I always like to see how the newest members of the Bengals play against the Steelers for the first time. Last season, it was Joe Mixon who showed why he can become a similar player to Le’Veon Bell. The year before that, it was Tyler Boyd breaking out in his second career game. This year, one rookie who wasn’t even supposed to play showed out in front of everyone and made his mark in a clutch moment.
Here’s our rookie report from the Bengals 28-21 Week 6 defeat the Steelers:
While he was one of the several Bengals defenders who exited the game with an injury at one point, the Bengals rookie free safety played the most snaps for the Bengals defense. Bates’ injury was also the only one that can be classified under friendly fire, as it was linebacker Vontaze Burfict who struck Bates’ helmet with his:
The play is one of the three that the NFL is reviewing to possibly punish Burfict for. Bates sat out for a handful of plays and went through the concussion protocol before returning to the field. His replacement was Clayton Fejedelem, and Brandon Wilson also got some playing time at deep safety when Shawn Williams exited the game while being checked for a concussion of his own.
Luckily, Bates appeared okay well after the incident to make this crucial play late in the fourth quarter:
The most impressive of Bates’ four solo tackles, this would lead to a third-and-one situation for the Steelers offense. The following play would involve another Bengals rookie making the play of his young career.
After their late-game heroics last week against the Dolphins, the Bengals were largely ineffective when pass-rushing against a stout Steelers offensive line. The biggest factor towards this was the distribution of snaps along the defensive line.
Andrew Billings, Joshua Tupou and Michael Johnson played a combined 122 snaps. The trio of Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard played 77 snaps. Hubbard himself appeared on 28 snaps, and didn’t do much with them. For the splash plays he’s made, he’s mostly been a non-factor in the pass rush, and this latest game was a testament of that.
The good plays have been fun, but we need to see more of them. Or just more consistent pressure.
Jefferson did not benefit from the Bengals losing Nick Vigil for the game after he injured his knee, which has now been diagnosed as a sprained MCL. Once again, he stuck to just special teams, but he did make his first tackle on the Bengals’ second punt of the game:
Vigil is expected to miss the next month, so just like the first four weeks when Burfict was suspended, Jefferson will be one of the first players off the bench if anything else happens to their linebacking corps.
Last week, Walton was a total bystander in the Bengals offense as he received zero touches on 12 snaps. Against the Steelers, he was on the field for 19 snaps and received two carries, each went for -1 yards.
The Bengals rushing attack was extremely underutilized with starter Joe Mixon leading the way with 11 carries for 64 yards. Even with his high yards per carry, only six of his 11 rushes were successful. For whatever reason, they never stuck with the running game and also ran a behind a lot of condensed formations, which couldn’t counter the heavy boxes they spawned.
Obviously -2 yards on two carries is the opposite of success in regards to Walton, and since Mixon wasn’t given much work, Walton’s opportunities were limited as well. The majority of his snaps involved him as an option in the passing game out of play action, but he also ran a few routes on the outside. He was even the best option on this play that ended up falling incomplete towards Tyler Boyd:
What’s also notable is that even though Mixon out-snapped Walton 42 to 19, Walton had more reps in pass protection (5) than Mixon (3). Giovani Bernard, who is still out with an MCL injury, is the Bengals best pass protecting back, so Walton really is filling in for Bernard’s role. We just need to see any signs of life when he has the ball in his hands.
The barrage of injuries the Bengals defense suffered paved the way for the Bengals fifth-round pick to finally see time on the field outside of special teams. In just four snaps at slot cornerback, Phillips made two impressive stops, and certainly made an impression on his teammates as well.
That second play was the play that followed Bates’ tackle shown earlier. It lead to the Steelers having to kick a short field goal and kept the Bengals within a single score with just over four minutes remaining. The Bengals did indeed score and retake the lead, but, you all know what happened next.
Still, it was a spectacular play from the rookie in just his fourth snap of his career. With Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick all leaving the game at some point, it was guaranteed that Phillips would find his way onto the field at some point. Tony McRae took most of the snaps in relief of the injured starters, but Phillips answered the call when he was needed. With Dennard’s status up in the air for next week, he may be asked to do it again.
Did not play
One of the biggest disappointments of the game was wide receiver Cody Core, who dropped two of his three targets (though one was more excusable than the other) on just eight snaps. Core almost knocked Tate off the roster, and has been active over Tate since Week 3, while Tate has seen every game from the sideline in street clothes. If John Ross can’t play against the Chiefs next Sunday night, it’s going to be hard to justify playing Core over Tate.
Also in that game, the hope is that Billy Price returns to the field after missing the last four games with a foot injury. Neither Trey Hopkins or Alex Redmond played particularly well in pass protection against the Steelers, so adding Price back to the mix is very much needed.