In a game filled with injuries, the Bengals first-round pick missed his first career game, the team’s fourth-round pick made his debut. Starting center Billy Price watched from the sidelines wearing street clothes and a specialized boot that hopes to heal his foot in the next week or two.
On the field, running back Mark Walton was the offense’s sole option behind Giovani Bernard, and got his first taste of regular season action. Find out how he and the other rookies played in the Bengals 31-21 defeat in Carolina in this week’s rookie report:
The Panthers offense realized early in the game that they didn’t need to test the Bengals secondary (sans cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick) when they could just run the ball down the Bengals defense’s throat. Quarterback Cam Newton only threw the ball 24 times, and he never tested Bates at free safety. In fact, he rarely tested the deep middle of the field at all.
Bates’ biggest impact came on shoestring tackle that prevented a long Christian McCaffrey touchdown run. He provided additional run support when the first two levels of the Bengals defense failed in this area with three other solo tackles, but had a quiet day in coverage. His day might be a lot more active when the Bengals take on Matt Ryan’s Falcons, who put up 374 passing yards and five touchdowns against the Saints yesterday.
It was almost a spectacular day for the non-injured former Ohio State Buckeye. Hubbard and the majority of the Bengals defensive line were ineffective pressuring Newton in the pocket, but a fourth-quarter strip-sack from defensive end Carlos Dunlap gave Hubbard a chance to turn the tide of the game. After falling on the loose ball, Hubbard failed to secure it, and the Panthers would later punt, giving the Bengals much worse field position.
After the game, Hubbard recalled the near-turnover: “I just got too aggressive. Saw it on the ground, dove on it. It’s hot and humid - and the grass - it slipped out. Popped out from under me and I didn’t even know where it went.”
Later in the quarter, Hubbard broke through the Panthers line on their next punt and got his fingers on the ball again. Hubbard’s efforts caused the punt to come up noticeably short of its intended distance, but a blocked punt instead of a tipped punt gives the Bengals a much better chance of scoring on that drive, which ended in quarterback Andy Dalton’s third interception of the game.
These two plays would’ve canceled out the non-impact performance Hubbard had as a pass-rusher and edge-setter. Without Michael Johnson playing, Hubbard underwhelmed in the rotation. He has an intriguing matchup with Atlanta’s right tackle Ryan Schraeder next week, who has had a shaky start to his season.
The Bengals linebackers were exposed in run defense against the Panthers rushing attack, but Jefferson had to watch it from the sidelines again. He was fourth on the team in special teams snaps.
If Jefferson doesn’t see the field next week, he may not get a chance in the near future with Vontaze Burfict returning from his suspension and Preston Brown returning from his ankle injury. He may not be the answer, but it wouldn’t hurt to see if he can step up in an area they are clearly lacking in with the current state of the position group.
It was a surprise for most to see the Bengals only activate two running backs, but with Thomas Rawls dealing with cramps, it was just Giovani Bernard and Walton dressed on Sunday. Walton only saw one carry in his seven snaps, and it was negated by an Alex Redmond hold. It may be the most impressive play from the NFL this week that didn’t count.
Walton is familiar with the kind of blocking he received here, as he saw nothing but opposing players in his face in the backfield all preseason long. This time, he actually made something out of nothing. It’s a shame that it got called back for a blatant hold from Redmond, as well as it being the only time Walton touched the ball. Considering Joe Mixon could be playing next week, the next time Walton gets an opportunity to play is a mystery.
Did not play
Darius Phillips - Phillips was active but never saw the field
The Bengals finish their two-game road stretch against the Falcons and will likely have to do it without Price. A.J. Green appears to be okay after exiting the game with what was initially diagnosed as a groin injury, but if he can’t go, it could be Auden Tate’s turn to dress.
Bates and Hubbard definitely need to play well against a Falcons offense that can outscore anyone in the league, and how them and the rest of the defense bounce-back from this week may determine if the Bengals remain above .500 going into October.