from its own 47 with a three-yard run by running back Peyton Barber.

Notes

Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick did not start as Darqueze Dennard started in place of Jones and William Jackson III started in place of Kirkpatrick. Jones did play on the first drive and forced an incompletion on the final two plays of the first drive to force a Tampa Bay field goal. Jones played outside along with Jackson and Dennard moved to the slot when he came in the game.

Injury Update

It was announced before the game that the following players would not participate, most due to injury: wide receiver John Ross (shoulder); Bernard (returning from knee surgery); Kirkpatrick (not believed to be injured); cornerback Tony McRae; running back Cedric Peerman; safety Brandon Wilson (hamstring); safety George Iloka (sprained knee); defensive tackle David Dean and tight end C.J. Uzomah (sprained ankle). ... Offensive lineman Andre Smith did not play due to an arm issue and neither did linebacker P.J. Dawson, who had his right wrist in a cast last week.

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