It’s not every year that the NFL trade deadline period is as active as it was in 2017. It’s frankly rare that the period’s passing is even noticeable. In past years, the movements of Marcell Dareus and Duane Brown would’ve been sufficient headliners; this year they were overshadowed in both quantity and impact of other trades.
On top of the other trades (Jay Ajayi, Kelvin Benjamin, Jimmy Garappolo, Rashard Robinson), the Bengals allegedly nearly swindled the Browns and ran away with the show at the deadline. Nearly — in a moment of rare, groundbreaking ineptitude in Cleveland that may or may not’ve ultimately been in their best interest, the Browns failed to successfully process the trade with the league office before the deadline.
Truly, an exciting story. First, however: the Colts game.
Patriots trade Jimmy G to the 49ers
Four Quick Notes
• Technically speaking, John Ross was active for Sunday’s game. He wasn’t injured, he was wearing a uniform, and he could’ve been on the field. Yet, largely, he wasn’t. According to Football Outsiders, Ross was on the field for all of six offensive snaps, in which he failed to appear in the box score. When asked, coach Marvin Lewis excused Ross’ dressing as being on account of Cody Core not being available, then saying Ross wasn’t a part of the offensive game plan. Despite Ross having been available to practice all week.
It’s hard to say that it’s a matter of Lewis being himself regarding rookies, because he’s at least somewhat playing Joe Mixon (35 snaps), Josh Malone (19 offensive snaps), Carl Lawson (41 defensive snaps) and Ryan Glasgow (24 defensive snaps). Maybe Ross just needs another week of practice to integrate. Maybe the offensive game plan was just weak. The product on the field, frankly, indicated the latter. A penny for Bill Lazor’s thoughts.
• Pro Football Focus issued four of their top five grades for the Bengals to defensive players: Geno Atkins (93.9), George Iloka (86.4), Carlos Dunlap (80.4) and Darqueze Dennard (79.5). Rounding out the top five was Josh Malone (77.3), which can be taken as a backhanded indictment of the offense.
Sticking to defense for the moment: Atkins having a monster game isn’t anything new this season, even though he hasn’t scored in that range for a couple weeks. Dunlap’s been good, even though his game-sealing pick-six was the first time this season that he really made his presence known to the casual observer. From the Colts’ side, the top grade went to tight end Jack Doyle, who racked up 121 yards and a touchdown while catching 12 of his 13 targets. Doyle isn’t a bad player, but he’s not Le’Veon Bell with the ball in his hands. The defense can’t accept allowing that kind of performance.
• Last note on the game: the run blocking has been a liability for the Bengals all season. That isn’t news. At some point, however, it has to be assessed how much of the blame lies on the ball carriers for not doing enough in spite of it. Joe Mixon finished the game with a 41.1 grade from Pro Football Focus, after rolling up only 18 yards on 11 carries (his 1.6 YPC was his lowest total since Week 1). He had a 67-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass, but he gave away a fumble on his next catch. At no point in the game did he break a tackle.
It’s reminiscent of the Rams’ situation a year ago, where Todd Gurley suffered behind a dismal group of blockers before NFL media types finally gave him his due share of blame midway through the season. He’s been lights-out this year, and Mixon can be the same next year. Like with Gurley, his personal improvement is just as much a required component as the Bengals’ going out and signing their version of Andrew Whitworth. Mixon would likely look better now if such a player were already on the roster.
• As for the blockbuster trade that wasn’t: how big of a win would it have been for Cincinnati to take two drafts picks — a second-rounder and a third-rounder — from Cleveland, in exchange for A.J. McCarron? Apparently, that nearly happened. Hard to believe, considering that would require the Browns’ front office being substantially more sold on McCarron than the 49ers were on Jimmy Garappolo, who was taken in the second round to begin with and only cost San Francisco one second-round pick of their own.
(The alternative here is that Cleveland’s front office simply stockpiled too many picks and no longer values them properly, or never knew the value in the first place because they’re not football guys, but let’s not bury the lead.)
Even the most ardent supporter of McCarron among the Bengals fanbase would likely agree that two picks in the first three rounds in exchange for him is essentially piracy. Unfortunately for the Bengals, the story goes that the Browns’ front office celebrated making the deal for too long, in the process failing to confirm it to the NFL league office before the 4:00pm EST deadline.
Honestly, it’s fair to ask whether botching that trade is a lesser evil for the embattled Browns’ office than successfully executing it would’ve been.
A.J. McCarron: Obviously, McCarron didn’t improve his stock this week on account of actually doing anything on the field, but if he’s garnering the kind of compensation that the Browns were offering in trade talk then he deserves a retroactive boost. McCarron will enter 2018 as a restricted free agent, has expressed desire to audition as a starter before, and received immense interest from a team in Cleveland with enough cap room to throw him a substantial offer sheet. The biggest question is who’s next up if Cleveland appoints someone else to call the shots (as they too often do) between now and then.
Carlos Dunlap: More a style selection than a substance one again, although Dunlap actually played and had himself quite a game. Sometimes, a player needs to have a highlight-reel moment in order to remind the rest of the league that he exists and he’s good at his job. It’s an entertainment business, after all, though it helps that his most entertaining highlight from Sunday’s game also happened to all but seal a Bengals’ win. That’s how a big defensive end on a middling team from a small market gets his due.
Joe Mixon: As mentioned above, Mixon was unproductive against the Colts in a way that he has to be at least partially held accountable for as an individual. Mixon was on the field for 35 snaps on offense, while Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 21. His blocking is bad, the patterns of deployment and scheme aren’t perfect, and the game script doesn’t always work in his favor, but more should be expected from Mixon than what he’s contributed thus far. Especially if he wants to openly compare himself to Le’Veon Bell.
Next week’s game at Jacksonville marks the beginning of a three-game road stretch for the Bengals, and likely the hardest of the bunch with the others being at Tennessee and Denver. An odd thought, given how those teams were thought of months ago, but life moves fast in the NFL.
Cincinnati likely has to go 2-1 through that stretch to maintain a realistic shot at the playoffs (especially if the Ravens are the team they appeared to be last Thursday), and Jacksonville looks to be the most likely game to go against them. It’s a bad matchup for Dalton throwing to anybody out wide against their corners (especially if Green bobbles balls in the air instead of cleanly catching them). It’s a terrible matchup on the ground for a do-nothing rushing unit against one of the league’s best defensive lines that just added a new nose tackle.
Perhaps we see an odds-beating the likes of which the NFL is wont to occasionally provide (as with the New York Giants’ running game in their lone win against Denver on a Monday Night), but it’s more likely that the Bengals will require a strong performance from their defense to be competitive. It’s well documented that the Jaguars do everything they can to minimize quarterback Blake Bortles’ impact on a game; the Bengals have to take away his easy throws. That’s a tough sell for a unit that was lit up by Jack Doyle the week prior.
A more detailed breakdown of the matchup will be included in the Week 9 preview.
– Andy Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32. Follow him on Twitter at @Andy_Hammel, and the cover32 Bengals team at @cover32_CIN.