One big thing Cincinnati Bengals fans didn’t expect to see this season was quarterback Joe Burrow under the same duress as last year. The Bengals went out and have four new starters that were not with the team last season. They also expected to see first round pick — safety Dax Hill — get on the field a decent amount after a fairly impressive preseason. However, we only saw him on the field a handful of plays. Head coach Zac Taylor didn’t shy away from answering these issues.
The offensive line was the biggest point of emphasis this offseason after their franchise quarterback was hit over 70 times through their regular season and playoff run. So it had to be a bit surprising to see their quarterbacks seemingly dealing with the same issues Sunday. One place in particular fans pointed to was rookie left guard Cordell Volson.
“I thought the offensive line did a nice job, you look at (seven) sacks, everybody is involved. Some of them are free rushers that aren’t clear responsibilities, sometimes it’s the back, sometimes it’s the quarterback, sometimes it’s the O-line, sometimes it’s me putting us in bad situations,” Taylor told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “I thought they showed some encouraging things, we know it’s a good defensive line, we know it’s a good defense, they pressure a lot, they got good guys that can pressure and I thought they gave us a chance to win. It’s something to build off of and improve from there.
“I thought Cordell showed some real potential in that game. Again, his last two non-Bengals opponents have been two Hall of Famers in Aaron Donald and Cam Heyward. That’s not the ideal way to start your career. I saw some really good things from him, some really encouraging things. He hung with it over the course of the game. Really, really encouraged by the job that Cordell did. And he’s only going to continue to get better.”
Taylor brings up a great point with Volson having taken on Donald and Heyward in his first two games of real NFL action. Those may be two of the toughest assignments for any guard in the NFL, much less a rookie getting acclimated to the pros. If anything, it really can only help him having faced those talents now and have that experience.
To add on to Taylor’s points, these were the first live snaps most of the offense were taking together period. The Bengals rested just about every offensive starter for the entire preseason. We can argue about whether that was right or wrong for the long-term prospects of this team, but the immediate consequence was having to gel on the fly. You saw that with Burrow tossing a pass late behind Tyler Boyd for a pick six. You saw it in Joe Mixon not realizing he was needed in a certain blitz pickup rather than leaking out, and you saw it on an offensive line unit that needs to almost operate with a hivemind. That kind of stuff takes time to develop, and it can’t be done in practice alone.
As far as the rookie we didn’t really see in Hill, Taylor admits they are having an ideal problem for any defense to have.
“There’s always going to be packages he’s involved in. Sometimes that’s going to be more, sometimes that’s going to be the same,” Taylor said. “I think that’s going to continue to evolve every week. The good problem we have is that we have a lot of really good players on defense that can play a lot of roles. You’re talking about (cornerback) Tre Flowers, (linebacker) Akeem Davis-Gaither, Dax Hill, so it’s good a problem to have we have depth. Different guys have different roles.”
Hill received six snaps, and it was a bit unfair to expect more of him on the field in this one. It is hard to play three safety when you want Mike Hilton in the slot and to play two linebackers to stop the run. The problem is you can only field 11 players at a time, and when you have players like Davis-Gaither and Flowers who also do specialty things as well, you can’t expect Hill to play serious snaps without taking away snaps from an established piece. We will likely see this become less and less of an issue, but what this really means is the back half of this defense has some serious depth waiting for their opportunity.