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Hall of Fame Game Preview: Bengals vs. Cowboys

When:  Sunday, August 8, 2010, 8:00 PM

Where:  Fawcett Stadium, Canton, OH.

TV:  NBC in HD 

The months of agony and baseball-only television are finally over.  Tomorrow night we get our first glimpses of that blessed entertainment known as NFL football. Under normal circumstances, the annual Hall of Fame Game kicks off the league’s pre-season and gives fans throughout the country (including myself) some football to watch. Finally.    

This year, as a devout member of Bengaldom, there’s even more reason to salivate in advance of the game as our team participates for the first time since 1988. That game, a 14-7 victory over the then-Los Angeles Rams, was the first win in what became an AFC Championship season and berth in Super Bowl XXIII.  

As this year’s game approaches, the Bengals find themselves loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, carrying with them championship aspirations and high expectations.  They’ll face a Cowboys team similarly optimistic about their prospects in 2010.  

But don’t anticipate a street brawl or slugfest as the preseason in general, and the first preseason game in particular, are for player evaluation.  Schemes are watered-down, strategic game-plans aren’t employed with any sophistication, and starters barely see the field.   

That’s not to say that there won’t be a myriad of reasons to watch.  Here are just a few things to look for during Sunday night’s telecast: 

  • Carson Palmer’s Accuracy:  The starters might only play a series or two, but in that time we’ll want to see how well the franchise works with his new receivers, and if he can give us any assurances that his accuracy problems from late last year and surgically repaired elbow are truly a thing of the past. 
  • Batman & Robin Premiere:  Even if its for only a handful of snaps, it will be good to see the Ochocinco and Ochouno combination on the field together. It will be particularly interesting to see how they might get the ball to T.O. and how well he works with number 9. 
  • Offensive Line Play:  The Bengals surprised the NFL with the consistency and strength they got from their makeshift offensive line in 2009.  Despite first-round pick Andre Smith’s struggles, unheralded players like Kyle Cook, Nate Livings, Evan Mathis, and Dennis Roland made huge contributions to the team’s success in running the ball.  Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski’s recent comments that the line must improve are a bit discomforting, so it will be important to see how well the line does against Dallas’ powerful 3-4.  The Cowboys play a similar defense to those found in the AFC North, so it will be important for the team to see how well the line (first string and back-ups) holds up against them. 
  • Rookie Receivers:  It’s anticipated that the team may rely heavily on rookie first round TE Jermaine Gresham and 3rd-round slot receiver Jordan Shipley in 2010.  Seeing them get their first action against NFL defenders will be interesting. 
  • Michael Johnson:  Linebacker.  It will be of particular interest to see how second-year defender Michael Johnson, a DE in college, has adjusted to playing outside linebacker in Mike Zimmer’s defense.  The team likes Johnson’s size, speed and smarts, and are making the transition to give them greater flexibility and more pass rush. 
  • Adam Jones:  The man formerly known as “Pacman” will get his first game action in over two years as both a cornerback and punt returner. Will he display the skills that made him a 2005 top-10 draft pick? Will he be able to unseat WR Quan Cosby as the team’s primary punt returner?
  • Long-snapper:  Former UC Bearcat Mike Windt is looking to unseed Clark Harris, the man who rescued the Bengals from Brad St. Louis last year.  Crisp, quick, accurate snaps will win the job. 
  • Kicker: With Mike Nugent out with an injury, Dave Rayner has a chance to solidify the upper hand he currently enjoys in the place-kicker competition. 
  • Cowboy re-unions:  The Bengals have several former Cowboys on their roster, including Terrell Owens, Adam Jones, Roy Williams, and Tank Johnson.  
  • Matt Jones versus Jerome Simpson:  The underachieving former Jacksonville first-round pick and the underachieving former Bengal second rounder are in a put-up or shut-up fight for a roster spot as a vertical threat.  Jones has experience and size, but Simpson is younger, has greater athleticism, and may finally be turning the corner after 2 season of underwhelming coaches. They are fighting for their football lives with Antonio Bryant, Jordan Shipley, and Andre Caldwell ahead of them as back-ups to T.O. and Chad.
  •  Jordan Palmer vs. J.T. O’Sullivan:  The team likes O’Sullivan’s experience, but the younger Palmer has been impressive as of late, and O’Sullivan hasn’t done himself any favors with his play–particularly in week 17 last year against the Jets.  With Carson Palmer’s injury history, a capable and effective back-up is vital. 

These are just a few of the Bengal sub-plots to look for as the game approaches.  I anticipate that the starters will play about 2 series.  Starters that look to sit out the game with ailments include LB Rey Maualuga, CB Johnathan Joseph, FB Fui Vakapuna, and Bryant. Back-ups OT Andre Smith, DE Carlos Dunlap, and RB Cedric Peerman look to be rested as well. 

Bengals.com was unsure of whether starting RE Antwan Odom and nickel back Morgan Trent’s availability as they recoup from minor dings.

Just remember, we have three primary objectives Sunday Night:

  1. Don’t lose anyone to injuries—particularly starters
  2. Get some evaluation tape—particularly back-ups. 
  3. See Number 1.

Winning the game is secondary.

Perhaps, as we all hope, this game will be the start of something great.  Perhaps we’ll see this same Cowboy team in February.  It’s great to dream big.  

For now, it’s great to just see football.


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