Through five weeks, the Bengals have yet to put together a complete game. We’ve seen them explode out of the gate, and come from behind with a second half surge multiple times now. As a result, they’ve achieved three fourth-quarter comebacks and have the second-best record in the AFC. Is the way they’re winning sustainable? Probably not, but it’s sure as hell been fun to watch.
Part of the fun has been the splash plays that a couple of rookies have been making. First-round pick Billy Price may still be sidelined, but early returns on their investments after Price are very promising, and Sunday’s game ended up being exceptional for a specific two. Here’s our rookie report for the Bengals 27-17 victory over the Dolphins.
He’s not been in as many highlight reels as the Chargers’ Derwin James, or have as many interceptions as the Chargers’ Browns’ Denzel Ward, but Bates is making his case as one of the best rookie starters in the league.
Earlier in the week I wrote about Bates’ importance in stopping quarterback Ryan Tannehill connecting with wide receiver Kenny Stills down the field. Stills finished the game with 17 receiving yards on only two catches and four targets, and sure enough Bates got in the way of that fourth and final target.
Bates has only been targeted in deep coverage a handful of times all season, and now has two interceptions in his first five games. Along with his interception, Bates also recorded four solo tackles and was the defense’s highest graded player per Pro Football Focus.
The highest graded Cincinnati Bengals on defense in their comeback win over the Dolphins yesterday. pic.twitter.com/WtEnDMreVk— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 8, 2018
Bates turns 22 years old on Thursday and his stock is soaring. He joins just Earl Thomas, Eric Berry, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Malik Hooker and Marcus Williams as the only active safeties with two career interceptions before turning 22. The celebration will be short lived though, as he has to face quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers for the first time in his career just a few days later.
Bates and Hubbard seem to play their best in the same games. Back in Week 2, Bates snagged his first interception and Hubbard got his first sack. Before Bates picked off Tannehill on Sunday, Hubbard had tackled him for a loss and scooped up a strip-sack from Carlos Dunlap for the defense’s second score of the game.
Hubbard played 12 less snaps than he did last week in Atlanta and performed much better in comparison. He played the majority of the game at defensive tackle but have as many snaps against the run like he did last week. The extra rest thanks to new defensive tackle Adolphus Washington playing a solid 17 snaps helped Hubbard come on strong with the rest of the defensive line to finish the comeback.
This usage bodes well for Hubbard going forward. He’s a fine run defender on the edge but he’s still finding himself rushing the passer from the inside. But there’s nothing like scoring your first touchdown a month into your career to boost your confidence.
One of the more surprising aspects of Sunday’s game was the offense relying so heavily on running back Joe Mixon in his first game back from injury. Mixon was on the field for 47 of the 60 snaps and took 22 of the 24 carries, with quarterback Andy Dalton taking the other two.
Walton and Thomas Rawls were both active behind Mixon, but it was Walton who got onto the field on offense. Walton saw 12 snaps, 11 of them being passing plays. His one rep in pass protection resulted in Dalton getting sacked, but upon review, it didn’t look like a missed blitz pickup from Walton as much as it looked like center Trey Hopkins just missed his assignment.
you blaming the running back or the center here pic.twitter.com/P1RyAySdKW— ☠️ alex scarerickson ☠️ (@John__Sheeran) October 8, 2018
Walton also had two receptions for three yards, both on unsuccessful screen plays. With Giovani Bernard sidelined for the foreseeable future, you’d like to see Walton more involved, especially with the running game doing nothing for most of Mixon’s day up until the end. Maybe we see more of a balance against Pittsburgh.
It was a quiet day for Phillips on special teams, as he was not a part of the punt return unit that allowed Jakeem Grant’s touchdown right before halftime. He’s still not been put back at return man either, as Alex Erickson took both punt returns and was back for all four of the Dolphins’ kickoffs.
Did not play
Price has already stated he’ll be sitting out the game against Pittsburgh, but the week afterwords when the Bengals travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs is looking like a possible return date for him. Hopkins’ best game last season when he was starting at right guard was the Bengals home game against the Steelers, so hopefully he can end his run at center on a high note.