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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Changing of the guards, Sam Hubbard’s run stops

Xavier Su’a-Filo got his chance at revenge after Michael Jordan was mercifully demoted.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

A needle in a haystack? No, too easy.

An electron in an atom? Nah, not hard enough.

A positive in the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2020 season? Now there’s a challenge.

When you really sit down and elaborate on why the Bengals are as bad as they truly are, from points of view, it can be damaging on the psyche. Admittedly, there was a personal breaking point that was reached last week.

I saw my dad a day after last week’s article and video on Michael Jordan dropped, you can check that out here. Usually my dad is complimentary of my content, but he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. So when he said I was too harsh on Jordan for saying he probably shouldn’t step on an NFL field again, I knew it was genuine and it had a right to give me pause.

I told him that the animation in my analysis was derived from my disgust with the coaching staff, not Jordan. But again, my dad doesn’t really pull any of his punches. I’ve been doing this since the Cedric Ogbuehi and Russell Bodine days and not once was I ever told by anyone that I went too far when focusing on a negative over a positive.

Truthfully, even though I clarified in that article that the coaching staff deserves the blame for Jordan’s poor showing, I realized he was right. That video is already my most watched video breakdown of the last two seasons (being boisterous and condescending happens to sell), but it could’ve been done in a more respectful manner. I’ve been covering Jordan for the past two seasons, but this was the first time I realized I was older than him by over a year.

Some of these guys are essentially just kids. Professionals, but still very young. That doesn’t mean they’re impervious to fair assessment, in fact, being fair to players like Jordan is even more important. He’s not yet 23 years old and still growing both mentally and physically as a person.

Jordan had a very bad game against the Miami Dolphins, and the extent to which I pointed that out was also not good.

I thought about this more when I learned that Jordan had not only been benched before Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, the team didn’t even have him dress for the game. It was a smart move, but the damage had already been done on multiple fronts.

After the inactive players list was released, Bengals Radio Network analyst Dave Lapham, a former guard himself, said that Jordan’s confidence had been lost ever since Joe Burrow was injured in part by Jordan’s actions.

No matter your personal feelings towards Jordan, that’s a bit saddening to hear, and yet I still can’t think past my general disgust for the coaching staff for their role in all this. They were the ones who touted Jordan of being someone he isn’t, and they set him up for failure as much as he failed Burrow on several occasions this season.

So, with Jordan out of the lineup, it was Xavier Su’a-Filo who filled in for him at left guard. Su’a-Filo has been a left guard for his entire career up to this point, but so has Quinton Spain. Ultimately, they kept Spain at right guard, where he’s been for the past four weeks, and inserted Su’a-Filo back at his natural position for his first game back off of the Reserve/Injured list.

It just so happens that the Bengals had a decent amount of running plays that generated positive expected points added. The three fumbles (two of them by running backs) dominated the headlines, but nine of their 19 runs while their win probability was at least 5% were successful. A 47% success rate on the ground isn’t nothing, and the work that Su’a-Filo, Spain, and Trey Hopkins did together was impressive at times.

Here were a few plays that stood out:

On the other side of the ball, the Bengals were commendable in stopping the run. Only 29% of the Cowboys runs throughout the entire game were successful, and Sam Hubbard did a lot of the—literal—leg work.

Hubbard has been back on the field for five weeks now, but we’ve really seen him return to his usual self in the past two weeks. Pro Football Focus has graded him as the fifth-best edge defender when it comes to run defense since Week 13, and he leads all edge defenders with 12 run stops since then. The next closest player, Haason Reddick of the Arizona Cardinals, has just six.

These three run stops were the ones I wanted to spotlight.

The Hubbard evaluation has been clear since the end of last season. He’s a matchup-dependent pass rusher, but a high-quality run defender no matter the competition. The sooner we can all agree to that, the better. Then again, when you cling on to anything positive at this point, you might find yourself sensationalizing it without knowing it.

It’s the life of talking about bad football, and it’s a life that everyone reading this knows all too well.