Writing about a team that has won just 38% of their games since 2016 stinks. There’s only so much misplaced optimism you can conjure up through the four grueling months of losing football. If the team is bad, there’s a sense of responsibility you have to explain why they are bad instead of playing ignorance and pretending they don’t stink as much as “the media” claims they do.
But in the now four years of doing this, you learn that even in a Bengals season that has been lost before Autumn even began, finding the pieces fit to stay on long-term is important. Yeah the team is bad, but some of the 53 players—excluding the obvious ones—are worth keeping around for the should-be-happening rebuild. By season’s end, you should have a clear idea if players belong in your storage, or in your trash bin.
Before this season began, Andrew Billings was someone who could find himself in either. But despite playing a devalued position, there’s been more positives to his career than negatives.
The fourth-year nose tackle is playing under the final year of his contract and by all means, has provided the appropriate value of a fourth-round pick. Since his rookie season was wiped out due to injury, this is technically Billings’ third year playing at just 24 years old, and he’s developed into an above average player at his position.
2019 has been no different thus far. Billings is currently Pro Football Focus’ 11th-ranked interior defender; with only a handful of true nose tackles graded higher than him. He started hot against the Seahawks in Week 1, and his 50-snap game against the Bills this past Sunday is solidifying his level of play to begin this season.
Looking at the big picture, the Bills were still successful running the ball in this game. They were the 12th best in success rate (50%) in Week 3 and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. If you want a culprit, linebacker Nick Vigil is a pretty good place to start looking.
And even on successful runs, Billings, Geno Atkins, and defensive line was still making plays from time to time and making up for linebacker deficiencies.
weekly geno atkins appreciation:— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) September 24, 2019
threat of play action makes germaine pratt and shawn williams late to their run fits - with williams being really late.
cutback lane is set up and
it's somehow erased by atkins, who wasn't even responsible for 2-gapping here. pic.twitter.com/Oja9IsylYJ
This is why it’s important to isolate individual performances, even when their play ultimately doesn’t impact what the final score ends up being. Billings played a great game—as did several others on Cincinnati’s defense—but the porous performances of a few individuals on both sides of the ball heavily swayed the game ending in Buffalo’s favor. It’s a team game, and the lesser team will lose nine times out of 10.
It’s not Billings’ fault the defense couldn’t get a stop on the last drive. It wasn’t his fault that his unit was on the field for 37 minutes and 78 plays in total. If the losing persists and Billings continues to prove his worth, he shouldn’t be grouped with the trash bin gang.
And that’s really the important message. The Bengals are 0-3 and are very much on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. If a new coaching staff can’t turn the franchise around, a new roster will be the next logical direction to take. And that new coaching staff needs to find out which players are worth investing more time in.
Back in the preseason, I noticed how well fellow nose tackle Josh Tupou was performing compared to his 2017 and 2018 tape; so much that I felt the need to share this:
for real though, i'd explore what the market for andrew billings is.— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 27, 2019
i was never a josh tupou stan but he's impressed a lot this month. pff's 9th best run defender for interior defenders.
this way you can keep tupou and andrew brown while not really downgrading anywhere. https://t.co/CQexvK4Hrg
In truth, Tupou has not played as well in the regular season as he did in the preseason. Is he still a serviceable player? Sure. How good your nose tackle is doesn’t push the needle much for the rest of the defense. This isn’t the early 2000s or any era before then.
But Billings is proving that he belongs, and being a nose tackle, he won’t be too expensive to retain when that time comes. When inevitable roster turnover occurs, he should be right back next to Atkins where he belongs.