After looking strong in Washington this past Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals’ starters don’t figure to play much in Thursday’s matchup at Indianapolis. Such is the nature of preseason week 4 – players who are firmly entrenched on the 53-man roster (especially veterans) usually spend the game on the sideline. It’s one of the preseason’s unofficial yet firmly established gimmicks.
It’s also an established gimmick that, because teams are allowed to choose their own preseason opponents, they tend to play the same opponents a lot. This is especially true in week 4, where the Bengals and Colts have played every year going back to 2003.
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In 2016, four quarterbacks attempted passes in this matchup: A.J. McCarron and Keith Wenning for the Bengals, Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris for the Colts. Three of those four should remain the same in 2017 (Wenning was recently picked up by the Buffalo Bills).
For the Bengals, this isn’t newsworthy – McCarron is the backup, as he always has been. Third-string Jeff Driskel may do something neat, but there’s no fourth quarterback for him to lose to. If the Bengals have a good season, Driskel’s presence or lack thereof won’t be noticed anyway.
For the Colts, unfortunately, these might be the guys that dress for them on opening day as well. Star quarterback Andrew Luck underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery back in January, opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list and still hasn’t practiced with the team. When asked for answers, head coach Chuck Pagano had no information regarding a timetable for Luck’s return.
Tolzien, in his three preseason starts, has completed 19 of 29 attempts for 217 yards, throwing no touchdowns to one interception. Now in his 7th season, Tolzien is an average career backup – nothing more. Behind him, Morris is on his third team since entering the league in 2014 and has yet to play in a regular season game. Phillip Walker, an undrafted rookie out of Temple, is holding down the third quarterback job.
This poor injury luck spreads well past the quarterback position for the Colts; cornerback Vontae Davis suffered a groin injury on Sunday that could sideline him for weeks. In the secondary alone, cornerback T.J. Green and safety Malik Hooker are dealing with shoulder injuries, and safety Clayton Geathers has been on the PUP list with a neck injury.
The Bengals, while they have concerns of their own, are not in nearly as dire straits. While the game against the Colts should be exciting in its own right, simply leaving without any further injuries a week in advance of the regular season is the best way they could actually win.
Other developments heading into Thursday night:
1.) Vontaze Burfict’s suspension, which was announced as being five games earlier this week, has been reduced to three games per ESPN’s Josina Anderson. His hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman (for those who haven’t seen it) wasn’t penalized in-game but was seen by the league office as being in violation of their policy on defenseless players. This rule was expanded in 2017 to cover receivers on pass routes, when approached from the back or side and not in a blocking stance.
That being said, was Burfict’s hit a clear violation of the rule? Depends on who you ask. What’s unanimously agreed upon, however, is that the original length of Burfict’s suspension was personal, somewhat based on past behavior, suspension history, and reputation as a dirty player.
Whether that’s fair to Burfict is debatable, but such is the case in all issues of reputation. The sixth-year linebacker has to stop finding himself in these situations, or people (and the NFL, more importantly) will go on believing that where there is smoke, there is fire.
2.) For two consecutive years, the Bengals have lost running back and special teams standout Cedric Peerman to injury in the third preseason game. Peerman was quickly ruled out by the team after leaving the field with a left shoulder injury.
Unlike 2016, Peerman isn’t eligible to return from IR, putting his status with the team in question. In his place, he leaves a void at the bottom of the running back depth chart for another player not named Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard or Joe Mixon. Tra Carson, a 2016 undrafted free agent who spent his first year on the practice squad, seems like the logical choice.
A sixth-round selection by Baltimore in the 2009 NFL Draft, Peerman was waived as a part of the team’s final cuts before being claimed by Cleveland. There he was waived, signed to the practice squad, released, then signed with Detroit only to be waived again. He was claimed from those waivers in April 2010 by Cincinnati, where he’s been a special teams captain twice and a Pro Bowl selection once. His career symbolizes why these week 4 preseason games matter: players like Peerman are found here.
3.) Another hit to the Bengals’ special teams: fourth-year linebacker Marquis Flowers was traded to the New England Patriots on Tuesday in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick.
Flowers was almost exclusively a special teams contributor in Cincinnati and should fill the same role in New England, with recent injuries sidelining Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin among others. Between Flowers and Peerman, the unit is down a couple of important veteran figures shortly before the season. There’s players available to fill the void, such as Vincent Rey and Josh Shaw, but it’ll be interesting to see who the coaches tap as captains.
4.) Houston has hard a tough time dealing with flooding from Hurricane Harvey, and some on the Bengals’ roster have expressed their feelings about it. None have said nearly as much as Andy Dalton, who grew up in a suburb of Houston and has family in the area. Dalton spoke with the media about the aftermath on Tuesday.
“My family, my immediate family are good. They’ve got water on the street but none got in their house,” Dalton said. “I’ve got an uncle, his house got flooded and he lost his car. I’ve got some (of my) cousin’s family, I think they’re in their second story right now waiting to get rescued. I just found that out.”
Dalton, one of 14 Texas natives on the roster, went on to praise the relief efforts going towards the area. Several have come from around the area with their own boats to aid in rescue efforts. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who once called Dalton a Red Ryder BB Gun, has raised over $10 million in relief funds in under a week, after initially setting a goal of $200 thousand.
While this isn’t a football story, it’ll surely come up during the broadcast. Possibly due to Watt hitting yet another donation goal. His fund can be found here, while donations to the Red Cross relief efforts can be made here.
–Andy Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32