There isn’t a position group on the Bengals’ roster that hasn’t been hit with injuries this year; long-term or short term. The notable ones have been Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert’s season-ending ailments that have forced them to be placed on injured reserve, but there’s been plenty of others worth mentioning.
On the defensive line, Carl Lawson tore his ACL in Week 8 back in October and the edge rushers besides Carlos Dunlap struggled to compensate for the loss of Lawson in the time since.
On the other side of the ball, Cordy Glenn hurt his back in a practice leading up to the team’s Week 11 matchup with the Browns and missed the two games following that one as well.
The Bengals were 0-5 in the first five games without Lawson, which included a 0-3 stretch without Glenn. This past Sunday was Glenn’s first game back, and it happened to be the first game another Bengals’ edge rusher has truly stepped up with Lawson’s on the sidelines.
As a result, when each team’s left tackle went up against the opposing right defensive end, there was a lot of interesting tape to digest. And as it happens, three of the players in question happened to be rookies. We’ll start with the Bengals’ rookie edge rusher Sam Hubbard going up against Raiders’ rookie left tackle Kolton Miller.
The Raiders’ second drive of the game ended abruptly by the hands of Hubbard, but it was just as much a good rep from Hubbard as it was an awful rep from Miller. The footwork from the young left tackle here is nothing short of abysmal, and even an athlete like Hubbard, who lacks upper-tier explosion out of his stance, will always be able to win around the edge against this.
In between his two sacks on the day, Hubbard also nearly forced another fumble from quarterback Derek Carr. Here, we see how important functional hand usage is throughout the rep, not just at the beginning. Hubbard doesn’t have an edge against right tackle Brandon Parker until Parker gets a bit too high, and Hubbard re-positions his hands to establish better leverage, which helps him push back Parker towards Carr.
Did you get flashbacks of Cedric Ogbuehi or Jake Fisher? I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
Miller’s false step re-appears and he lowers his head towards Hubbard while bending at the waist. The three most important things not to do against facing an apparent bull rush, Miller did. Hubbard has Miller dead to rights even before he initiates contact, and knowing he won’t be able to mirror him to the edge, Hubbard swims around him and makes his second sack of the game look even more impressive than the first.
Hubbard slowed down a bit for the rest of the game, but the damage had been done by this point. The Bengals had a lead on the Raiders and they didn’t let go of it, even though they got pretty close to doing so. Part of that was due to the awful play of Jeff Driskel, but Driskel can’t blame his left tackle for his struggles.
Glenn returned to his best form as the game went on, but he had some slight issues to start.
Like Hubbard, Raiders edge rusher Arden Key was also drafted in the third round and has plenty more bend than he has explosion and speed. He used that quickness to his advantage early on against Glenn, who showed a tiny bit of rust at the beginning of this game. It was the first quarter and some of Glenn’s first live-action reps in almost a month, so it was understandable.
He turned it on later, and these two plays are great examples.
When I did Glenn’s scouting report back in March when the Bengals traded for him, the first asset that I went over was Glenn’s hand strength and grip strength. When his feet are right and his movement is adequate in his vertical sets, his hands will lock anyone down, and that’s exactly what he did to Key for the vast majority of this game.
It was a nice surprise to see the Bengals actually show up this week, and as it usually does, it all started up front.
If you’re still upset about the Bengals’ stubbornness regarding Alex Redmond and perhaps even Billy Price, that’s fine. But Glenn is still under contract for two more years and if this is the kind of player that they’ll have for the next 30+ games, they have one of the most important positions on the team locked down.
Hubbard had a great game, but he also produced accordingly due to the level of his competition. He also disappeared in the pass rush after his second sack, and it goes to show that while Hubbard has definite flashes, he’s still a work in progress.
When 2019 rolls around, Hubbard will probably be replacing Michael Johnson as the team’s base defensive end opposite of Dunlap, and despite this impressive performance from him, Johnson is the comparison we need to be sticking with for him. Hubbard got to six sacks on the season with this game, and that’s an appropriate number for him to reach every year. Johnson’s average over his career has been about five per year, and his 11.5-sack season in 2012 inflated that number as well.
Reasonable expectations are what keeps players in the right distinction instead of getting the “bust” label plastered on their namesake, and we need to keep those expectations on Hubbard until he can replicate this performance consistently against competent pass protectors.