Six weeks into the regular season, the already beaten up Bengals had six injured players inactive against the Ravens on Sunday. Any and all able bodies for Cincinnati, aside from rookie quarterback Jake Dolegala, were dressed in Baltimore, including a season-high eight rookies.
Fourth-round picks Ryan Finley and Michael Jordan never left the sideline, but we saw the six others on the field at some point during the game. The one worth highlighting this week is the one who (finally) played the most.
Germaine Pratt made his rookie mistakes, and that’s fine for now
We’ve known what the Bengals have at linebacker with Preston Brown and Nick Vigil. Neither were benched this week, but we finally saw Pratt out with the defense for an extended period of the game. Knowing the Ravens’ offense would be operating out of 21 and 12 personnel for most of the game, the Bengals came out three linebackers and had Pratt play a season-high 30 snaps, mainly as an inside linebacker.
You could make the argument that no one had a more up and down performance on the defense than Pratt. While he was an asset close to the line of scrimmage where he thrives,
His faults in coverage were hard to ignore as well.
Coverage ability is more valuable than run defense for a back-seven player, so due to Pratt’s 65 yards allowed in coverage, he was the lowest-graded defender according to Pro Football Focus. This reception to Mark Andrews made up the vast majority of yardage Pratt was responsible for and it helped Baltimore score for the third time of the game.
Pratt’s increased involvement was more about matching personnel to the opponent, but getting him out there by any means is a success for this defense, even if the productivity doesn’t improve. The earlier Pratt is allowed to grow through his shortcomings, the more likely he’s able to improve over time.
The Bengals should eventually blow up their linebacker corps and need to find out if Pratt should survive the turnover. By giving him ample opportunities to prove his worth, they’ll be able to accurately tell if he’s worthy.
Pass catchers manage to make zero impact
With the way Auden Tate has been playing, the coaching staff’s decision to bench Damion Willis has been justified, for both of the reasons you’d imagine there being. Tate has been balling out, and Willis has been falling out.
Andy Dalton threw two balls Willis’ way on Sunday. The first ended in an offensive pass interference on Willis. The second resulted in Willis’ second drop of the season. His opportunities are becoming more and more minimal as Willis was essentially benched after OPI. He finally got back onto the field late in the fourth quarter on the offense’s finally drive and then he dropped a second-and-19 pass. That was his fourth and final snap of the game, which was three more than what Stanley Morgan got in his second career game.
Closer to the center of the field, Drew Sample had a slightly different outing with his now customary 15 snaps. He was one of the few bright spots on the offense in the area of run blocking but allowed a hit on Dalton in pass protection after getting out of his stance off of the snap.
In fairness, there was no reason for Dalton not to step into this throw, which would’ve helped him avoid the contact here, but this is still a knock on Sample when isolating his performance.
In the passing game, Sample did manage to catch his first pass since Week 2, which is good to hear before remembering it went for -1 yards. Less than ideal!
We don’t have a gauge of how Sample’s receiving ability has improved since the offense refuses to actually utilize him as a receiver. Since Week 3, he’s ran just 16 routes on his 59 snaps. In comparison, here’s how many routes other notable tight ends drafted after the first round have ran in that timeframe:
- Irv Smith Jr. - 58 (94 yards)
- Dawson Knox - 86 (137 yards)
- Foster Moreau - 33 (77 yards)
Thankfully, Sample’s game as a blocker has improved over the last couple of weeks and he’s PFF’s fourth-highest graded blocker amongst rookies through Week 6. To the Bengals’ credit, they isn’t any confusion as to who they think Sample is. They drafted a blocking tight end with the 52nd overall pick, so at least they’re owning it? (Cut me some slack, it’s hard out here.)
Oh yeah, these guys exist too
You’d hope there would be something to talk about with Renell Wren’s 20 snaps, but there really isn’t. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo wisely played Wren inside at defensive tackle for most of the game after experimenting him at edge during his previous two appearances.
Now with four games under his belt, Wren’s rookie season is looking a lot like his time at Arizona State. Occasionally, his athleticism stands out, but he’s putting up next to nothing in the box score and making a similar impact on the field. Production is hard to find for players who’ve never really been productive before.
Finally, in more heartwarming news, sixth-round pick Trayveon Williams made his regular season debut after being inactive for the first five weeks. His foot injury that he suffered in the preseason helped urge the team to sign Samaje Perine, who’s been the backup running back dressed for game days, leaving Williams in street clothes for the first month of action.
Williams didn’t see any time with the offense but did get on the field for some special teams. Baby steps, as always when it comes to rookies in Cincinnati.