All bets are off when the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers agree to play football. That’s how you end up with a struggling rookie quarterback showing signs of competency, two reserve skill players combining for four touchdowns, and 67 combined points scored on a poorly-kept field in freezing temperatures.
It’s games like these where first-year players are just learning on the fly, realizing that some things can’t be prepared for.
Per usual, the Bengals had two rookies starting with another as a featured rotational piece. Their first-round pick Dax Hill watched from the sidelines as he works through a shoulder injury, but his rookie teammate in the secondary got plenty of run.
It’s the rookie roller coaster, and Taylor-Britt’s got a seat way in the back to feel every twist and turn.
The Bengals’ second-round pick was the most active he’s been in his third start of the year. He ended the game with nine solo tackles and was targeted six times, allowing five receptions for 36 yards. For most of the afternoon, he kept with his assignments and prevented explosive plays. The mistakes he made, however, were hard to hide.
Two plays come to mind—both ended up not mattering in terms of the score. Taylor-Britt failed to carry George Pickens’ vertical route in his quarters coverage, but an off-target deep ball from Kenny Pickett and a holding penalty from the Steelers negated the miscue entirely. Pickens nearly hauled in a touchdown later in the game as he beat Taylor-Britt down the sidelines, but the rookie receiver couldn’t secure the reception.
But Taylor-Britt couldn’t get away with everything, and the majority of his yardage allowed came on this play, when he was undisciplined in his deep zone again, this time in Cover 3. His recovery speed wasn’t enough to impact the catch-point as the Steelers moved the chains.
When the Bengals were scouting Trae Waynes before inking him to a three-year, $42 million deal back in 2020, they saw a physical cornerback who could use 4.3 speed to run with boundary threats, but get occasionally burnt in zone and off coverage.
This is pretty much who Taylor-Britt is right now. His tackling is commendable, but the errors, whether inexperience is involved or not, are bound to hinder the pass defense eventually.
Bengals center Ted Karras stated this week Volson wasn’t a rookie anymore at this point in the season. But even grizzled veterans of many seasons have no counters to effective defensive holding.
This was a common occurrence in Sunday’s game from All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward. It’s a uniquely gray area considering it’s a forgotten infraction and is very rarely penalized, mainly because it doesn’t look like much in real time as defensive linemen being held is more visibly apparent.
Heyward managed to weaponize it against Volson multiple times, which led to the ugly plays the rookie guard was associated with.
Cam Heyward holding 3x and not getting called. One led to a pressure, one to a sack. This is an art form that some of the best veteran IDL have perfected on stunts, but still surprising to not see one of these called. pic.twitter.com/iMGvWZNaef— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) November 21, 2022
Aside from these plays, Volson put together a clean outing and even got a highlight of his on Samaje Perine’s first touchdown. His downfield block helped seal Perine’s lane towards the end zone.
As expected, Carter’s usage took a dip in terms of snap percentage from recent weeks. Carter played in just 37% of the defense’s snaps as the third defensive tackle with DJ Reader back in the fold, but Reader didn’t quite look 100% in his first game back.
Carter’s value hasn’t dropped just because Reader is available. He’s still out there next to Reader when the Bengals go with their five-man fronts. When—or if—Josh Tupou gets back on the field, then we can have a conversation about where Carter falls in the rotation.