You don’t really recognize and appreciate how valuable a good quarterback is until you see the alternative. Nine-and-a-half games of us watching Joe Burrow grow before our very eyes gave us a fresh perspective of what it looked like when a quarterback elevated an otherwise subpar team. Without him, there’s not much that makes the Cincinnati Bengals a competitive team, not much less a good team, and despite losing by just two points to the New York Giants, the Bengals looked as bad as their now 2-8-1 record advertises them as.
Things aren’t going to get any easier for Cincinnati, but you already knew that. Just like you knew that either Brandon Allen or Ryan Finley were going to be monumental downgrades from Burrow. Burrow’s value, stock, or whatever you want to call it, skyrocketed once he went down nine days ago.
What about the rest of the rookies? Let’s check on them after Week 12.
We covered it last week, but the impact on Burrow’s absence was always going to be most direct with Tee Higgins. Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green are veterans and have played with multiple quarterbacks throughout the years. Their production was going to be hindered regardless because of the drop-off in quarterback play, but at least they had experience to help them work with a backup under center.
Higgins, despite how impressive he’s been this year, is still very young and only began solidifying a truly productive connection with Burrow. With half of that connection sidelined for the time being, ample pressure was on Higgins to continue being the offense’s No. 1 receiver.
Allen was seven-for-seven when throwing to Higgins in this game, but two completions were called back for holding on the play. Higgins’ first two receptions came well short on third-and-long situations, and his third went for just four yards on a first-and-10. It was the reality for the entire receiving corps; there’s just not much to be done with a bad quarterback slinging the ball.
But when the Bengals really needed points, Higgins is where they went.
The offense’s best drive of the day was powered by two things: Higgins, and penalties. Higgins hauled in the Bengals’ biggest offensive play for 18 yards and capped off the drive with his fifth touchdown of the day. The throw from Allen was impressive as he was falling away from pressure, but Higgins fighting through traffic in the end zone to get a clear chance at the catch-point should not go unnoticed.
It wasn’t enough to steal the victory, but gutsy plays in critical situations is what you expect from the alpha receiver.
Admittedly, these articles haven’t given Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither enough coverage throughout the season. With Burrow out, more focus will be put on the Bengals’ rookie linebackers.
The narratives remain consistent with these two. Wilson isn’t technically a starter, but he’s on the field for most of the game. Davis-Gaither used to regularly play with Wilson, but his playing time has been limited for three-straight games. He’s played just 21 snaps since Week 10 after playing 22 snaps in Week 8 alone.
On the second drive of the game, Wilson came in for Germaine Pratt as the defense came out in their nickel package. It was on this drive that Wilson busted a trick play from the Giants’ offense and forced a throwaway.
Wilson rotated in and out with Pratt throughout the afternoon, and, per usual, Wilson was also the third linebacker when they deployed a traditional 4-3 package. The Bengals utilized this personnel grouping a decent amount on Sunday, and considering Colt McCoy was the opposing quarterback for half the game, they could afford to do so.
Wilson’s lone solo tackle on the day came when he was one of the three linebackers on the field.
When the Giants went into their two-minute offense at the end of the first half, Wilson was the lone linebacker in their big nickel package with safety Brandon Wilson as the dime-back. Davis-Gaither has typically been on the field with Wilson in this package, but Brandon Wilson has been eating into Davis-Gaither’s opportunities.
During the final drive of the first half, Wilson was nearly exposed on a third-and-five, but Daniel Jones missed the easy throw and the Giants were forced to take a longer field goal because of it.
gotta focus more on the other rookies now.— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) November 30, 2020
this is a good 2-play sequence to explain where logan wilson is at right now in coverage. sometimes he remains disciplined, sometimes not. he got lucky the pass was behing dion lewis because lewis cooked him on his option route. pic.twitter.com/8le9cWoDfn
In the second half, Brandon Wilson was beat deep by Evan Engram on a third-and-long, and the next time the Giants were in that position, Davis-Gaither came on for Brandon Wilson and nearly hauled in his first interception of his career.
defense has been using brandon wilson more and akeem davis-gaither less on 3rd downs with wilson, but wilson got burned on the first 3rd-n-long of q3, so adg went back out there for the next one and almost made a play the play of his rookie year. pic.twitter.com/c0bqoNYvhu— john sheeran (@John__Sheeran) November 30, 2020
Perhaps the biggest impact Wilson and Davis-Gaither made came on the same play. During Brandon Wilson’s 103-yard kickoff return touchdown, Wilson and Davis-Gaither each made the final blocks to clear the older Wilson free for the rest of the way.
The defense had a couple of ugly moments, but they kept the Giants’ depleted offense at bay and out of the end zone for almost the entire game. Wilson should keep seeing a healthy amount of snaps regardless of how well Josh Bynes and Pratt play, and each of them did play well. Davis-Gaither might just be the fifth linebacker on the depth chart, as even Jordan Evans still gets in the game from time to time.
Khalid Kareem is in a similar holding pattern. He’s exclusively being used as the left edge defender, so he’s basically Sam Hubbard’s backup. Kareem got 13 snaps in this game and recorded a stop in run defense.
Hakeem Adeniji’s time as a starter officially came to end last week when he was benched for Bobby Hart. There was a chance to see Adeniji at right guard when Alex Redmond went out with a concussion, but Quinton Spain was moved there from left guard and Michael Jordan came off of the bench instead.
Adeniji was active and since Fred Johnson was a healthy scratch for the second-straight week, Adeniji appears to be official swing tackle now. This probably confirms that we’ll only see Adeniji at tackle this season unless more injuries impact the position group.