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Bengals defense dominant in preseason

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CINCINNATI — While the Cincinnati Bengals offense couldn’t get into the end zone in its preseason finale Thursday, the defense made sure the Indianapolis Colts did not either.

A fumble recovery at the Cincinnati 34-yard line set up a game-winning field goal for rookie kicker Tom Obarski (who was cut Saturday) with 2:49 left, and a stingy defensive held on to preserve a 9-6 victory over the Colts.

Aside from one setback at Tampa Bay, Cincinnati’s defense was pretty dominant this preseason, as the Bengals gave up just two touchdowns in their three wins. Head coach Marvin Lewis just hopes they can carry that same success into the regular season, as the Bengals open at Oakland on Sept. 13.

“I think the thing that was good was their ability to play in the red zone and not panic,” Lewis told media after Thursday’s win. “Not everything was perfect, but when the Colts got down there a couple of times we were able to come away with positive plays. That’s a good thing that you don’t kind of keep hanging your head and allow the score to happen because we had enough resolve to make some things happen down there and get the ball back which is key.”

Cincinnati has been banged up on defense with 2013 Pro-Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict remaining out all preseason while still coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him after just five games last year. That makes the addition of A.J. Hawk that much more important in a somewhat depleted linebacker corps, but the Bengals are plenty deep on the defensive line and in the secondary, both of which could be strengths in 2015.

Offensively, there’s plenty of promise too, though it didn’t show Thursday at Indy.

Backup quarterback AJ McCarron was solid for a second straight game while completing 15 of 28 passes for 219 yards but fumbled twice and took four sacks. Terrell Watson and James Wilder Jr. each tallied 37 yards rushing to lead the Bengals ground effort in their final audition before getting waived Saturday. Cincinnati rested most of its starters except center Russell Bodine, who continues to work on perfecting his snaps.

The Bengals are hoping the running game can step up another notch this season with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard working together to take some of the pressure off quarterback Andy Dalton and the passing game. The Bengals ranked sixth in the league last year with 134.2 rushing yards per game but 21st in passing with 213.8 yards per game.

Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie last year and is expected to make an even greater impact in his second season.

“We’re going to always want to run the ball here,” said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a former running backs coach with the Bengals. “There’s no question in my mind about that. We have to throw it better and we will. All of that plays together: the creativeness, the ability of our players, how we practice, how we go about our business in meeting rooms it’s what will allow us to be as dynamic as I hope we will become.”

The Bengals’ first test comes against a Raiders defense than ranked 11th in the league for their rush defense, which limited opponents to 119.4 yards per game last year. Oakland’s pass defense wasn’t quite as strong, ranking in the bottom half with 238.1 yards allowed per game.

With the offense looking healthy through the preseason, Jackson would like to open up the playbook a little more in his second season as offensive coordinator. Key pieces back who could help with that include receiver Marvin Jones, who missed all of last year with foot and ankle issues, and tight end Tyler Eifert, who was injured in the 2014 season opener.

“We can have all our pieces out there, Mo (Sanu), Marvin (Jones), A.J. (Green), Tyler (Eifert) — I think Tyler is going to be a big piece for us not having him last year,” Hill said. “The sky is the limit for our offense.”

Notes: Weak-side linebacker Vontaze Burfict, as expected, was placed on the physically unable to perform list Sept. 5 after missing the entire preseason as he continues to recover from his 2014 knee injury. He won’t be eligible to practice with the team until Oct. 19. … Defensive tackle Devon Still was crowded out in the competitive battle at defensive line. He was waived Sept. 5 despite the Bengals’ decision to keep 10 in that unit. … Linebackers Jayson DiManche (knee) and Marquis Flowers (shoulder), who were both injured Thursday, cleared waivers Sept. 6 and will revert to the Bengals’ reserve/injured list.


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