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CINCINNATI – The Bengals wrap up their first-ever three-game preseason on Sunday before a national television audience, which will also serve as Joe Burrow’s return to the football field as the (1-1) Bengals host the (1-1) Miami Dolphins in their only preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals get one home preseason game but, as is the case around the league for teams in a similar spot, make up for it with an extra regular season home game.
This contest marks the first preseason meeting between the Bengals and Dolphins since 1975. The teams did meet in each preseason between 1969 and ’75. The Dolphins hold a 4-3 series lead in preseason, with three of the previous matchups taking place in Cincinnati and four in Miami. The Dolphins won the last meeting, 7-3, in Miami in 1975.
But throw out the records when the Stripes and Fins meet in preseason. Here’s what to look for Sunday:
Burrow wanted to play in this game, and he laughed when I asked him this week if he wants to take a hit. “Yeah, I do but I don’t think they’ll let that happen.” Burrow needs this game to feel real game speed and get his calls and timing down with receivers. But more importantly, he needs to feel comfortable stepping up and sliding around in the pocket and make throws. To do all of this, watch the offensive line. If ever there was a time to show they’re ready to start the season on Sept. 12, this is it.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) August 25, 2021
The starting five of Riley Reiff, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Trey Hopkins, Quinton Spain and Jonah Williams will be charged with making sure Burrow has a pocket to throw in. If they don’t, Zac Taylor will no doubt pull him right away. As it is, Burrow may not even make it through the first series if it’s a 10-play, 12-play type of drive. You’re likely not going to see what Carson Palmer got on Aug. 28, 2006, when Palmer played nearly the entire first half against Green Bay on Monday night football and threw three touchdowns on three drives.
Few Bengals in recent memory have had the scrutiny over one week of drops as the No. 5 overall pick of the 2021 draft. Yes, Chase had a rough week last week and he had three misses against Washington. But many great receivers have had issues early in their career that figured more prominently than Chase’s one-week struggle. The name Jerry Rice comes immediately to mind. Chase is a receiver who didn’t show a propensity to drop the ball at LSU. He’s had a year off and now is a good time for Burrow to re-acquaint himself in a game with Chase. Look for Burrow to look Chase’s way at least a couple of times early in the first drive.
With Xavier Su’a-Filo starting at right guard and Quinton Spain at left guard, these two veterans get the chance to show they should be the starting pair on either side of Trey Hopkins on Sept. 12.
As much attention as Burrow will receive, it’s also critical for the Bengals to see Trey Hopkins get through the game cleanly, seven month after tearing his ACL in the season finale against Baltimore.
Taylor has already announced that the first-team defense will have the day off, giving the coaching staff to evaluate key positions of depth. There are two areas that will be important to watch.
Who steps up on the edge? With Joseph Ossai likely done for the season after knee surgery this week, rookie free agent Darius Hodge, an edge-LB hybrid, is one player to keep a close watch on, as he has already shown good burst off the edge (albeit unguarded on one play last week). But Hodge has a good motor but has to show he understands the concepts of setting the edge on run plays and plays with discipline. Cam Sample, Amani Bledsoe (who showed well on film last week), newcomer Noah Spence and Khalid Kareem are battling for a spot on the 53.
Who can provide quality corner depth after Trae Waynes, who tweaked his right hamstring on Tuesday and is day-to-day. Certainly, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo can mix and match to cover for the time being but keep a close eye on the likes of Jalen Davis, Winston Rose, Darius Phillips and Tony Brown. Rose and Davis have already opened eyes as gunners on special teams. Both made plays against Washington receivers last week.
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons singled out Thad Moss and Mitchell Wilcox as two players who could be fighting for spots on the final 53 next Tuesday based on how they fare in special teams this Sunday. So what they do on Sunday, not just on offense but in coverage and protections could go a long way in deciding their fate. Linebackers in the same boat include Keandre Jones, Jordan Evans, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Joe Bachie and Markus Bailey. Bailey, Jones and Evans have gotten more than 50 percent of snaps in the first two games on special teams. Others on the bubble include Rose, Davis, Tony Brown and Trayvon Henderson, all of whom could make a special teams impact.
benches are clearing after another dirty hit on jakeem grant pic.twitter.com/O91L0cBNWA
— josh houtz (@houtz) December 6, 2020
Also, lest we forget, it was Mike Thomas who blew up Jakeem Grant not once but twice last December when the two teams met for real. Those hits were part of an afternoon that saw Tyler Boyd and Shawn Williams tossed along with Xavien Howard and two other Dolphins. Miami coach Brian Flores had a bone to pick with Zac Taylor and came across the field. But Taylor said this week, no bad feelings and the two have gotten to know each other as they came into the head coaching ranks at the same time, starting with the 2019 season. Just something to watch considering special teams is how some NFL jobs will be earned Sunday.