After a sluggish and underwhelming performance against Dallas last week, the Bengals team we saw against Buffalo looked like a completely different unit.
By halftime, the starters held a commanding 20-0 lead over the Bills, and gave the rookies plenty of cushion to seal the victory to keep their undefeated preseason alive.
The first-year players responded with varying levels of success in their reps in this week’s rookie report:
Did Not Play
Davontae Harris (knee)
The first-team offensive line with Andy Dalton behind them were pretty much flawless in pass protection, and Price’s continued stability there stood out. Pro Football Focus has yet to knock Price for an allowed pressure this preseason, and his extensive performance against Buffalo was just as impressive as his first two preseason games.
#Bengals rookie center Billy Price allowed zero total pressures across his 30 pass-block snaps against the #Bills on Sunday. Price has yet to allow a single pressure through three preseason games (59 pass-block snaps).— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) August 27, 2018
Price had a better day as a run blocker than he did against Dallas last week, and seems to be progressing overall. There were still some clear miscues that shouldn’t be ignored, but he handled himself well and had his best outing of the preseason.
The offense can at least be comfortable with Price now, but there’s still more work to do for the first-round pick.
Jessie Bates III
Getting his first start of his NFL career, Bates also played beyond most of the other starters on defense. He had an uneventful day in coverage, which is never a bad thing for a free safety.
A bad missed tackle was the only play he was a part of, and was disappointing to see considering how well he’s done wrapping up on defenders thus far. Missed tackles was an issue for him in his last season in college, so it’s not anything new.
The defense will likely want to preserve Bates from playing in Thursday’s preseason finale, but he also could play a couple series due to his inexperience in a starter’s role.
There’s a number of safety’s behind him vying for a roster spot, so odds are he’ll sit this one out so the others can make their last case.
Following a destructive showing last week against Dallas’ backup offensive line, Hubbard was more easily handled off the edge. He did have a nice stop on running back Marcus Murphy.
Hubbard got reps at right defensive end starting at the third series for the defense, ahead of Carl Lawson, who has been taking those reps behind Michael Johnson first in the last two weeks.
This is where we should expect Hubbard to come in to relieve Johnson, and Jordan Willis as well. Willis seems to be taking the reigns as Johnson’s backup inside on third down, but Hubbard also got work besides Willis inside later on.
The Bengals seem to have similar plans for both Hubbard and Willis going forward.
Jefferson came on for the defense in the second half alongside Hardy Nickerson and Brandon Bell at linebacker, but he was taken off the field when the defense was in nickel. Interestingly enough, Jefferson got most of his reps on passing plays in coverage, and that has been the case for all of Jefferson’s preseason. He wasn’t targeted at all against the Bills.
Veteran linebacker Vincent Rey still hasn’t returned to the field since his injury against Chicago, and Brandon Bell seemed to have replaced him on the second-team defense.
I’m still waiting to write about a great play from Walton, but Buffalo’s game told the same story as we’ve seen thus far. Walton had the least amount of work from the running backs with just two carries for -2 yards, as he once again so nothing to work with.
It’s been disheartening to see Walton struggle behind a bad offensive line, to then see Tra Carson and Brian Hill work with much better blocking and in turn out-produce Walton by a wide margin.
The combination of Carson and Hill has amassed 121 yards on 25 carries, while Walton has four yards on 12 carries.
If Walton isn’t a fourth-round pick, he may be in danger of getting cut in favor of both Carson and Hill, but Walton is still safe to make the roster. The Bengals may try to get Hill back on the practice squad while keeping Carson, who looks like the favorite to take the fourth running back spot, if they do keep four that is.
Veteran defensive tackle Chris Baker was cut this week by the Bengals, and a big reason for that was because fifth-round pick Andrew Brown returned to practice and was able to play against the Bills. Brown was mostly used on passing downs and ended up recording a pressure late in the game.
Along with Brown, Josh Tupou also made his preseason debut next to him, as both came onto the field with the third-string defense. Brown figures to have an easier path to the roster with Baker no longer in the picture, but he still needs to beat out Tupou in this final week.
With George Iloka’s release, defensive back Josh Shaw seems to have moved to safety full-time, which has put Phillips as Darqueze Dennard’s backup in the slot. He allowed a handful of receptions in coverage, but PFF has high regards for his play inside this preseason.
#Bengals' Darius Phillips, a rookie fifth-round cornerback, has exceeded expectations with his play at slot cornerback this preseason.— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) August 27, 2018
Phillips ranks 9th among qualifying slot cornerbacks in passer rating allowed (58.3) and yards allowed per coverage snap (0.48).
The injury to Davontae Harris makes Philips a near-lock for the roster now, and his continued work in the return game will make him a likely candidate to be activated during the regular season.
Week 1 against the Bears feels like forever ago with Tate. After an uneventful performance against Dallas, Tate received two targets against the Bills, with one of them popping off of his head and into the hands of a Bills defender for an interception.
Tate is still getting the reps to indicate he’s going to be the team’s sixth receiver and push veteran Cody Core off the roster. But his lack of production since his game-winning touchdown over two weeks ago is concerning, and he may have to show out on Thursday to re-establish his case to be active on game days.
Henderson must’ve shown something in practice this past week to earn reps at strong safety over Clayton Fejedelem. Fejedelem performed amazingly on special teams like he usually does, but his reps on the second-string defense were taken by Henderson, who handled himself well in run defense.
A practice squad spot is almost assured for the undrafted rookie out of Hawaii if he makes it through waivers.