Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  By JAY CLEMONS  |  Last updated 8/9/13
ATLANTA Here are four things we learned from the Bengals' 34-10 thumping of the Falcons at the Georgia Dome: 1. Matt Ryan was coolly efficient in his brief, but longer-than-expected cameo Ryan's three completions for 52 yards on the Falcons' opening drive culminating in a 37-yard field goal from Matt Bryant was the baseball equivalent of an ace pitcher tossing two scoreless innings in his Spring Training debut. In other words, it was a nice way to start the season ... but not necessarily a definitive exercise of new revelations. "I think it's always good to start fast," said Ryan, who owns a 33-6 career record at the Georgia Dome (regular season). "That's something we talk about as a team all the time. We executed fairly well, especially on the first drive. Any time you start the season with points, that's a good thing." Last year, Ryan established career highs in completions (422), pass attempts (615), yards passing (4,719), touchdown passes (32) and completion rate (an NFL-high 69 percent). So, he hardly needs to prove himself during August, just 14 days removed from the start of training camp. And yet, it was still surprising to see Ryan play three series and attempt nine passes with six completions going to five different handlers (Roddy White, Drew Davis, Harry Douglas, Steven Jackson, Chase Coffman). The bubble-screen pass to Douglas (opening drive) resulted in 42 yards, the product of the fifth-year wideout getting upfield in a hurry, post-catch, and then shedding two tackles down the left side. On Ryan's third drive, he wasted little time in finding No. 4 receiver Drew Davis for 31 yards down the left sideline, a remarkable catch that also drew a pass-interference penalty on the Bengals (declined). After that, things stalled for Atlanta, although Ryan would attempt a pass on his final three downs. All in all, it was a clean outing for Ryan, who inked a 103 million extension on the first day of training camp and stands as arguably the NFL's Best Active Quarterback To Never Reach The Super Bowl a flattering title that no one actually wants for more than a year. 2. It's been a long time since the Bengals had a versatile tailback like Giovani Bernard For a period of roughly 20 years, Cincy's primary rushers exuded brawn and power and had a laser-like focus for running north-southy. That era covers productive, but perhaps plodding backs like Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson, Cedric Benson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the present day. The rookie Bernard has yet to usurp Green-Ellis on the depth chart, but that doesn't mean the Bengals are reluctant to show off their newest toy. On Thursday, Bernard registered 13 touches (10 carries, three catches) for 44 yards and one touchdown, while showcasing the open-field speed and elusiveness of a burgeoning star. He even handled one punt return (for 10 yards). At North Carolina (2011-12), Bernard was a consistent, blue-chip asset for the Heels, racking up 3,333 total yards (2,971 rushing) and 31 touchdowns. Last year, he tallied at least one TD in all 10 games (missed two to injury) and a minimum of 103 total yards in every outing. He also caught at least four balls or notched one TD reception eight times in 2012. Digging deeper, during a five-game stretch against Virginia Tech (272 total yards, one TD), Miami (213 yards, two TDs), Duke (203 yards, two TDs), North Carolina State (230 yards, two TDs) and Georgia Tech (170 yards, two TDs), Bernard absurdly averaged 218 yards and 1.9 touchdowns against quality ACC competition. Does that translate to NFL success? Time will tell, of course. But one thing stands out from a random preseason opener: The Bengals bear the look of a genuine title contender with Bernard in the mix, complementing Green-Ellis (3,000-plus total yards30 TDs from 2010-12) while evoking memories of James Brooks and Harold Green two lightning-fast, pass-friendly Cincy backs, from the 1980s and 90s, who were also offensive fixtures on first and second down. 3. Steven Jackson's Falcons debut was rather vanilla in tone Here's a good example of why preseason results must be taken with a grain of salt: Yes, Jackson only totaled eight yards on six touches (including one reception); and yes, the Falcons' right side of the offensive line tackle Lamar Holmes and guard Garrett Reynolds struggled to create holes for the new workhorse rusher, or any other Atlanta back. But with Julio Jones standing on the sidelines in street clothes (precautionary DNP), Tony Gonzalez (excused training camp absence) hanging with his family in California and Roddy White needing only one reception before calling it a night, it's not like the Falcons were operating at full power throughout the first quarter. As such, the Bengals defense, which ranked 12th in rushing yards allowed last season (108 yards per game), successfully keyed on Jackson particularly on the right side while forcing the Falcons to expand their passing game to backup pass-catchers. "I thought Steven ran hard," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith in his postgame address. "Overall, the stats probably aren't where we want to be, running the ball, but he did a nice job with his opportunities." Diplomacy aside, it's worth noting the following factoid: Jackson, who recently turned 30, is 17 months younger than deposed Falcons back Michael Turner. However, S-Jax has logged 756 more professional carries than his counterpart. Also, Jackson notched 20 total touchdowns for the Rams from 2009-12 a figure that was easily dwarfed by Turner (44 TDs) in that same span. Bottom line: Every NFL running back has a finite amount of carries around the age of 30 especially bruising runners who live for contact. "(The offensive line) had some plays when we blocked well and some that we didn't," Smith said. "And that's all part of the evaluation phase (of preseason)." 4. It's weird seeing Andy Dalton attempt passes in Bengals garb without A.J. Green on the other end For those who don't watch HBO's Hard Knocks, Green sustained a minor injury at the beginning of Bengals training camp, twisting his knee while trying to recover a bobbled ball in practice. By all accounts, Green will be ready for Cincinnati's Week 1 grudge match with Chicago, along with the Bengals' home opener against the Steelers in Week 2. But for one night, the sight of Dalton (3 of 7 for 37 yards) firing passes, sans Green, seemed out of context. Of course, he didn't have the luxury of tossing touchdowns to Brandon Tate (21-yard TD) or Dane Sanzenbacher (36-yard TD). Those perks were reserved for backup QBs Josh Johnson and John Skelton in the final three quarters. Speaking of Sanzenbacher (two catches for 59 yards), he produced a pair of scores (one receiving, one punt return), a two-fer that may have cemented his standing on the Bengals' regular-season roster. At the very least, his second-half heroics caught the Falcons' attention. "You can't allow teams to score on kick returns," lamented Smith. "Those (type of) scores are hard to overcome."
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