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Bengals Week 13 rookie report: Tee Higgins goes airborne as offense falls flat

Tee Higgins continues to put up numbers in a strong year for rookie receivers.

Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals have now played the Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins this season, and neither game featured Joe Burrow against a rookie quarterback counterpart.

While Burrow started his recovery this past week, Tua Tagovailoa returned to the field for the Dolphins and faced off against both Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley. That storyline was quickly made irrelevant with all the madness that occurred in this game, and the rookies for Cincinnati quietly had solid outings.

Here’s our rookie report from the Bengals’ 19-7 loss to the Dolphins.

The Bengals had two bright spots on offense in Miami: Drew Sample and Tee Higgins.

Right after Tyler Boyd ran for 72 yards and score the Bengals’ only points of the day, the Bengals had 123 yards of total offense. They only gained 88 more for the remainder of the game.

Higgins and Sample combined for 66 of those 88 yards, as each player had 33.

For the whole game, Higgins turned in five receptions for 56 yards on seven targets. Quarterback Brandon Allen misfired on Higgins’ first target as the ball sailed too far to the left 30 yards down the left sideline. He later tried to force one to Higgins and was nearly intercepted by Bobby McCain.

But of the five targets Higgins hauled in from Allen and Ryan Finley, who came in for Allen late in the game, four of them resulted in first downs. This helped Higgins lead the Bengals’ receiving corps in expected points added per play (0.76).

All five of Higgins’ catches came against either Xavien Howard or Byron Jones, the Dolphins’ two stud cornerbacks. Howard has been arguably the best cornerback in the NFL this year and while Jones hasn’t been as good, he’s still a quality cover cornerback. As you can see from the video above, a couple receptions came against off coverage, but he had at least one rep against each cornerback where he created separation and moved the chains.

Higgins’ last catch ended in an aerial show as he attempted to clear McCain with a less-than-graceful hurdle that left him with a bothered hamstring. The offense would only be on the field for two more snaps, but Higgins wasn’t on the field for either of them. His day was done after he came back down to earth.

Now that most teams have played 75% of their schedules, six rookie receivers have been season-long contributors for their respective teams. Along with Higgins, there’s Justin Jefferson, Chase Claypool, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and Darnell Mooney.

Higgins ranks second in PFF receiving grade (78.1) behind Jefferson, second in drop rate (3.6%) behind Mooney, and third in yards per route run (1.80) behind Jefferson and Claypool. Jefferson, who’s the only rookie receiver with more yards than Higgins, might win Rookie of the Year come February, but Higgins is doing everything to make an All-Rookie team for sure.

Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither both have had good games this year, but they’ve played really well in back-to-back games now. The defense tried to give Davis-Gaither ample snaps earlier in the season, but he’s done much better in a more limited role. Meanwhile, Wilson has been playing the same amount as starter Germaine Pratt and has been consistently solid.

Cincinnati’s defense played very well in the first half, specifically in the first quarter. Wilson broke up Miami’s second third-down attempt of the game. He wasn’t involved in many stops in run defense, but he helped stop a first down turn into something more and nearly intercepted a pass from Tua Tagovailoa that was originally ruled a fumble.

Just like last week, Davis-Gaither played exactly seven snaps, but he made an impact on most of them.

Early in the fourth quarter, before the Mike Thomas incident, the Dolphins were knocking at the door inside the Bengals’ five yard-line with the intent of taking a two-touchdown lead. Davis-Gaither was aligned in a two-point stance on the right side of the Bengals’ formation and defended a goal-line fade against Adam Shaheen after following him to the outside. On the very next play, Davis-Gaither surged into the backfield from the same alignment and helped stuff a Myles Gaskin run up the middle.

The Dolphins could not convert the ensuing third down and were forced to kick a short field goal. Those were the last points scored in the game.

At this point, you can’t knock the Bengals’ plan with their fourth-round pick. As an observer, you’d like to see young players see their opportunities increased, but if the current workload is perfect for Davis-Gaither, then that’s all that matters.

Khalid Kareem has also been on that reduced snap count diet, and with Amani Bledsoe out with COVID-19 for this game, Kareem surprisingly didn’t see many more snaps than usual. Margus Hunt got some exposure at edge defender to compensate for Bledsoe’s absence, and Kareem made little impact in his 17 snaps.