Bengals tight end Drew Sample didn't want to admit he was the next tackle up after starters Jonah Williams and Bobby Hart went down during Sunday's game. But as the Bengals racked up 468 yards behind a re-fitted offensive line, Sample showed he's more than a blocker.
After becoming one of quarterback Joe Burrow's six receivers who caught at least 50 yards (the first time it's happened in Bengals history, per Elias), Sample is on pace to finish with the 43 catches that have led the tight end room for each of the past two seasons.
For a guy they took in the second round last year for his blocking ability with the belief he would become an effective receiver, he's well on his way.
Two years ago when Sample was playing his final year at Washington, C.J. Uzomah led the room with 43 catches and 439 yards after Tyler Eifert was injured. Last season when Sample was a rookie, Eifert returned to lead the way with 43 catches for 436 yards. Now with Eifert in Jacksonville and Uzomah on injured reserve, Sample is on pace for 43 catches for 398 yards.
"I think just for me it's just trying to take advantage of all the opportunities that I can," Sample said. "Joe does a great job of spreading the ball around, taking what the defense gives us. He makes plays with his feet. It really helps us out as an offense for him to be able to do that. I think everyone always knows that plays can be extended, so we're always looking for that. I think we're starting to really gel as an offense overall."
Put Sample in the group that has bought into Taylor's offense. On Sunday, Sample helped out an effective screen game, bowling over people on runs of 16 and 14 yards, while also blocking down field and helping the tackles hold Browns Pro Bowl pass rusher Myles Garrett sackless in the second half.
"They obviously have a good rush, so whenever we can kind of slow them down any way we can, whether that's chipping or screens or whatever we can do, I think that was able to help us out a lot and we had some big plays off of that," Sample said. "I think overall we were able to do a lot of different things. That's why we were able to be so successful yesterday on offense.
"I think we have a lot of good players on offense. We have players at every position. Sometimes it gets spread around like that. Everyone can make plays and everyone did make plays yesterday. Some games, its one or two guys making plays. I just think that speaks to the type of personnel that we have on offense where everyone is able to get involved and make plays and we just keep moving the chains."
O-LINE SICK CALL: Sample may be on call next Sunday against the Titans (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12). Taylor confirmed Monday that right tackle Bobby Hart (knee) is out and left tackle Jonah Williams (neck) is day-to-day. Not only that, center Trey Hopkins is in concussion protocol. Running back Joe Mixon (foot) is day-to-day.
Price, who came in for Hopkins, was charted as their second best pass protector Sunday by profootballfocus.com. Despite lining up often against Garrett, Hart played terrific before leaving with three snaps left in the game and was rated No. 4 after allowing just one pressure and no sacks. When the game finished, Fred Johnson moved from left tackle, where he replaced Williams, to right while rookie Hakeem Adeniji lined up at left.
"We had confidence in the guys we put right in there. Didn't miss a beat," Taylor said. "We didn't change one play call because of the three (linemen) that we had in there, I can promise you that. Those guys have been here, they've been getting a ton of reps. You talk about Hakeem, you talk about Billy, you talk about Fred, those guys have gotten a ton of reps. So they're ready when their number is called, and we have confidence in those guys."
Johnson gave up a sack to Garrett, but that was the only hit he allowed and gave up just one hurry. Before he got hurt, Williams allowed a sack-sack strip to Garrett, only the second sack he's allowed this season, according to PFF. But there has to be an asterisk. Williams was lined up next to wide receiver Tyler Boyd just before the snap and when Boyd tried to call timeout, it appeared to throw off Williams ever so slightly and that's all Garrett needs.
There may be help on the way. Taylor all but confirmed the club has interest in former Bills guard Quinton Spain. Spain was good enough to earn a $15 million extension this past offseason, but he got released when he couldn't hold his starting job.
BACK UP: Running backs coach Jemal Singleton may have got a game ball if they won. Their top protector, according to PFF, was Giovani Bernard and the third was Samaje Perine. They combined to allow no pressures on 16 passes in stepping for Mixon.
"Gio's one of the leaders on this team. He leads by example every day he walks into this building. One of the things you look for is a guy who is consistent. Every single day you know what you're going to get when you're trying to coach a guy. That's Gio Bernard in a nutshell," Taylor said. "Gio is just such a reliable guy. It's not surprising when he makes the most of the opportunities he gets, because he's always ready.
"Just going one step further with Samaje. Some of those pass protections with Samaje yesterday are just phenomenal. I think Jemal Singleton does an outstanding job with that running back room. Some guys you don't get to see a lot on tape, but when they show` up, they make the most of their opportunities because it's just a really good room, they're well coached, they buy in and they do things the right way."
BROWNS BLITZ: The Browns don't like to blitz. Before Sunday, they had done it all of 45 times, about 19 percent of the time. But against Burrow, after no doubt watching Ravens film, they brought it 16 times on 30 percent of the snaps. It didn't seem to help because he had a better completion percentage against it (78) than when not blitzed (72). He did throw his end-zone pick when they blitzed, but the pressure isn't why he threw the interception. He also had a TD pass vs. the blitz.
BENGALS BLITZ: The Bengals also blitzed much more than usual. Their season average is 24.7 percent, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Monday it was 40 percent in an effort to douse a fire named Baker Mayfield. But the blitz, like the four-man pressures didn't get their hardly at all. When it did, slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander bounced off Mayfield on the first play of the last series and that was a killer when Alexander didn't finish. With no timeouts, it went from a virtual game-ender to a 13-yard gain to the losing touchdown three plays later.
The Bengals have been torched by Mayfield and Philip Rivers the last two weeks. They've hit 68 percent of their passes while averaging 9.4 yards per throw and Anarumo and everyone else knows why. The Bengals barely have one sack and a handful of hits the last two weeks.
"There's always a balance, but we were 40 percent which is high, but we've got to generate pressure on the quarterback," Anarumo said. "Any league, but particularly this one, we've had one sack in the last 72 passing attempts. We've got to generate pressure. However we do that, we've got to get more creative."
"There were some first and second down run pressures that we had yesterday that were good for us. They were the number one rushing team in the league and again for the third week in a row I thought our guys, especially up front at linebacker held up and did a good job in that area."
SEARCH FOR SACKS: Anarumo has rather famously revamped his defensive end position in an effort to get something going on the pass rush. On Sunday, the two guys who played the most snaps there were, with 33 plays, Carl Lawson a pass rusher promoted to playing full-time, and, with 28, Amani Bledsoe, a first-year player that arrived in training camp. And, with 21 snaps, old friend Margus Hunt, in his Bengals re-debut after four years playing quite well.
"It was good to see Margus out there and get him some snaps and forced a couple of negative yards plays for us yesterday, which was great," Anarumo said.
Rookie end Khalid Kareem worked 18 plays while veteran Carlos Dunlap played 12, including all five of that last series that included a spike. Anarumo mixed it up. On the first play he sent Alexander on a pressure, on the second play he lined up three down and had linebacker Logan Wilson blitz. On the third play, he appeared to send seven and then on the last pass he rushed four. After Alexander, no one came close, although Dunlap did get the corner on right tackle Jack Conklin on the last snap but Mayfield got it off before anything disastrous.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins also only played a dozen snaps, five of them on last drive, where Cleveland mixed it up on him. Twice they doubled him and twice they singled him. Taylor and Anarumo made it clear Monday that they have no problems with him, they marvel at his toughness and they're trying to ease him back from his shoulder injury.
"It is as simple as that. Again, I know that's where he feels comfortable right now, just getting him those limited snaps," Taylor said. "It could increase on a weekly basis. The conversations I've had with Geno are outstanding. Geno is a class act. He's working his back. It's his third week now. He's getting those snaps on known passing situations. We keep moving him along as we see fit. Again, Geno and I have had some really good conversations. He's a class act."