Experience usually trumps inexperience in the NFL. So when half of a defensive backfield is comprised of rookies against a competent 45-year old quarterback, that can lead to trouble.
It did for the Cincinnati Bengals, until it didn’t.
Injuries have forced the hands of the now 10-4 Bengals to throw every rookie they have into the fire, and instead of wrecking the ship, the first-year players are keeping it afloat. That’s the sign of good coaching, and even better evaluation from the personnel department.
Everyone within the Bengals’ organization got to see all their youngins perform in Sunday’s come-from-behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here’s what they witnessed.
Back at his old position from his Michigan days, a former Michigan quarterback tested him right out the gate. Tom Brady’s first completion went to Chris Godwin on a drive route against Hill for a modest gain. Hill would get used to trailing Godwin for most of the afternoon, and do it at a solid level.
The one time Hill seemed to get “beat” was late in the second quarter. While defending Godwin in the slot, Hill allowed an inside release, knowing he had help over the middle of the field. Godwin came out of his break perfectly, and Brady held the ball long enough for separation to be had.
The 15-yard reception was by far the longest of four receptions Hill was in coverage against. There was also a pass interference Mike Evans drew against him later on, but it was simply a matter of not turning his head back to the ball.
Coverage is just half the game for slot defenders. Anyone who knows Mike Hilton’s game sees the value of filling run fits like a 2000s linebacker. Hill showcased some of that aggression in this game as well.
Check out our own Matt Minich’s film review on Hill for a full breakdown.
Much like Hill, the beginning of the game went completely fine for Taylor-Britt. The cornerback had a very clean first 15 minutes of play. He even broke up a slant to Evans, which is crazy hard to do.
That dropped interception from Jessie Bates? Taylor-Britt had that route from Russell Gage covered anyways. This led to a field goal from inside the five-yard line.
But Gage got him back at the start of the second quarter.
False step gets him— Matt (@CoachMinich) December 19, 2022
This is a tough play
He’ll learn from it pic.twitter.com/VDjijtKHL6
Matt’s right, he’ll learn, but it was not the only time Taylor-Britt was caught with subpar footwork. On the play he injured his shoulder, Taylor-Britt opened his hips to the outside expecting an out-breaker, and tripped while closing down on the curl route. The awkward tackle seemed to be what caused the injury.
Per usual, the highs were high, and the lows were lows for the rookie corner. This was also the first week since Taylor-Britt’s midseason debut that Hill out-snapped him due to the injury. He stated in the locker room that he expects to play Saturday, and was a limited participant in Tuesday’s walkthrough.
The guy who replaced Taylor-Britt was none other than George, who appeared in his second-career game.
Brady sought after him the third and final drive he was in for. This was the second of three passes Brady threw into his coverage. George does a good job mirroring the route, and had he closed down at the catch point, he may’ve gotten his first-career interception.
The Bengals have to be smart about how they handle George on the practice squad. They can only elevate him once more to the active roster this season. Since Mike Hilton and Jalen Davis appear to be on track to returning soon, they may not need to elevate George again. ext.
The Bengals’ longest run of the night was sparked because of Volson, although not in a positive way. Volson misplayed a tackle-end twist from the Bucs that generated a pressure on Joe Burrow, and Burrow scampered out of the pocket for a gain of 10 and a first down on the offense’s first drive of the second half.
That was just about the lone hiccup Volson ran into Sunday. Without Vita Vea, the Bucs had little interior pass-rush against a now formidable interior offensive line for the Bengals. Volson is currently 25th among 50 qualifying starting guards this year in Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking efficiency metric on true pass sets.
Gunter’s three-week streak of being inactive was broken on Sunday as the Bengals needed every edge defender they had available. Gunter suited up due to Trey Hendrickson’s wrist injury, but he entered the game after Sam Hubbard’s calf injury took the veteran off the field. The seventh-round pick didn’t register any pressures in his 10 pass-rushing snaps as, but he held his own on the seven snaps he had against the run as Tampa Bay couldn’t muster much of anything in the second half.
Expect Gunter to be involved in the rotation at defensive end with Sam Hubbard likely out for two weeks or more.
Alex Cappa and Mitchell Wilcox weren’t the only Bengals to experience homecomings in Tampa. Carter was born and raised there until he left upstate for college at the University of Florida. He played 28 snaps as the defensive line had to get creative without both Hendrickson and Hubbard.