One team went to the Super Bowl last year. The other won four games. Guess which team played their starters in a preseason matchup.
The Cincinnati Bengals did find themselves with a lead over the New York Giants at the end of the first half, but it was the home team that came out on top two quarters later. Some rookies for the Bengals took part in the entire game, and one in particular had the entire city of Cincinnati watching his every move.
With one week remaining until final cuts, here’s where the rookies stand.
Jessie Bates’ return be damned, Dax Hill shares have skyrocketed in the last two weeks.
The rookie just makes plays, and he wasted little time on Sunday doing so. During the game’s first drive, Hill made a coverage stop defending a hitch from rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger, rotating down from a split-field alignment to an overhang position. His stop caused a third-and-five for the Giants, and on that third-down play, Hill snuffed out a flat route from running back Antonio Williams and shoe-string tackled him short of the first down marker. This led to a fourth-down stop by Joseph Ossai and, you guessed it, Hill.
And then there was more on the second drive. With fellow rookie Tycen Anderson matched up with Bellinger, Hill was in center field watching Bellinger separate from Anderson on an over route. Daniel Jones’ pass went through the hands of Bellinger, popped up about 10 yards downfield, and ended up in Hill’s diving grasp.
Whether or not it was actually a catch and interception, Hill reading and reacting in a timely fashion as the Cover 1 free safety put him in position to make a game-changing play. It’s these plays that will have the coaches trusting him to change the games that actually count.
The spotlight is on Hill, deservedly so, but Anderson ended up with seven tackles and the defense’s sixth-highest PFF grade. Only four others played more snaps.
Due to injuries everywhere on the offensive line, the left side of the unit played the entire game, which included left guard Cordell Volson. Last week, Volson came on for 34 snaps after Jackson Carman’s rough first half. On Sunday, Volson nearly doubled that playing time with 67 reps.
Let’s get two things straight here. Every offensive lineman who plays the entire game will end up with more good reps than bad. What matters is if there are signs of high-quality play, and how correctable are the bad plays.
Also, these are rookies we’re talking about, but if Volson is expected to be a starting lineman in less than three weeks, playing 60 snaps comes with the territory. Any fatigue talking point is irrelevant when the games are for real. No one wants to hear about being tired if you’re a liability in the final moments.
Volson was doing just fine up until the end of the second quarter. The offense called a power run out of shotgun. Volson, the pulling guard, collided with right guard Lamont Gaillard, who wasn’t supposed to pull on the play, and a negative Chris Evans run became the result.
On the very next play, Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale dialed up a classic slot blitz on third down with the Bengals in empty protection. Cornerback Khalil Dorsey ran right by Volson, the only unoccupied lineman, for the sack on Brandon Allen.
A missed blitz pickup is both inevitable when dealing with a rookie and correctable with film review and experience. That sack goes on Volson’s ledger, but the physical wins and losses are more pressing as the season draws near.
Volson had a few instances where he was late off the snap and fell victim to quick pass-rushing moves, but he held his own for the second-straight week. He got more exposure to zone concepts in the run game and handled them well. Even in some not-so-pretty moments in pass protection, the recovery ability he has is impressive. He’s certainly not blowing anybody away, but he is doing enough to earn the starting gig.
It’s a two-horse race between Kwamie Lassiter II and Kendric Pryor for a roster spot that may or may not exist. After Pryor popped off against Arizona, Lassiter shined against New York—for the most part. The dropped two-point conversion in the end zone doesn’t look great on tape, but Lassiter did his best to make up for it. His two catches on the final drive helped the offense get into field-goal range in the closing seconds. He finished with seven receptions for 89 yards on seven targets and 29 routes ran.
Pryor still had his chances. He ended up with four receptions on six targets and made 28 yards out of them. He may not be a punt-returner like Lassiter, but Lassiter hasn’t done much in that department through two games. If there’s a seventh receiver to be found here, it’ll be their abilities as pass-catchers that separates them. And it looks to be neck and neck.
Two plays stood out for Jeff Gunter. In the second quarter, No. 93 flew down the field on kickoff coverage and was the first to force return man C.J. Board back inside. Board met Michael Thomas and fumble on impact, giving the Bengals the ball back.
Later in the game, Gunter was rushing off the right side of the defensive line from a wide 9 alignment (outside the attached receiver). Gunter dipped under a chip block and the left tackle simultaneously, bent his hips the opposite direction to get under the punch of the left guard, and had a free lane to hit quarterback Davis Webb right after Webb got the throw off.
gunter dipping under the chip and two blockers for the qb hit pic.twitter.com/SrnYLXkl7r— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) August 22, 2022
Gunter also got his hands on another pass at the line in his 46 snaps.
The case of Allan George is an interesting one. While he looks apt at staying with vertical routes and finding the ball, it’s the underneath action that gets him the most. That he’s been working with the second-string unit for weeks now is impressive on its own, and despite being targeted 15 times through two games, he’s allowed a passer rating of just 82.9. The practice squad is far more likely than the 53-player roster, but he’s definitely had his moments.
If there were enough healthy corners on the team, Delonte Hood probably would’ve received his walking papers by now. PFF charged him for 121 yards allowed on seven receptions and nine targets; the last one being the most damning. Aligned in the slot, Hood hesitated on a shallow crosser, allowing receiver Alex Bachman to catch it cleanly, and then missed a touchdown-saving tackle on Bachman.
It was an accurate summation of a forgetful performance, and he has one week to give the team any reason why he belongs on the practice squad.
Defensive tackle Tariqiuous Tisdale is also gunning for a practice squad spot, and his competition got a leg up on him. Domenique Davis and Raymond Johnson III, who were both signed less than a month ago, combined for four pressures as rotational defensive lineman against the Giants.
Tisdale has value being one of only seven defensive tackles on a team that might keep five. He needs to create the splash plays Davis and Johnson are making if he wants to stick around.
- Zach Carter ended up playing 44 snaps—17 fewer than he had last week—but continued to be a presence plugging gaps in the run game. His 64.0 run defense grade ranked fifth amongst Cincinnati defensive linemen.
- He may be far from a finished product, but guard Desmond Noel is fun to watch in the ground game. He’s got the same on-field style as Volson and tries to finish blocks on the ground. Injuries to Gaillard and other linemen have given him ample chances to play, and he’s done fine for a UDFA.
- In his second week as the backup right tackle, Devin Cochran turned in another clean outing in pass pro. He’s allowed just one pressure in 44 reps.