On an injury-riddled Sunday, the Bengals had to rely on their day two 2016 draft picks more than usual to stay in the game against the Buffalo Bills. How’d they perform with increased playing time? Here’s our rookie report for Week 11:
- Tyler Boyd
- Alex Erickson
- Clayton Fejedelem
- Nick Vigil
- Cody Core
- Jeff Driskel
- KeiVarae Russell
- Christian Westerman
After taking two snaps, star wide receiver A.J. Green went down with a severe hamstring injury, taking him out of the game. The injury will also sideline him for at least the next few weeks. Somehow the offense managed a game plan of throwing the ball 42 times after one of the game’s best pass catchers left the field, but nevertheless, the loss of Green led to a more Tyler Boyd centric offense. Boyd finished the game as the leading receiver in both catches (six) and yards (54) on eight targets, and caught Andy Dalton’s lone touchdown pass of the game:
For his first touchdown catch of his career, Boyd created separation within the first three yards by getting outside leverage against the slot corner with excellent footwork, and with the help of James Wright’s slant route, Boyd stacked cornerback Stephon Gilmore on his corner route and reeled in a perfect throw by Dalton. The replay angle does the most justice to showcase the savviness in Boyd’s craft here:
Two of Boyd’s biggest attributes are his balance and fluidity, all parts of his body are in ideal coordination while in motion, so he can easily adjust his routes. He did that on his touchdown play and completed the action without having to slow down or be re-routed. This is where play speed comes into the equation against timed speed. We all know Boyd isn’t the fastest or most explosive receiver, but his footwork and balance can make up for that lack of raw athleticism, especially in the red zone.
Boyd’s most impressive catch of the day however came on another third down conversion earlier in the game, laying out over the middle and taking a hit after the catch:
Ball skills aren’t just limited to jump balls down the field. As seen here, Boyd knows how to contort his body in any situation to give himself a chance at the catch-point. If Dalton threw this ball low to the ground to prevent Boyd from getting destroyed by the defender, then good on Dalton. If not, it’s still a great adjustment by Boyd.
One thing to note, with Green out for the time being, Boyd should still see the majority of his snaps in the slot, while Wright or even Cody Core take Green’s snaps at the X spot.
When Green went down, it affected more than just Boyd. Erickson came onto the field for nine snaps on offense and caught his first pass since Week 2 against the Steelers.
And Erickson had a lone chance of taking one back and went for 36 yards as a return man, which is quite an underwhelming distance compared to his last two outings. Still, it’s not bad at all.
Like we’ve said the past three weeks now, the blocking has been much better for Erickson as both a punt and kickoff returner, and he’s taking advantage on a weekly basis.
Erickson figures to at least see a few more opportunities at wide receiver with Green out for the time being, but he’s still at best fourth in the pecking order at the position.
Sunday was also former Bengals returner Brandon Tate’s homecoming, and on the first chance he got to return against his former team, Fejedelem was the one who brought him down:
There was a bit of symmetry in this game for the Bengals. On the offense’s first possession, the catalyst of the group, Green, went down and the team went three and out and was forced to punt. On the defense’s first possession, the catalyst of the group in Vontaze Burfict went down and the defense gave up an opening drive touchdown. When Burfict went down, Nick Vigil came in and was on the field for three linebacker sets. His first snap was not a promising one:
Vigil lined up at the WILL linebacker spot, and the Bills pulled around to the weak side. Off screen is George Iloka lined up in the slot, he’s the one whose responsibility is to fill the D gap and force the ball carrier back inside, but every block on this run was perfect, and Vigil was properly sealed off, giving running back LeSean McCoy ample room to run. Vigil’s effort on the play to chase down McCoy and force him out of bounds is admirable though, and the coaches will notice that more than anything.
The very next snap, Vigil is dropped back in an underneath zone and made an impressive downhill tackle on McCoy, displaying nice click and close ability to diagnose and finish the play
But the culmination of Vigil’s limited day was McCoy’s touchdown run that capped off the drive.
This is a classic case of getting lost in the flow of the play. The front four got absolutely abused, opening up a gaping hole to McCoy’s left. By the time Vigil got sucked into the middle, he was completely out of position, and unable to get to the elusive running back.
Gap discipline matters, and Vigil got burnt accordingly for failing at it. His defensive linemen looking inept didn’t help either.
The Bengals offense will be without Green and Giovani Bernard next week against the Ravens, as Bernard went down with a torn ACL. It’s a safe bet for the offense to go into 2014 mode with Jeremy Hill in the I-formation and Ryan Hewitt in the backfield. Boyd figures to see some more targets as well in this new offense. And with Bernard out for the year, it makes sense to think that running back Cedric Peerman should get the Injured Reserve activation over rookie cornerback William Jackson, as we wait on the team’s decision on that matter.