In a way, the playoffs have already begun for the Cincinnati Bengals. They will be facing teams currently residing in the playoff bracket, or still very much in the hunt. These games will determine if they get to the single elimination portion of the postseason.
They’re not off to a great start, obviously.
The Los Angeles Chargers are a very good team, but the Bengals seemed to beat themselves in this game. Plenty of mistakes cost them drives and ultimately points, and they needed all of them to keep up with an explosive Chargers’ offense. A couple of rookies were involved in the blunders, so let’s go through how the rookie class fared in Week 13.
It wasn’t much, but Cam Sample turned in one of his better games of the season. In just 22 snaps, he got in on collective effort sack with a few of his teammates and a run stop on Austin Ekeler.
The rookie got used to playing a lot of snaps while Khalid Kareem was on Injured Reserve, but has seen a decrease in usage upon Kareem’s return. Sample got the vast majority of reserve snaps while Kareem was sidelined with an illness this week. Pro Football Focus scored him his highest grade on the season (72.4) as he won nearly 20% of his pass-rushing snaps.
Sample has more or less just existed in Cincinnati’s defensive line this year. Any positive games are a sign of progress.
With Isaiah Prince getting the start at right tackle, Jackson Carman remained the sixth o-linemen as a part of their jumbo formations for certain run plays. He came on for eight plays before and including the Joe Mixon fumble. Officially, Mixon gained 30 yards on those eight carries, but that includes a holding penalty not on Carman and the three yards Mixon lost on the fumble.
Specifically with Carman, he was very solid as an extra run-blocker for the second-straight week. The role suits his current strengths and it gives him reps on the exterior of the o-line, which can help a potential transition to right tackle in the future.
On one hand, Trey Hill had a volatile day creating movement in the run game and added two more penalties to his season total of now six. On the other hand, he held his own once he got settled in and was generally a positive in pass protection despite issues surrounding him in that area.
This past week was the first time since the preseason that Hill was practicing to be the starter at center. But a week’s worth of practice isn’t enough time to fix Hill’s hand control and placement. That’s what’s getting him flagged for holding so often. He needs to strike inside and keep his hands there or else he’s going to continue killing drives when he’s out there. It’s undoubtedly a project for the upcoming offseason. We can’t really say he’s trending upwards or downwards because this game represented who Hill currently is.
With that said, they need Trey Hopkins back as soon as possible. Hill just isn’t ready yet.
It was the least surprising thing to see Evan McPherson push his first extra point attempt to the right. Not because he’s made it a habit or anything, but since everything was going against the Bengals at the time, it seemed to fit right in with the theme of the day. He nearly missed another one later one but managed to stay clean for the rest of the game. He nailed his lone field goal attempt of 48 yards.
He’s now 35/37 for extra points and 18/21 for field goals on the year.
Had just one play gone differently, we wouldn’t still be talking about this rookie wall Ja’Marr Chase has been stuck behind for the past month. Instead, his name would be at the top of the article with his 123 yards on six receptions and a touchdown that may’ve kickstarted the offense early in the first quarter.
But we have to take away 71 of those yards and a touchdown and add in an interception.
Nothing has changed since the preseason. Let me clarify: Chase has been way more consistent at catching footballs since then, but the nature of drops have remained the same. They’re aren’t indicative of small hands or anything physical, they’re just mental slip ups, and they can appear at any time. Sometimes they linger, sometimes they go away for a while.
Chase had six drops to his name entering this game. They were spread out pretty evenly over the course of the season with only two of them occurring in the same game (Week 8 vs. New York Jets). Here are the other wide receivers with at least six drops through the first 12 weeks of the season sorted by their Yards per Route Run average, one of PFF’s signature stats:
WR Drop Leaders Weeks 1-12
For reference, six of the top 10 receivers in Y/RR are listed here. So if Chase had a drop issue entering this week, so did all of them, including the favorites to be named All-Pro this year.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s be frank—that was one of the worst drops of all-time.
Not only did the pass fall right into Chase’s hands, he tried to double catch it and tipped the ball high enough for a trailing Michael Davis to catch on the run. He had Davis dead to rights and was going to sprint out of this slump. He hasn’t caught a deep pass in over a month. The earth was healing itself. And then he couldn’t catch it.
The Chargers would score on the ensuing possession, and at this point, you could tell what kind of day it was going to be.
Chase still ended up with 52 yards generated from his other seven targets. He dealt with plenty of man coverage and had some quality catches while also dropping another on-target pass from Burrow. That production matches what he’s been doing lately when his stock was stagnating, but it was his own actions that prohibited him from getting back on track. He really needs that play to happen once more.
We finally got to see Pooka Williams suit up for a game. He was elevated off the practice squad for a week to return kickoffs while Darius Phillips was out with injury. Phillips hasn’t been too impressive showcasing his returning skills, so this was a great opportunity for Williams to seize the role for himself. 52 yards on three returns ain’t gonna cut it, unfortunately.
His first return was destined to fail thanks to a missed block from Clay Johnston. He only made it 17 yards. The second return was also tough thanks to a tricky kickoff from Chargers’ kicker Dustin Hopkins. Williams made it to the 12-yard line before getting stopped. The third and final return was at least admirable as it featured a couple of forced missed tackles. Williams got the offense to the 28-yard line that time.
Williams is back on the practice squad for the time-being, and he’ll likely stay there unless Phillips is out for longer.
Did Not Play
- Chris Evans (ankle)
- Tyler Shelvin (inactive)