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Bengals Week 4 rookie report: Mark Walton finds himself on the scoresheet

The Bengals fourth-round pick made his first contributions in his second career game.

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

While it wasn’t scorigami, the Bengals 37-36 win over the Falcons on Sunday was just the third time in NFL history a game ended with that score. It’s fitting that the final score wasn’t as rare as the fashion of how the Bengals won this game.

The Bengals went score for score against a high-octane offense in their own stadium, and won on the final drive of the game where they converted two fourth downs. Amidst all the excitement were the five rookies that dressed and played, but only a few truly made an impact in the high-scoring contest.

Jessie Bates

Through the first quarter of the season, one of Bates’ biggest perceived weaknesses has shown to be the exact opposite. He finished second to linebacker Nick Vigil in solo tackles with seven and had no missed tackles to his name. With context, none of these tackles were stops as they all occurred past the line to gain, but he ended the contest with no tackles missed, and only has one instance of that all month.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan torched everyone in the secondary, so while it’s true that the rookie free safety didn’t make much of an impact in pass coverage, no one else did either. The whole system looked flappable against the Falcons high-powered aerial attack, and Bates was just bit too slow to react playing centerfield, though again, there wasn’t much he could do against a nearly flawless game plan from the opposition.

The expectations bestowed upon Bates were high entering this season and it’s fair to see he’s on track for meeting them. He’s not exactly been what Derwin James has been for the Chargers, but they’re playing vastly different roles. Bates has held his own and has been anything but a liability. The secondary as a unit may need a re-evaluation following this narrow win, but Bates is on the right path.

Sam Hubbard

With only three defensive tackles active for the game, and one of them being Josh Tupou, Hubbard was forced onto the field early in the rotation on the interior even on base downs. With defensive end Michael Johnson back, Hubbard actually played more inside than he did on the edge.

As a result, Hubbard struggled on and off when dealing with down blocks in run defense, and made minimal impact as a pass rusher. Aside from his active game against Baltimore in Week 2, Hubbard’s splash plays have been far and few between. Hopefully the team has newly acquired Adolphus Washington activated next week so Hubbard can keep to the edge in run defense, because he is a fine edge-setter. However, we need to see a jump in pass rushing efficiency on third down from the rookie when he’s at his under tackle alignment.

Malik Jefferson

During last week’s Orange and Black Insider, we discussed the possibility of Jefferson getting integrated in the defense for this week. With MIKE linebacker Preston Brown back on the field, Jefferson was once again regulated to just special teams while the five other active linebackers all saw time on the field for the defense (including Vincent Rey’s one snap).

As we all know, WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict is set to return to the team this week as his four-game suspension has ended. Burfict will likely just replace tight end Tyler Eifert on the roster when the team puts Eifert on the injured reserve list for his season-ending ankle injury, so all linebackers, including Jefferson, should remain on the roster.

Burfict’s return can’t diminish Jefferson’s current role because he’s just a special teamer, but unless a situation like last year happens where a multitude of injuries at the linebacker position pile up, Jefferson isn’t seeing the field on defense anytime soon.

Mark Walton

The Bengals once again had just Walton available behind Giovani Bernard at running back for the second week in a row with Joe Mixon sidelined with his knee injury. Unlike last week though, Walton actually had some touches to write home about in his time on the field. He finished with just nine rushing yards on five carries, and 28 receiving yards on two receptions. Most of those yards came on this impressive catch and run.

The blocking for Walton up front mirrored that of the preseason when he averaged less than one yard per carry, but with how Bernard was running the ball, his production on the ground was marginal.

The real bad news for Walton was him being evaluated for a concussion after he took a head-to-head hit late in the third quarter, which was called for unnecessary roughness on Atlanta. The collision put Walton into the concussion protocol and out of action for a bit, forcing Bernard to take more snaps than planned.

Fortunately, Walton soon returned and partook in the final two offensive drives that resulted in 9 points. Whether his evaluation for a concussion was just precautionary or not, the last thing the Bengals needed was another injury at the running back position.

Next week’s game against the Dolphins could very well be when Mixon returns to the field, which would diminish Walton’s opportunities going forward. The offense will be better for it, and now Walton has some experience to build off of.

Darius Phillips

Lost in the madness that was Sunday’s game was cornerback William Jackson leaving the game temporarily for an injury right before the end of the third quarter. This shifted slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard to Jackson’s spot on the outside, and inserted Tony McRae into Dennard’s spot inside.

It was the third game this season McRae played on defense, and Phillips has yet to see anything beyond special teams. He only took six snaps on special teams, and saw Alex Erickson take all the reps at both kickoff and punt returner. He did make a touchdown-saving tackle on his first special teams snap, and tackled Atlanta’s kickoff return man Marvin Hall at midfield before he could run back the opening kickoff for six points.

Did not play

Billy Price

Auden Tate

Bates and Hubbard are not amongst the liabilities that have contributed to one of the worst scoring defenses in the league. Their play through the first four games has been about as good as we could expect from them playing significant snaps in their first handful of games. And just adding Jefferson to the mix won’t make much of a difference like adding Burfict back will.

As of now, we don’t know if next Sunday will be the game Price returns, but we should probably expect him to takeover for Trey Hopkins at center. While it may yield better results if Price were to just replace Alex Redmond at right guard, that would be uncharacteristic of the team to do, especially when they declared they were focused on Price at center only right after they drafted him.

But the Bengals winning a game like this one is also pretty abnormal. We’ll just have to wait and see what else they may surprise us with.