The NFL playoffs are here, and the Cincinnati Bengals rookies are as ready as they can be for a run to the Super Bowl. First, they’ll have to put up one last AFC North fight against the Baltimore Ravens.
Preparing for the same team twice in a row brings its own unique challenges. How much you keep in your pocket for the next week and how much you don’t is a chess game of its own, but these two teams know each other as intimately as any Wild Card matchup. What you see is ultimately what you get; the stakes are just a lot higher than they were a few days ago.
Here’s where the first-year players stand now that we’re in survive and advance time.
Keeping Baltimore out of the end zone became all that mattered for the Bengals defense. Early in the third quarter, following a Joe Burrow strip-sack, the Ravens were knocking on the door inside the 10-yard line. Taylor-Britt was playing zone coverage in the left half of the end zone when Demarcus Robinson came across the middle. Taylor-Britt disrupted the route and made a perfect play on the ball to force an incompletion. The Ravens would settle for a field goal two plays later.
The difference between the Bengals’ corners playing man and zone is notable since the injury to Chidobe Awuzie. Taylor-Britt’s zone coverage grade of 70.6 is far better than the 41.3 he has in man situations. The Ravens keyed in on this later in the game when Sammy Watkins was isolated on the rookie.
Watkins burned Taylor-Britt twice on back shoulder throws from Anthony Brown and gained a combined 79 yards on them. Luckily for the Bengals, Jessie Bates III forced a fumble on the second catch and run from Watkins, which effectively ended the game late in the fourth quarter.
When offenses can put the Bengals in man-to-man situations and withstand the occasional blitzes that come with it, this becomes a way to create explosive plays. Taylor-Britt will continue to be tested during these playoffs.
Blocking the Ravens defensive front is always a challenge. The names sometimes change, but by God, they’re all just clones of one another from the past 20 years. It’s almost eerie.
Volson had a rough day at the office, allowing a sack and a handful of pressures to the Ravens’ interior line that just got Calais Campbell back. The sack came from Odafe Oweh, who put Volson in a blender with a quick spin move that collapsed the pocket for Joe Burrow.
This is the deepest pass-rushing unit the Bengals will face on this side of the playoff bracket, and they’ll do it with a rookie at one guard spot and a veteran coming off the bench at the other. Not ideal, but Volson’s capable of playing much better, and he’ll need to Sunday night.
Cincinnati’s four-turnover day on defense was very close to featuring one more takeaway when Carter deflected a pass at the line and nearly caught it on his way to the ground.
Carter was visibly frustrated after not finishing the play, but his performance was anything but frustrating. He played a quality 33 snaps at defensive tackle and was one of the Bengals’ best run defenders on a day when the unit was not at its best.
If you’re going to get five reps, they might as well be interesting. Hill manned up in coverage a few times late in the game and was targeted once while covering fellow rookie tight end Charlie Kolar. The coverage was basically perfect, but Kolar’s size advantage led to a contested completion for a first down.
Hill was also in on the game’s first third down attempt. He was at free safety while Jessie Bates was in the box showing blitz. The Ravens’ quick screen to the outside was quickly thwarted by the Bengals, and Hill came down in a fury to help make the stop short of the sticks.