Of all the positives from the Cincinnati Bengals’ 34-10 victory Thursday night in their preseason opener at Atlanta, the performance of the first-team offense was not among them.
The first unit produced 19 yards and a pair of first downs on its opening series before quarterback Andy Dalton was unable to connect with wide receiver Ryan Whalen, who fell down on a third-and-12 play.
On the second and final drive for the starters, they picked up 27 yards and one first down but failed to convert a third-and-20 that was set up by a 10-yard penalty against center Kyle Cook for illegal use of hands.
“The biggest thing is you want your starters in there to have some success,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get any points with the two drives we had them. That part of it we are not happy about at all. We’ve got higher expectations for that group.”
The Bengals had a chance to convert the third-and-20 play on the second drive when Dalton beat a blitz and found running back Giovani Bernard in space, but the rookie slipped trying to make a cut and had to settle for a 16-yard gain.
“You can’t have a penalty that puts you off track in your downs and distances,” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “We still had opportunities to convert both third downs that we didn’t convert. We fall down, literally, on both plays when we had a chance to convert them. We’ve got to do a better job of staying on our feet and converting those, even though they were third and longer situations.”
Bernard only played the second series with the starters, while first-round pick Tyler Eifert was on the field for each of the first two drives. The tight end from Notre Dame has drawn raves from the coaching staff because of his ability to catch seemingly anything near him, but Gruden said Thursday’s performance proves Eifert still has a way to go.
“He was way better in the running game than he was in the passing game,” Gruden said. “It was awful. Great in the running game and awful in the passing game. Finally I get something to yell at him about.
“It’s important for him to get out there and get the reps and learn from the speed of the game,” Gruden continued. “It was a good learning experience for him.”
Gruden singled out tight end Jermaine Gresham and offensive tackle Andre Smith for impressive performances, but Lewis said he was not pleased with the running game.
“We didn’t do things as well as we needed to,” he said. “We ran the ball for some production, but we weren’t at all as good with our assignments as we need to be, particularly for the time that we’ve invested in it. We have to do a better job of being on the right people all of the time.”