In a span of 107 hours, the Cincinnati Bengals went from hopeful to desperate. Now sitting at 0-2 on a week-and-a-half break, they’ve given opportunities to their youngest players and taken away some in return as well. Here’s our week 2 rookie report from the Thursday night disappointment against Houston:
All offseason long, the two primary topics surrounding the John Ross dialog were: how much he would impact the offense, and how well the offense would actually use him.
Turns out, the optimists win round one.
Ross went off against a depleted Texas secondary. He hauled in five receptions off six targets and racked up 112 yards in an electrifying performance in his first ever game, which included a 53-touchdown off a slant route for his first career touchdown.
Many thought head coach Marvin Lewis would bench the rookie after he fumbled his first touch on a reverse handoff. But Lewis, against his predominantly stingy nature towards younger players, kept Ross in the game for the greater good, and it sure panned out for...
Well, we know that never happened.
Ross never saw the field after that fumble. He was benched after Kareem Jackson made a literal heads-up play by jarring the ball loose from Ross’s tight grip with his cranium.
Say that happens to A.J. Green. There’s not a chance in the world he gets benched. There’s no need for an explanation why. His value to the entire scheme of things is topped by no one. You can’t bench him for a fluke fumble that very little in his position would be able to prevent. It would be ridiculous. Sometimes the other guy makes a tremendous play. You move onto the next one.
Ross carried his own significant value in this game, and all of it was diminished because of implied social contract between Lewis and the young players that he is a major part of acquiring months prior to every season. He was capable of coming back from that play and at the very least providing a wrinkle in an offense with an identity crisis, and his one mistake prevented any of that from occurring.
The vast disparity between the lack of off-field discipline and the overage of inconvenient on-field discipline from Lewis towards his players is one of the biggest blemishes on his now 15-year resume in Cincinnati.
After an unpleasing stat line last week, Mixon came away with modest production on continued limited work. He ran for 36 yards on nine carries on 16 snaps. He’s yet to achieve a run longer than eight yards, but we can look at the little things on a better performance than four days prior.
Creating your own yards as a back is such an intangible process at its core. Like a quarterback identifying the safeties and looking them off when progressing the field in the pocket, the way Mixon can look off linebackers behind the line of scrimmage is impressive.
When plays like these aren’t blocked well at the first level, the defense has to maintain their run fits and not get caught behind the mess, or else the slightest holes can open up and negative yardage can turn into a routine 4-5 yards, as we see for the first and third plays respectively. Mixon can accelerate off the jump cut and preserve his balance to get skinny through the hole, or make someone else miss sequentially.
That third play is textbook effective patience, he presses the line and gets the linebackers to stack on top of one another, effectively creating a lane where the alley player in the form of the safety has to come in and make the stop. It’d be great if they actually allow Mixon to get into a rhythm and not force a three-back committee down the game plan’s throat. Maybe that’s on new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s agenda. We’ll see.
The first member of the Bengals 2017 draft class to record a game started is Jordan Willis at right defensive end. He didn’t do too much as a pass rusher, as Carl Lawson supplanted him on third down for the most part, but he looked pretty solid in run defense. He rarely lost the edge and showed some of the snap-to-whistle hustle that the Bengals loved about him at Kansas State. Here he is stacking and shedding backup left tackle Chris Clark:
Quarterback Deshaun Watson had that 49 rushing touchdown, and rushed for 18 yards on his four other carries, he went nowhere on this read option because of Willis:
With this start under his belt, Willis is up to 71 snaps on the season, and with Michael Johnson’s concussion clouding his chances to go in week 3, Willis looks to be in line to start against Green Bay, who just played Atlanta without both of their starting tackles.
Despite the decreased bodies at defensive end, Lawson actually saw a decrease in his snaps on Thursday, as he only found the field 17 times compared to the 23 snaps he saw against Baltimore. This can be attributed to Houston’s designed run percentage of 56% percent. He didn’t see the field because they only threw the ball 24 times, but he still got a hit on Watson. And he’s tied for the league lead among rookie edge rushers in pressures:
Most pressures among rookie defensive linemen:— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 18, 2017
1 (tie). Deatrich Wise, Patriots (7)
1 (tie). Carl Lawson, Bengals (7)
Going from Houston to Green Bay will mean a lot more nickel packages for the Bengals defense to try and slow down Aaron Rodgers, so expect Lawson to see the field a bit more.
Once again the newer fourth-round defensive tackle out snapped the fourth-round pick from a year ago in Andrew Billings. He’s fully entrenched in that backup 3 technique spot behind Geno Atkins, but he hasn’t quite made an impact when relieving the all-pro. He wasn’t the most productive interior player in college, and he doesn’t have tremendous athleticism to help him out early on, so like most in his position, he’s just going through the motions and learning as he goes.
Glasgow is one of the three true first-year guys making major contributions on this defensive line. The splash plays will come, the hope is there’s not too many trash plays in between, and so far, he’s been in position and filling gaps.
Jordan Evans, Cethan Carter and Hardy Nickerson
All three of these rookies were active but did not see the field other than on special teams. It’s unclear whether tight end C.J. Uzomah is soon to come back from his knee injury, and with the recent news of Tyler Eifert’s uncertainty for week 3, maybe it’s Carter’s time for snaps at the position.
No one likes starting 0-2, and math says any playoff chances are all but evaporated. If this team wants to avoid the even worse 0-3 start, they have to bit the bullet with Ross and Mixon. They have to allow them to make mistakes, and trust them to recover and do more good than bad.
You don’t get better at football by not playing football. If this staff with a new face calling the plays has any intention of getting into the endzone, those two have to be involved more than they have been.