Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's tape confirmed what he thought he saw during Sunday's 24-10 win in Pittsburgh. Rookie right guard Jackson Carman played well enough to earn his second NFL start Thursday night (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and NFL Network) against the Jaguars at Paul Brown Stadium.
With Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee) day-to-day and not practicing since he got hurt in Chicago last week, Carman has a date with his college quarterback Trevor Lawrence, now plying his trade in Jacksonville as the draft's overall No. 1 pick.
"It wasn't perfect. There were some things that we can continue to improve on. But it was good stuff to build off of. We expected that from Jackson and that's what he gave us yesterday. That was great to see," Taylor said Monday.
Maybe Taylor didn't "crown," him the starter the rest of the way. But he certainly anointed him as one that can be soon.
"We're not going to overreact one way or another based on each week's performance with Jackson. He has all the tools that we wanted when we took him," Taylor said of that second-round pick. "He's shown the progress that we wanted to see over the last seven, eight weeks. It was a really good start for him yesterday. If that's what we knew we were going to get in the Pittsburgh game, his first start on the road, we would take that every day of the week. Just continue to build off of that and understand it's a long season."
The Pro Football Focus numbers confirmed that not only did Carman keep quarterback Joe Burrow clean on 22 passes, but so did the rest of an offensive line that didn't allow a hit or a sack.
If that wasn't enough on Monday, running back Joe Mixon's ringing endorsement was. Mixon, the NFL's second-leading rusher behind Derrick Henry, says in his five years here that was a rare glimpse.
""I thought they did a hell of a job yesterday," said Mixon after he went for five yards per carry on 18 attempts. "With the run game they were being real physical. They're playing on the other side of the ball and that's honestly what I'm not used to seeing. By them boys doing that, I mean it's creating a lot of running lanes. And by us protecting Joe, you just see what Joe do. He sits back there and delivers. He can deliver every time."
PFF said Mixon ran behind Carman four times for 13 yards. But everyone acted like it was a lot more than that.
"After a couple of plays that were going in my direction," Carman said, "I understood, like, this is what I was meant to do. I just sold out for it."
At the ripe old age of 21, Carman, the Greater Cincinnati native, responded like a grizzled vet in the age-old rivalry.
"Man, it was crazy. It was very surreal. It was good to be able to take everything in and good to see everybody and good to experience it and get the dub, so I was super excited. It was awesome." Carman said. "The whole game, I really liked the way the game flowed for me. I felt like after the second series though, I definitely felt like I was getting into a much, much better rhythm. I definitely had those pre-game butterflies, though, like everyone has them but it wasn't in a bad way. It was a very excited way. I was like, this is a great opportunity. I was ready to step up."
Burrow credited his offensive line with his third, last and dagger touchdown pass of the day. The nine-yard dart to his fifth and last option, rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, came with enough time for him to flip through the game plan. The play also displayed Carman's steady progress since training camp. With the Steelers trying to work a stunt, 247-pound linebacker Melvin Ingram tried to speed by him in confusion and ended up getting engulfed by the 325-pound Carman.
"I saw how they were lining up and saw we were tracking No. 8," Carman said. "I saw him go over and I was providing a presence for the center and then when No. 8 came across the field, I gave him a stab and then ran my backside feet and just finish the play. I didn't even know they scored. It was crazy I got up (and looked). It was no noise, obviously, but they were telling me 'Yeah, you're on (PAT),' because I was about ready to run off the field."
It's been a bit of a climb as he made the transition from Lawrence's national title left tackle to NFL right guard during a training camp he backed up Su'a-Filo.
"The main thing I was focused on, I wasn't focused on where I was on the depth chart," Carman said. "I was just focused on making sure that I was becoming a better player and a better person and learning and making personal growth and not worrying about things I don't control. Because I don't control where I'm at on the depth chart, I just control how I perform in practice."
MIXON APPROVES: Mixon got a huge kick out of Burrow's first-down signal, pointing the ball to the crowd before dropping it to the ground. He knew right away that Burrow got it from him. But what he really loved was the eight-yard quarterback draw that elicited the reaction.
"When he did it, I was like, 'Hold on, Joe. What you got?' It was cool," Mixon said. "It's nice to see him doing that because that just shows me that he's playing with his swag. He's got his swag back, that's what I like to see."
"When he broke that pocket and started running, I was like 'Oh (bleep), hold on Joe.' But when he dove and got the first and dropped the ball, I was like, 'Ok, that's what I like to see. That's my quarterback right there.'"
A RIVALRY SHIFTS: Taylor sent out two players with big Pittsburgh connections for the coin toss. Former Steelers slot cornerback Mike Hilton made a lasting contribution during the week with a speech to the defense and another speech to the team the night before the game in a downtown Pittsburgh hotel that might as well have been The Hilton.
And, wide receiver Tyler Boyd set the tone when he scored the game's first touchdown bouncing off Ingram at the Steelers 10 after converting a third down and running through the rest for a 17-yard touchdown.
On Monday, both were just as passionate about what the win meant. Boyd took note that a couple of Pittsburgh's astounding ten dropped passes came in its final drive. He felt that their message to the Steelers that things have changed had been delivered at day's end.
"I think the good thing about that win was not only did the Steelers feel that, everybody in the country felt it because the last plays of the game for them, they gave up," Boyd said.
"You could see it. They had three drops in a row. For a team to see that, is giving us more power, giving us the antidote to know how good we are. So, for a team to just lay down like that before the game was over... I know us, we're not giving up, we going to continue to try to make plays and make something happen. But they portrayed it to the whole nation on TV what they were about and how they gave up. So, you've just got to take advantage."
Boyd was all ears when Hilton got up to speak to the team Saturday night. That was after he spoke to the defense last Monday on how much this game meant to him.
"He was just saying how basically, how he didn't feel valued by them," Boyd said. "He was their leading turnover guy a year ago, and for them not to invest in a guy like him is kind of insulting because you know how good you are. You feel like you mean a lot to the team and organization and they just turn around and stab you in the back. I mean, I don't know what the situation was and he didn't say that in his exact words, but we understood the message that was pretty much how it is."
Hilton, the free-agent pickup committed to bringing the Steelers' winning ways to the Bengals, liked what he saw.
"Guys are starting to trust and believe that around this locker room, and we got a big one coming up on Thursday that we've got to take care of. It will be another opportunity to prove that," Hilton said of the team's goals. "We walked in expecting to win. That's how you should feel every time you step onto the field. Guys in the locker room are believing that and trusting that. We're going to take this win, it's definitely a confidence booster, I'm not going to say that, but we can't hang on one with, we've still got a long season to go."
Hilton wasn't saying the Steelers quit. But he noticed the drops, too.
"If you're physical throughout four quarters, some receivers and running backs will be a little iffy catching the ball," Hilton said. "We feel like throughout the whole game, we were more physical than those guys and it paid off in the end."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Free safety Jessie Bates III (neck) was a surprise add to the injury list Monday. They didn't practice, but he couldn't have if they did. He didn't miss a play Sunday and has missed only one snap all year. But that's his M.O. He hasn't missed a game in playing 99 percent of his career snaps.
Also out was cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who suffered a groin injury in Sunday's second half. Things are a bit dicey on the corner now. They marked cornerback Trae Waynes (hamstring) as limited and Taylor sounded optimistic he would make his long waited Bengals debut on Thursday. But it's doubtful he'll be able to give them a full complement of snaps after not playing since he joined the Bengals last year.
Wide receiver Tee Higgins (shoulder) was also DNP after missing last Sunday's game.
People are raving about sophomore middle linebacker Logan Wilson after his 14-tackle, two-interception game on Sunday. He's already got three interceptions this season and has his eyes on Al Beauchamp's linebackers club-record six set in 1971. His five picks in 15 career games have already matched the career Bengals totals of Vontaze Burfict, Takeo Spikes and Glenn Cameron.
Wilson's three picks lead all NFL backers and have him rated eighth in pass coverage among PFF's backers and 15th overall, a slot ahead of Bucs perennial standout Lavonte David.
"He obviously had an incredible first year," said left end Sam Hubbard, "but seeing him mature and take over this defense, he's just always around the ball and it's no wonder that he's got two picks and good things always happen. He does things the right way. He plays extremely hard. He's our play caller and he's really taken a leadership role at a very young age."