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Bengals Week 8 rookie report: Hakeem Adeniji debuts at LT, Logan Wilson steals a sack

There’s a new No. 77 in town, and he plays left tackle as well!

Tennessee Titans v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

11-point victories against 5-1 teams don’t happen by magic. The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Tennessee Titans 31-20 in a game that featured great performances on both sides of the ball and saw six of the seven rostered rookies play most, if not all, of the game. Per usual, two of them had quality starts on offense, but the duo of Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins was accompanied by another rookie protecting Burrow’s blind side.

Speaking of Burrow, let’s go over what went down in his second-career win.

The Burrow Breakdown, Vol. 8

From the very first drive, it felt like it was going to be Burrow’s day.

That 11-play series ended with a field goal, not a touchdown, but the offense’s arrival in scoring range was due to a 24-yard heave of a throw towards the right sideline. Burrow was flushed out of the pocket and with multiple defenders closing in on him and he chucked the pigskin downfield. Tee Higgins was the intended target, but from first glance, it may’ve looked like Burrow just threw the ball away.

We should know by now that Burrow doesn’t give up on plays that easily.

Burrow’s insane completion to Higgins was just one example from Sunday of Burrow’s magic sparking life in a suddenly efficient Bengals’ offense. His top plays from this week featured him creating plays out of nothing and simply keeping plays alive.

EPA/Play: 2.03

Burrow found Higgins down the field early and often. Five plays after connecting with his rookie compadre for the third time, Burrow maneuvered to his right in the pocket and found Higgins darting back towards the middle of the field for a 22-yard gain on fourth-and-four for the duo’s second deep completion of the game.

Both 20+ yard receptions were clear examples of the kind of growth Higgins said he and his fellow receivers needed to achieve with Burrow. When plays break down or take longer to develop, it’s imperative that receivers work back to the play and are in positions for Burrow to throw to.

If Burrow didn’t find Higgins on that fourth down, the Titans would’ve taken over near midfield and may’ve tied the game with a field goal or taken the lead with a touchdown before half-time. Instead, Burrow got the offense inside the red zone and Giovani Bernard finished off the drive with his first touchdown of the game.

Burrow’s pocket persistence popped up again at the start of the fourth quarter. Right as it looked like he was going to bail and run upfield, Burrow reset his feet with his eyes still upfield and located Tyler Boyd over the middle for a 13-yard gain. A few plays later, Burrow made a tough throw on the run to Boyd for his first touchdown of the game. It didn’t look too difficult, but Burrow’s velocity and placement from a non-stationary platform ensured that the defender could not step in front of the ball.

Then, there was the impossible play.

9:04 remaining. Third-and-nine. Ball on the Titans’ 23-yard line. These details might be immortalized in Burrow’s lore.

We don’t know if Boyd knew the back-shoulder throw was coming, but we could tell Burrow expected him to know. After showcasing even more pocket savviness, Burrow’s pass magnetized its way into Boyd’s chest as the dangerous slot receiver turned around right on time to receive it.

Was it at least partially lucky? Of course. That doesn’t take away how impressive of a play it was and how much it impacted the game.

The Bengals were able to finish off the drive with a touchdown and put the game out of reach for the Titans, but holy crap, did Burrow almost help them out on his next drive.

Facing another third-and-long, Burrow targeted A.J. Green on a slant route. The play featured Boyd running a seam route with the hope that he would occupy the MIKE linebacker Jayon Brown. Instead of running with Boyd, Brown watched Burrow’s eyes the whole way, stepped in front of an extremely ill-advised throw, and came away with an interception.

The Bengals won this game by 11 points. If this play counted, the Titans could’ve easily scored a touchdown from the red zone and may’ve even eventually tied the game. The mood for this week would’ve been a Hell of a lot different if that was the case.

Fortunately, Burrow’s biggest blunder of the day didn’t count because of a defensive pass interference penalty on Malcolm Brown, the cornerback defending Green on the play, but on of Burrow’s other bad plays that did get recorded on the stat-sheet featured Brown as well.

EPA/Play: -0.93

We can forgive Burrow’s under-thrown pass to Green down the right sideline because of how harsh the wind was during the game. We can’t forgive Burrow trying to force a high throw to Higgins with three defenders around him or nearly throwing an interception to Brown as he undercut a slant from Green.

The play that followed that near-turnover was the mythical back-shoulder to Boyd. It was, in a way, the theme of the game for Burrow. He made some clear errors as he managed to survive behind five backup offensive linemen, but the will to continue creating out of structure paid off in bag ways. The end result looks even better considering none of his mistakes cost the team.

Passing Chart

Higgins’ two deep receptions helped him lead the offense in receiving yards with 78 and yards per reception with 13. They also showed continued improvement for Burrow in what was his biggest weakness this year.

Everyone knew that Burrow’s deep ball struggles early in the season were a temporary hurdle for him. In the past two weeks, Burrow has completed more throws of 20 yards than he’s missed, completing five and missing on four. Pro Football Focus has even graded him as the NFL’s best deep passer since Week 7 after being next-to-last through the first six weeks.

This was a solid performance for Burrow to enter the bye week with. Next week, we’ll take a look at how Burrow ranks with other rookie quarterbacks in recent memory through the halfway point of the season.

Advanced Stats and QB Comparison

*The EPA/play from the top figure will only factor in non-running plays. The Total EPA from the bottom figure will factor in all plays.

**SR from the top figure stands for Success Rate, which is the percentage of plays that achieved a positive EPA outcome.

Hakeem Adeniji hadn’t started a game of football since November 30th of last year. He was not supposed to start a game at left tackle for the Bengals this season, but with Jonah Williams nursing a stinger, he was the next man up at the position.

The thing that stood out during Adeniji’s first game was his athleticism. The 22-year old tested with great speed and explosion at this year’s Scouting Combine and those qualities jumped off the screen. His pass sets featured extremely quick footwork and consistent explosion out of his stance. The issues he ran into can largely be attributed to inexperience: oversetting, late hands, and general processing issues.

But like most of the Bengals’ rag-tag offensive line, he was able to win more times than not in run blocking and got to put his athleticism on display.

Right now, Adeniji is exactly who you want on the bench; a young, athletic, and scheme-versatile blocker who isn’t theoretically limited to one position. The Bengals seem keen on keeping him at left tackle since the rest of the line has had openings throughout the season and he just now saw the field. That strategy is fine now that they have other capable bodies ready to fix the other holes along the line.

Midway through the third quarter, Logan Wilson got his first-career sack by accident.

“I actually messed up on that play and lucked into getting a sack,” Wilson told reporters after the game.

We’re not sure where exactly Wilson messed up here, but it’s hard to argue with the result. From the pre-snap look, it appeared that Wilson was simply matched up with the running back Jeremy McNichols in the backfield. As McNichols stayed in the pocket as an extra pass-protector, Wilson charged by him untouched and cleanly wrapped up on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Perhaps his responsibility changed to coverage as soon as McNichols didn’t release out of the backfield? Who knows.

What we do know is that sack put him in interesting company. Since 2000, only six other linebackers have recorded 15 solo tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, two interceptions and two passes defended in their first seven games. One of the seven is a former Bengal: Odell Thurman.

Logan Wilson’s Impressively Diverse Production

Player Position Year Team Games Solo Tackles Sacks Tackles For Loss Interceptions Passes Defended
Player Position Year Team Games Solo Tackles Sacks Tackles For Loss Interceptions Passes Defended
Logan Wilson LB 2020 CIN 7 15 1 3 2 2
Devin Bush Jr. LB 2019 PIT 7 38 1 3 2 3
Kwon Alexander LB 2015 TB 7 29 1 2 2 7
Kiko Alonso LB 2013 BUF 7 35 1 4 4 4
Odell Thurman LB 2005 CIN 7 33 1 3 2 4
Nick Barnett LB 2003 GB 7 48 2 4 2 3
Julian Peterson LB 2000 SF 7 18 3 5 2 5

Wilson played eight more snaps than Akeem Davis-Gaither did in this game and continues to look more comfortable in space. PFF graded Davis-Gaither a nasty 34.3 against the run in just five snaps of run defense.

The leader in defensive snaps for rookies was Khalid Kareem, who saw the field for 43 plays. Only Carl Lawson had more snaps as an edge rusher on Sunday, so even though Amani Bledsoe started at left defensive end, Kareem deserves a stock up in this defense with Carlos Dunlap gone.