Amidst a second-half disappointment, the Cincinnati Bengals stopped feeding Joe Mixon, while Josh Malone’s first target goes horribly wrong. Here’s our rookie report for the Bengals’ 29-14 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Stop me if you heard this before: Bengals rookie gets shunned on the sideline for no good reason.
In his sixth career game, Mixon finally seemed to get going in this new-look offense under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. At the halfway point of the second quarter, Mixon touched the ball eight times and generated 56 yards. 42 of those yards came from two of his longest true runs of the year:
Both times Mixon gets the handoff out of shotgun formation, and Mixon is able to create his own space by leveraging the defense away from his desired path to the open field. Whenever Mixon’s play comes up, the Le’Veon Bell comparisons get shoved into our ears because of this trait he shares with Bell.
They both see holes open up before they do and optimize their yardage beyond where most running backs would just take what their offensive line gives them. The difference in experience shows when Bell can do this when Pittsburgh runs out of the I-formation, which Mixon isn’t best at because he never did it at Oklahoma.
The biggest discrepancy between Mixon and Bell in this particular game is that Bell received 21 second half touches to Mixon’s two, and neither of them were rushes. Why did he not get the ball? Not even Mixon knew:
(1/2)"Bell gets the ball 35 times, I get it 7 in the 1st half & don't touch the ball again."- Joe Mixon— Elise Jesse (@Elise_JesseWLWT) October 23, 2017
After expressing his frustration, along with the general reaction of the lack of A.J. Green in the latter part of the game, Lazor had this to say:
OC Bill Lazor: After every game I have between two and five skill players who are mad at me. Nobody happy when only 51 plays.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) October 23, 2017
One would think if he called more plays with Mixon and Green as well, they’d have ran more than 51 plays.
The negligence of an effective playmaker for an extended portion of a loss is not something new under Lazor, nor Ken Zampese before him, or even Hue Jackson or Jay Gruden before them. It’s been an issue that has always seem to come up from time to time under head coach Marvin Lewis, heck, it just happened a little over a month ago with John Ross. Mixon is just the latest victim to this, and he won’t be the last for as long as Lewis maintains his position.
Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson
Collectively, the Bengals pass rushing unit was mitigated for the vast majority of the game, and neither Willis nor Lawson provided much pressure all game. Both pass rushers had one rep when they were about a half second too late from the sack, and the end results of the play were completely opposite.
It’s encouraging to see Lawson continue to utilize this inside arm “hump” move that he was so successful with against Green Bay. Alejandro Villanueva is one of the tallest tackles in the league at 6’9”, which makes this a monumental height discrepancy with Lawson on the other side of the ball.
This preset leverage advantage gives Lawson the avenue to get under Villanueva and long arm him out of the way for the hit on Ben Roethlisberger, who failed to convert the 3rd down pass downfield.
This play encapsulates most of Willis’s day, and season for that matter. You can see how much he can bend at the hips to bend around the edge, but he’s just a step too slow. In this specific instance, he was chipped at the line of scrimmage which put already behind, but even after getting chipped outside, he still insisted on trying to win around the corner.
I’ve yet to find an effective example of Willis as a pass rusher try to win inside. He didn’t do it that much at Kansas State because he could win with speed outside more, but the lack of variety can lead to him getting nullified all the time, and he was this game for his 23 snaps.
It wasn’t a Cody Core injury that got Malone onto the field like I predicted, it was the combination of Tyler Boyd and John Ross being injured that essentially forced Malone into uniform. In his first game, he saw the field 13 times, which was more than Alex Erickson, and received one target:
A couple key factors caused this to happen. One, cornerback William Gay earned this tipped interception. His primary focus is to account for Tyler Kroft who runs a hook to the side, but he ends up sitting down in the soft spot between Kroft and Malone, putting him right in the throwing lane- forcing the high throw.
Two, Malone uses a speed cut on this dig so he can get to the catch point faster off of his break, but the presence of safety Sean Davis, who closed in on this pass rapidly, makes Malone’s job at the catch point much harder. The high and wide throw is out of Malone’s reasonable catch radius, and as a result, it’s a live ball in the air.
Depending on Ross and Boyd’s health, Malone’s playing status is also up in the air going forward.
The play of Glasgow is getting more effective as he continues to get healthily rotated at defensive tackle. Against Pittsburgh, he was second on the defense and tied with Pat Sims on the defensive line with four tackles for plays that went three yards or less, he also had this impressive tackle for loss on Bell:
I still believe Glasgow is a true nose tackle playing 3-technique solely because the Bengals feel like he’s a better 3-technique than DeShawn Williams, who is still waiting on the practice squad, and they have no one else behind Geno Atkins at that position.
For what it’s worth, Glasgow’s PFF pass rushing grade is currently 50.6 and his run defense grade is 69.8, and I think based on what I’ve seen, this is more accurate than not.
It’s great that the defense is developing another solid run defender up the middle, but he’s not a threat to rush the passer, and he’s yet to prove that statement wrong.
Jordan Evans, Cethan Carter, and Hardy Nickerson
The special teams trio didn’t do much of note on Sunday, as Carter saw the most total snaps with 23 (five on offense, 18 on special teams).
It’s not coincidence that Carter saw a similar number of snaps as Jeremy Hill (9) as he’s almost exclusively used as a lead blocker for the fourth year back, and the effectiveness of their grouping when on the field isn’t much of anything, and it wasn’t on Sunday.
When starting middle linebacker Kevin Minter left the game early due to injury, Vincent Rey replaced him and played 32 snaps on defense. Evans saw the field once on defense, as he became the next man up had another injury occurred.
There won’t be a change at offensive coordinator this week, but there may be a similar increase in touches for Mixon like there was from week 2 to week 3, as the Bengals go up against a depleted Colts team coming off an embarrassing defeat at home.
The Colts have a pretty decent run-defending group up front, but if they go down early (they are 10 point underdogs at the moment), it could be Mixon’s game to close.