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Bengals rookie report: Zach Carter’s growth on national display

A deep defensive line has been boosted by Carter.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

If the Cincinnati Bengals’ playoff culture wasn’t firmly established last season, their 24-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens sealed the deal. Finishing close, and sometimes ugly games, with opportune plays and game-defining moments is their modus operandi. It’s a welcomed change after three decades of postseason futility, and their indoctrinating a new crop of rookies into the way of life.

Zach Carter

Much was made about the Bengals not showing their hand offensively against the Ravens in Week 18. That wasn’t the case on defense, as Lou Anarumo’s unit rolled out his 5-2 front to counter the Ravens’ rushing attack.

Carter is a starter when the defense choses this path, and he was a good one on Sunday.

Carter’s development against the run has given him an edge in playing time over Josh Tupou as the third defensive tackle in their odd-front scheme. In 17 run defense snaps, Carter registered two defensive stops right at the line of scrimmage, and successfully kept his run fit for the majority of the game.

In his last three full games, Pro Football Focus has graded him out at 72.1. His season-long grade is at 34.2, which speaks insane volumes about his recent play.

The plan against the Buffalo Bills may be a bit different. Their offense thrives in 11 personnel, and the Bengals will live in nickel for most of the game because of it. Mike Hilton will definitely play more than 21 snaps, and that may be a good over/under for Carter’s playing time.

Cordell Volson

And then there were two.

More than half of the Bengals’ offensive line is injured and will not play this Sunday. That’s both of their starting tackles and their highest-paid guard in franchise history. The lone Week 1 starters remaining are Ted Karras, the quintessential leader at center, and Volson, the rookie fourth-round pick, whose inexperience is rendered insignificant now considering the circumstances.

No one has played more snaps for this unit—or this entire offense—than Volson. That’s a matter of not coming out of games during garbage time, and just general durability.

We don’t know for sure what the plan at left tackle is. It could be Jackson Carman, who finished the Wild Card game after Jonah Williams suffered a second dislocated knee in three months, or it could be Isaiah Prince, who started during last year’s playoff run on the opposite side of the line.

Whomever it is, Volson can only do so much to help out at left guard. That’s the intrinsic value of a left tackle. They can eliminate slide protection away from the spot or just slide that way more often, but Volson will have plenty on his plate to deal with as well. Ed Oliver and Daquan Jones are coming, and they need Volson to play like the second-best lineman next to Karras.

Cam Taylor-Britt

An underrated component to the Bengals’ win was their goal-line stand that didn’t result in the play of the game. At the end of the first half, Cincinnati forced a short Justin Tucker field goal after three Ravens plays inside the five-yard line failed to find the end zone. Tyler Huntley completed a short pass to Mark Andrews that was stopped behind the line of scrimmage by Jessie Bates, and the next two plays were incompletions targeting Taylor-Britt.

These were the only times the rookie cornerback was tested in coverage. The throws he sees coming his way against Josh Allen will be larger than two. Buckle up.

Dax Hill

The other cornerback spot was in jeopardy for a short period of time. Eli Apple went off the field for a few plays, which led to Hill filling in for two at boundary cornerback. He also had a handful of slot snaps, which is where he got a face mask penalty that eventually led to the Ravens’ first score of the game.

Buffalo’s offense may lead to Hill coming in for select spots in the slot, but the expectation of him playing significant snaps just doesn’t exist.