If you thought the Bengals defense was soft coming into Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers, the sight of the inept front seven of the Buccaneers must’ve looked like a flower patch. Quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense did whatever they wanted against the Buccaneers’ helpless 32nd ranked defense in the first half of Sunday’s game because they were just flat out better. Dalton was precise and decisive in the pocket, slot receiver Tyler Boyd was running crisp routes against cornerbacks that simply couldn’t keep up, and the offensive line was keeping the Buccaneers pass-rushers in check.
And while Boyd was hauling in big play after big play, it was running back Joe Mixon who truly ran away with the first 30 minutes of the game. He crossed the century mark for the first time all season before the end of the second period, and only three of his 14 carries in that timeframe didn’t gain any yards. The blocking up front for Mixon was excellent, and the highlight of the group was none other than center Trey Hopkins, who had the best game for a Bengals center in over three years per PFF:
Trey Hopkins received a PFF graded of 82.8 against the Buccaneers.— Booberry (@JoeGoodberry) October 29, 2018
That's the highest grade a Bengals center has received since week 2 of 2015 (Bodine vs Chargers, career-best 83.0)
Before that, Kyle Cook bested that grade twice in 2010.
So, he was pretty good in his 6th start
Mixon was especially successful when running out of the I-formation, which was out of the norm from how Mixon’s season has gone. There was a stretch of five consecutive runs where Mixon gained 84 of his 123 yards, all out of the I-formation. Three of these plays features Hopkins displaying some impressive traits, and they are the three I want to highlight his incredible day with.
The Bengals haven’t had a center who can reach block as well as Hopkins can in a long time. Buccaneers nose tackle Vita Vea up to this point did get a few good licks in against Hopkins in the run game, but Hopkins snuffs him out with ease off the snap, and makes a key mid-reach step adjustment to clear Mixon of Vea completely. Even if Vea had read the play better and kept with the flow of the play, Hopkins was in great position to seal him out all the same.
No this isn’t the same play, but the Bengals figured out running against light boxes is a good strategy in this game.
Hopkins once again is so fluid and efficient entering that reach step and getting that non-snapping hand onto Vea to give him the extra second to get that snapping hand up and taking out the left Shoulder of Vea.
The linebacker really thought he was about to get Hopkins on his rear-end just by leading with his helmet. Because he doesn’t even try to get to the edge, Hopkins already won, but of course he did the absolute most. Getting his hands up at the last second, Hopkins seals out the linebacker and buries him to the ground. Mixon has the edge thanks in part from tight end C.J. Uzomah’s block and he has all the space in the world.
The Bengals would go on and score their fourth touchdown of the day on the next play, and Mixon wouldn’t get the ball until about five minutes into the third quarter. Unfortunately, left guard Clint Boling hurt his back on this play and would not return. And the one and only Christian Westerman was thrown into the fire for the entire second half.
Westerman’s first rep in run blocking was probably his best as well:
Westerman knows left tackle Cordy Glenn is going to have a tough time getting that cut block on the backside 3-technique. So, before climbing to the backside linebacker, he shoves the 3-technique towards Glenn so he can get out in front of him a bit easier. Unfortunately, Glenn still fails to cut him, but Westerman managed to lock onto the linebacker and finish him to the ground.
The work from Hopkins and right guard Alex Redmond to obliterate Vea at the point of attack was just another component that could’ve made this play go for much more yards than it ended up being.
In pass protection, Westerman and the Bengals offensive line were starting to deal with a more creative pass rush from the Buccaneers, who started using more stunts and twists to generate pressure. The first stunt Westerman dealt with didn’t go so well for him, and he was bailed out by Hopkins who was looking for work. Recognizing that the stunt is going to happen is just as crucial as passing off the defender in a timely manner to then resetting to the vacant spot on the line.
After a couple more stunts, Westerman was getting the hang of it and delivered a decent blow of his own:
Sensing the get-offs from the defensive tackle and edge, he passes off the tackle aggressively to a prepared Glenn and perfectly re-establishes positioning to meet the edge looping back inside. At a certain point, the stunts were no longer effective because Westerman and Co. were snuffing them out with ease, and the Bengals eventually got the necessary yardage to win the game on this drive.
There were a handful of underwhelming displays of power from Westerman on down blocks where Mixon was given little room to run, but some rust from Westerman could’ve been expected. He’s not Boling out there, who was also playing very well before he left the game, but Westerman delivered when he was needed.
Boling should be back against the Saints in Week 10 when the Bengals return to the field after their bye week, and center Billy Price should be joining him as well at center. Both Westerman and Hopkins will be returning to the bench where they started the season, but it was nice to see both of them shine together against a weak opponent, which should give the Bengals something to think about going forward (though, it likely won’t).