In what was the best game the Bengals played this season, six rookies took the field for the second game in a row. Some did well, while some weren’t as noticeable. Here’s our Bengals rookie report for Week 13 following the team’s win over the Eagles in Cincinnati:
- Tyler Boyd
- Cody Core
- Alex Erickson
- Clayton Fejedelem
- KeiVarae Russell
- Nick Vigil
- Jeff Driskel
- Christian Westerman
Another week without A.J. Green on the field, another steady day for the Bengals slot receiver. Boyd finished the day with four receptions for 66 yards, with 50 of them coming off these two grabs:
Here, we see Boyd gain outside leverage out of the slot as Dalton throws a beautiful near-sideline throw under pressure. Boyd sets up the cornerback with a couple steps inside, creating space at the release point, and easily fighting off the hands as he tries to recover. The rest is just timing and finishing.
Later in the game, we see Boyd on the opposite side of the formation, but utilizing the same technique, set up the corner inside, free up space on the outside. Boyd has to work back to the ball due to Dalton’s underthrown lob, but he adjusts nicely and times his catch well.
The replay angle really shows the two things Boyd did well on the play: he got the cornerback off balance and created space in doing so, and timed his jump perfectly so the cornerback couldn’t possibly have reacted in time to defend the pass he didn’t see arriving:
It’s nice that we’re getting to see Boyd get opportunities against outside corners. He’s still more consistently effective in the slot, but he increases his potential targets by being useful out there too on vertical routes.
In the Bills and Ravens games without A.J. Green, production had been subpar for the offense as a whole. But Boyd’s production has been another story. He has had his best three-game stretch of the whole year without Green on the field, catching 15 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, as he has seen 23 targets during this stretch. That’s not 2014 Mohamed Sanu stats when Green was injured as well, but Sanu was also the de facto number 1 target for Dalton, and not in the midst of his rookie campaign. Boyd has looked sharper and more effective as the season has progressed and he’s in a great position right now.
After seeing Core get some actual playing time against the Ravens, the rookie out of Ole Miss was given more opportunities this week. And it nearly looked like he jeopardized that playing time with this debacle:
On a simple toss to running back Rex Burkhead, Core tried to loop around him, clearly thinking it was a reverse or fake reverse to him, and destroyed any chance Burkhead had with the ball. Usually we see young players immediately pulled from the game for messing up a play like that. Maybe that’s what the Eagles thought, too. They were wrong.
On the very next snap, Dalton decided to lob one up for Core, who created superb separation at the beginning of his corner route; and stacked the cornerback while expertly tracking the ball at his break, finishing mere inches from the goal-line and what could have been his first touchdown. I’m not sure the spot was entirely correct looking at it on slow-motion. Last week, I wrote about wanting the Bengals to give Core some shots downfield now that he has seen his playing time increase, and it looks like the Bengals wanted that, too.
Beside showing off his savvy technique and athleticism, Core displayed admirable mental toughness on this play. To recover from completely messing up the play before, to making his first catch and big play of his career is impressive for a late-round rookie, and exactly the kind of tenacity you hope to see from your younger contributors. This is what’s great about getting guys out on the field early rather than keeping them on the bench. It gives them opportunities to make mistakes, learn from them, and make up for it.
Core caught his only other target later on for eight yards and finished with those two catches for 58 yards on the day.
Outside of Boyd and Core, it was an uneventful day for the rest of the rookies, starting with Erickson, who had a couple of punt returns that went for very little and a kickoff return stopped short of the 20 yard line. He did have this 16 yard catch though:
After having a mini-breakout game last week, Fejedelem got increased playing time on defense as third-string safety Derron Smith was inactive for the second week in a row. However, he didn’t exactly do anything notable. He was still a heavy contributor on special teams.
In his second game active as a Bengal, Russell was asked to stop the Eagles’ gunners on punts and did fairly well. He did not see the field on defense.
As with the last two, nothing really to see here from Vigil.
The Bengals look to obtain their first winning streak of the year against the still winless Cleveland Browns, and Boyd and Core look to see similar involvement against a weaker opponent. It’s likely Green will still be sidelined in Cleveland, so we’ll be looking forward to seeing more from the rookies on offense.