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NFL Week 8 Bengals rookie report: John Ross neglected again, Josh Malone scores

“He who must not be played” got onto the field on Sunday for the first time in a while, but that may not last very long

Indianapolis Colts v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

In their third win of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals activated all of their active rookies against the Indianapolis Colts and planned on incorporating some more than others.

Here’s our rookie report for the Bengals 24-23 home victory against the Colts.

John Ross

You all know the drill by now, if you don’t you’ve been plugging your ears for quite some time. Teams under Marvin Lewis will utilize, or in this case, activate first-year players only when absolutely necessary. So when second year backup Cody Core couldn’t go, it was John Ross’s week to come back.

Ross, who has been injured since before Week 3, saw a grand total of six snaps on offense and a single target on a 10 yard comeback that went incomplete. After the game, Lewis was quoted saying Ross: “...was not part of the plan going into the game.”

The wording of this statement makes all the difference in the world. Leading up to Sunday, Ross was not expected to play much because they determined so in planning the offense, for whatever reason.

The real kicker here is quarterback Andy Dalton finished the game four for 11 on passes traveling at least 10 yards through the air against the team that is last in yards per completion, and now second to last in completions of 10 or more yards.

So, not once did Lewis think it was wise to adjust (keyword) accordingly and implement Ross into an offense that has had trouble generating explosive plays through the air against a defense that is more prone to allowing them than anyone else.

But don’t let this strategy defer you from the fact that Ross might not even dress against a defense that is bound to suffocate the Bengals offense in comparison.

Some things you can only laugh at.

Joe Mixon

This week, along with the usual misusage of Mixon’s strengths as a running back, Mixon was subtweeted by Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell for “mimicking him”:

This were likely sparked by Mixon’s comments last week about his usage against the Steelers, where Mixon claimed he could: “do way more than he did” when talking about his seven carries to Bell’s 35 in their game last Sunday.

If you know me, you know I wasn’t Mixon’s biggest supporter when he was drafted because of his extensive off-the-field history. However, since he’s been drafted, he’s carried himself like a professional and has so far kept on a path of redemption. For that, I feel no issue defending his on-field ability; which is something that’s pretty damn special, and not something Bell will likely admit publicly.

Bell is really, really, really good. He couldn’t produce like he does so consistently if he wasn’t. Mixon, however, is the slightly better overall athlete of the two. On paper, and on the field, he is. This is not normal:

Both players are an inch over six feet tall and both weigh right around 230 pounds, but only one has 4.45 speed. Mixon is one of the very few players in the league to be sprinting full speed, stop in his tracks to juke to his left, and accelerate back to full speed after cutting back one second later. Despite possibly slowing down near the end zone, Mixon’s longest play of the year so far shows just how special he truly is when he finds the open field.

As for him finding the open field, getting Mixon more involved in the passing game should be a priority. It was one of his biggest strengths at Oklahoma, and despite fumbling on his second catch of the game, he’s caught all 17 of his targets, and is averaging 11.1 yards per catch. As complicating as it apparently is, this is an easy way for the Bengals to create opportunities for their best players.

Jordan Willis

In first game the Bengals played former defensive end Margus Hunt, the Bengals ended up blocking a punt, buy one of defensive ends that ended replacing Hunt’s snaps:

After not being engaged at the snap, Willis simply bull rushes the “personal protector” and works his way back to the punter. This was the Bengals first blocked punt since Week 11 of the 2013 season, and Willis made it look easy.

Willis recorded one tackle on 20 snaps, but his best play on defense ended up being a missed tackle:

Willis was in a position to get a tackle for loss on running back Marlon Mack because he was able to get off the right tackle’s angle block. At the snap, the inline tight end comes down to chip Willis, forcing him to lean inside and engage the tackle leading with his shoulder.

He’s then able to remove his inside arm from the tackle’s grasp, flip his hips and get free into the backfield. All he has to do is finish. Luckily, linebacker Vontaze Burfict read the play from the snap and helped corral Mack along with linebacker Vincent Rey.

This is what Willis is being expected to do: come on on first and second down and help put offenses into 3rd and longs. He’s a much more effective run defender than a pass rusher, as he still is adjusting to working around tackles with his hands.

But getting experience getting off blocks with quick hand usage is good for his overall repertoire as a pass rusher. It’s a matter of when, not if, it all clicks.

Carl Lawson

Similar to Week 5, Lawson was flagged for unnecessary roughness after getting a late hit on the quarterback, but later, bounced back for a crucial sack:

That’s 4.5 sacks for Lawson on the season, and just like the last 3.5, his latest is of high quality. Some say 31 inch arms are too small for edge rushers, or any defensive lineman. How effective a pass rushers arms are entirely depends on how the pass rusher wants to use them. Lawson shoots his arms into the tackle’s chest and gets full extension to clear himself a lane inside to quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Josh Malone

So, who had Malone not only getting a catch, but a touchdown before Ross?

Malone didn’t really do much except find the ball at the end of his route, this was all play design with an anticipation throw by Andy Dalton. The deep out route gets the safety to bite, and Malone has inside leverage to make an easy play on the ball.

Malone ended up with two catches for 35 yards on three targets for the day. He was third amongst receivers in snaps with 19, and was on the field for half of the offense’s passes with 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back, three wide receivers), which is their most common personnel package when throwing the ball.

The Rest

Ryan Glasgow

Recorded one tackle on 24 snaps, one total behind Pat Sims. Effectively filling in behind Geno Atkins and Sims and both tackle spots. Billings finished at five snaps respectively.

Jordan Evans

With Kevin Minter inactive and Vincent Rey injured mid-game, Evans still never saw the field on defense.

Cethan Carter

While the offensive line has remained the primary culprit for the offense’s struggles running the ball, Carter still hasn’t shown to be an effective lead blocker when they go heavy on the ground (which they should never in the first place). He struggles generating movement in the holes and subsequently becomes an impediment in the gap himself, and that was common again on Sunday.

Hardy Nickerson

While second-year safety Clayton Fejedelem had himself a monstrous outing on special teams (3 total tackles), Nickerson got his first special teams tackle on the opening kickoff, and was third on the team in special teams snaps.

Coming up

As the Bengals begin a three game road trip in Jacksonville, two big statements can be made:

  1. John Ross can prove be more than just a glorified decoy against the league’s best secondary
  2. Joe Mixon can be maximized when the offense isn’t confined in tight formations against the league’s worst defense against the run.

From a numbers perspective, Jacksonville is indeed one of the toughest opponents the Bengals will face all year, it’s a mismatch from multiple viewpoints. But we’re way past expecting young players to be used or used right under Lewis. For those who still have hope, well...