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Bengals Week 16 rookie report: Jessie Bates, Darius Phillips provide bright spots in defensive effort

In the wake of yet another Dre Kirkpatrick injury, the Bengals called upon one of their fifth-round draft picks to play significant snaps yet again.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

In the Bengals and Browns’ two meetings this season, a combined 23 rookies took the field. These are two of the youngest rosters in the league, but one team seems to have a better grasp on how to use their young players than the other. That difference may be the key to Cleveland passing Cincinnati in the ranks of the AFC North, but make no mistake, the Bengals still have young talent that clearly tries to win every week.

Here’s how those rookies played in the Bengals’ 26-18 defeat to the Browns.

Billy Price

Another week and another shaky-at-best performance for Cincinnati’s center. Early in the game, Price and Alex Redmond seemed to have communication issues in pass protection which lead to some easy pressures for Cleveland’s front seven. Things started to settle a bit for the rookie, but there’s still some similar mistakes that keep popping up, and it plagued both phases of the offense pretty clearly. Chalking it up to inexperience is fine for now, but his issues from College are amplifying before our very eyes with fewer good players sandwiched in-between.

Next week will be Price’s first game against the Steelers, who will be fighting for their playoff lives. It will be one of Price’s biggest tests in his rookie season.

Jessie Bates

This was clean game for Bates, but a single play will be the one he remembers the most. On the Browns’ final drive, quarterback Baker Mayfield threw across his body to tight end David Njoku, who took off running for 63 yards after hauling it on with Bates attempting to cross Njoku’s body to deflect away the pass. Mayfield lead the pass perfectly against Bates, who seemed like he was trying to bait Mayfield into throwing it but couldn’t finish.

Overall, Bates was acceptable in coverage and also came downhill to make a season-high five stops:

Sam Hubbard

It wasn’t a dominating performance like we saw last week against the Raiders, but Hubbard still played okay. He was handled for the majority of his 35 snaps, with most of them against the pass. Just a handful of times did he get off a block while rushing Mayfield, but the rookie quarterback was a surgeon in and out of the pocket, as he’s been all year.

When the Bengals played the Steelers back in October, it was one of Hubbard’s least impressive games of his young career. Him finishing a solid rookie year strong against Cincinnati’s biggest rival would be huge.

Darius Phillips

Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, Phillips came in for an injured Dre Kirkpatrick and played 15 snaps for the veteran. This week, Kirkpatrick suffered another injury and Phillips had to relieve him much earlier in the game, allowing Phillips to play 41 snaps — the most he’s played since Week 10 against the Saints when Darqueze Dennard was still hurt.

Phillips ended up being targeted a few times and he came away with an impressive pass breakup in the end zone against wide receiver Breshad Perriman:

On the very next play, The Browns scored a touchdown on a play that ended with Phillips being the last line of defense, but it was pick play ran on the other side where Phillips wasn’t, so it shouldn’t be charged against him.

In addition to his extended time on defense, Phillips played his usual special teams snaps with 17 this week.

Niles Scott

Scott finished with 10 snaps, which was just one snap off his season-high 11. His impact was minimal, but to pin the troubles of Cincinnati’s front seven on one player would be improper.

The Special Teamers

Leading the rookies in special teams snaps (18) were Mark Walton and Chris Worley, who was also making his NFL debut. They were both featured blockers in Clayton Fejedelem’s successful fake punt early in the game: (right side)

Phillips played his aforementioned 17 snaps, and Hubbard and Auden Tate trailed him with 13, and ended up with a tackle as well. Tate saw just one snap on offense as he was forced to watch that unit suffer throughout the game. Davontae Harris also played seven snaps in his second career game.

As it’s been stated, the Bengals will now play the Steelers in a late afternoon matchup, and the first-place Ravens will be playing the Browns at the same time. The Bengals are not even close to being favored in the game, but based on this performance and effort from their rookies, we can expect them to not back down.