As another heartbreaking loss unfolded for the Bengals in Houston, the same couple of rookies continued to see increased opportunities and contributions. Cody Core was the most notable rookie of the day as the Bengals game planned to get him involved early and often as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver. Here’s our Week 16 rookie report following the Bengals’ loss to the Houston Texans.
- Tyler Boyd
- Cody Core
- Alex Erickson
- Clayton Fejedelem
- Nick Vigil
- Christian Westerman
- Jeff Driskel
- KeiVarae Russell
After his less than stellar outing against Pittsburgh last week, Boyd was a true No. 3 receiver on Saturday, as he was thrown at a mere four times, three of which came out of the slot. He caught two of those targets for a total of 25 yards, with 21 of them coming from this second quarter reception down seams of the Texans’ disguised cover 2 zone:
While that was the high of Boyd’s night, his last target of the game was undoubtedly the low:
I know this is considered a drop, and Boyd will probably tell you it’s completely his fault if you run into him on the street, but when the simple slant route that Boyd ran is completely uncontested and nothing alters the timing of the pass, there’s no reason this throw should’ve been so high other than the fact that Andy Dalton sailed it. So yes, Boyd dropped it, and it landed in the arms of safety Quintin Demps, but there’s little justification as to why Boyd had to reach for the stars on such a routine route, so close to the line of scrimmage.
Draft status had little to do with the game plan against the Texans, as Core, drafted four rounds after Boyd this year, was targeted a whopping 14 times, accounting for 34% of Dalton’s attempts. Of those 14 targets, Core hauled in eight of them, but for only 39 yards, as three of his catches were behind the line of scrimmage, and he didn’t achieve much separation on his vertical routes.
The root of Core’s struggles was Texans’ cornerback A.J. Bouye, as the fourth year defensive back played outstanding lockdown coverage on Core all game long.
These two first quarter plays really showcase the same things. Core severely lacks the proper explosion on his inside breaks to create any space against Bouye, and then shows very little strength at the catch point, making it easy for Bouye to disrupt the pass the whole way, both times
Core is still physically raw and needs refining in his mechanics, which is no surprise for any late round rookie. I don’t think the good plays he made this year are necessarily flukes, but expecting any consistency from him, especially against someone as good as Bouye has been this year, is pretty unrealistic.
The NFL leading kickoff return man had another decent day taking back kickoffs, as he returned four of them for 107 yards, with a long of 35. Returning punts was much different story, as he averaged only 2.7 yards per return on 6 attempts. Along with that, he also put the ball on the ground for the first time all year, thankfully he recovered his own muff.
Fejedelem had no opportunities to see any time on the field outside of special teams, were he once again played well, despite not recording any tackles.
Vigil was much more fortunate in terms of playing time, as he took the field for 20 snaps at outside linebacker, as a part of the rotation to compensate for the absence of Vontaze Burfict. He made two tackles in his time out on the defense.
It took until Christmas Eve, but with the activation of Westerman against the Texans, every rookie on the Bengals 53 man roster has been dressed at least once this year. Westerman was active as an emergency backup with starting left guard Clint Boling out. T.J. Johnson actually stepped in at left guard when Andrew Whitworth went down in the game with an arm injury, so while Westerman was a snap away from seeing the field, it never happened. And, Johnson only played a few snaps, with Whitworth missing a total of three.
I can’t imagine the team playing Boling next week as he continues to rest his shoulder that he hurt back in Week 4, so Westerman will likely get to dress again for the last game of the season. Westerman and backup quarterback AJ McCarron were the only two active players to not see the field at all (special teams included) on Saturday.
The Bengals close out the season in a familiar style as they face the Ravens in Week 17 for the sixth time in seven years. With the current state of health the Bengals are in, almost every rookie that dresses should see at least some playing time again.