The talk leading into the Cincinnati Bengals’ game against the Indianapolis Colts during Week 8 was how John Ross was finally healthy. He practiced all week long, and Tyler Boyd and Cody Core would both miss the game with injuries. We thought “there is now way the Bengals can’t play Ross against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.”
However Marvin Lewis never fails to surprise us. Ross ended up playing all of six snaps. He ended the game with one target. To put it into prospective Josh Malone played 19 snaps, and Alex Erickson even came in for 13 snaps. Malone ended up catching his first NFL reception followed by his first NFL touchdown. Erickson had a weird play where the Bengals ran him as running back, and Erickson managed to pick up 13 yards and a first down on the play.
Still why wasn’t Ross involved in this game? Lewis gave his answer after the game.
“John got to dress today because I chose to suit him up, and Cody (Core) couldn’t go,” Lewis said during his postgame press conference. “He’ll continue to practice and get an opportunity as it goes. But he was not part of the plan going into the game.”
The only good thing about that answer is that he left the door open for Ross, but otherwise what is even happening? Does he not realize his team was 2-4 coming into the day?
Lewis seems to be stuck in the days when the Bengals were actually in the race for the division and Wild Card, so he could afford to sit his rookies for no reason. He makes it sound like if Cody Core was healthy that Ross wouldn’t have even suited up. Why on earth did you spend a ninth overall pick on a player you will fight tooth and nail not to even play.
Sure Malone had a nice game overall, but Ross is a difference maker. He is a home run hitting player. He has every chance to score a touchdown every time he has the ball, but for some reason Lewis seems to think the rookie still isn’t playable.
Making matters worse is Lewis may not even activate Ross when the Bengals face the Jaguars this week. During his Monday press conference, Lewis admitted that once Cody Core is healthy, he may be the final receiver that’s active in Week 9, leaving Ross to be a healthy scratch.
“We have 53 players, and 46 of them get to suit up. So, I’ll determine (who dresses) on Saturday,” said Lewis. “It’s good for John to get opportunities to play as he can since he’s playing catch up. We’d like to continue with that as much as we can. Every snap he gets now is a snap we would’ve liked to have had in the offseason, and frankly in (the preseason) when we were playing real football. These are real football snaps now, and it’s good.”
Lewis went into further detail about Core and Malone earning their snaps, but he did note that Ross brings an added dimension as a kickoff returner.
“They’ve had more opportunity to participate — no questions — in certain aspects of special teams. But John can be compared the same way with those guys, with the possibility of him being a returner,” said Lewis. “That’s the thing we always tell the young players — ‘On Sundays, when it goes down to 46, you’ve got to be able to fill a role. So, every chance you get to prove you can get that done obviously is a feather in your cap toward suiting up on Sunday.’”
I know it isn’t anything new with Lewis and this coaching staff. They have always hated playing rookies. However, we are at the stage this season where clearly this team, and especially this offense, needs a shot of adrenaline. Lewis has that shot sitting on the sideline barely being able to dress for a game.
It is even more frustrating watching teams like the Chiefs, Jaguars, Texans and more commit to playing their rookies early and often, and they have been rewarded for it. The Bengals, however, keep trying to put their rookies down further and further down.
Whether it is barely playing Ross this week or failing to give Joe Mixon a carry during the second half last week while he was averaging almost seven yards per carry, the Bengals keep finding ways to keep these play makers of the field. These players were drafted for a reason. It was because clearly they needed a a shot to the arm on offense, but Lewis is doing everything possible to keep that from happening.
Lewis has been on the record as saying the rookie needs a lot of time and a lot of practice, but the vagueness of that description is starting to worry me. If a whole week of practice and having two other receivers out with injuries against a soft Colts’ defense isn’t enough to get Ross on the field then what is?