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Film Breakdown: Jackson Carman's First Start and an Underrated Linebacker

It was a mixed bag for the Bengals' rookie offensive lineman in Week 3.

The Bengals traveled into Pittsburgh determined to prove the critics and pundits wrong. They were 3.5-point underdogs going into the matchup. 

Everyone at picked the Steelers to win this game. Heck, even I picked Pittsburgh to eke out a victory. Everything about the history of Zac Taylor in Pittsburgh seemed to point that way. But, Taylor and the Bengals proved their doubters wrong as they beat the Steelers 24-10

Let's take a look at some key areas that helped propel the Bengals to victory.

Jackson Carman’s First Start

The main goal for Jackson Carman in his first start was to not be a liability. It's fair to say he met that mark. He wasn't a huge upgrade over the mediocre play of Xavier Sua-Filo, but he played well enough to keep this job. The main difference between Sua-Filo playing at an average to below-average level and what we saw from the rookie on Sunday is Carman’s youth. It's reasonable to expect Carman to become better over time. 

Meanwhile, Sua-Filo 30 is what he is at 30-years-old. He's a solid sixth offensive lineman to have, but it would be nice to have a starter who is above that level. The combination of youth and similar level of play should lead to Carman being the starter mocing forward forward. With all of that said let’s dive into Carman’s first start from a film perspective.

This first play is just a common rookie mistake early in a road game. Carman makes a mental error as Trey Hopkins sets the protection as a 3-man slide to the right towards Carman. This means Carman should slide to his right to help out Riley Reiff. 

Reiff has two guys over him and cannot be asked to block both of them. Carman instead steps inside and doubles the nose. The main way you can see this is an issue is that Carman and Hopkins both step into the same gap. Quinton Spain also gets a piece of the nose as part of the slide since he did not have a man to block. This leads to three guys getting a piece of the nose tackle, but only one guy is there to block the two off of the right edge. Jonah Williams ends up with a holding penalty, but he’s just protecting his quarterback from taking a hit. He wasn’t even beat he just had to help out after all of the tackles Burrow started breaking.

This play was also quite frequent when it came to Carman’s film. Missed hand placement, which prevented him from sustaining blocks. His hand placement on this play is too far outside of the frame of the linebacker. Now Carman both fails to protect his chest but also fails to generate much movement. His hand placement on the outside of the shoulder makes it too difficult to displace defenders. Bush is able to get a good strike on Carman’s chest to shock him and then sheds the block.

Here are a couple more examples of his missed hand placement leading to blocks being shed:

Now, this seems like an issue (and it is) but it’s not something that is all that surprising. Most of the young offensive linemen that I have looked at seem to struggle with this skill. Even Penei Sewell had issues with his hand placement. Over time Carman should get better about properly landing his strikes so that he can sustain these blocks and create running lanes for Joe Mixon.

This play on the other hand shows everything that the Bengals saw when they drafted Carman in the second round. The athleticism to run with the defensive line and then the strength as well to torque a defensive lineman to the front side of the zone play. This might not look like all that much to some people, but this was a fantastic play from the rookie right guard. The rotational strength he uses here to take the 3-tech and move him to the front side rather than sealing him towards the inside is beautiful. It creates a hole off of his backside as well which Mixon runs through.

This play in my opinion was his most impressive pass protection rep. He does a good job smashing the crashing defensive tackle towards the center before picking up the looper. It just so happens that the looper is also Melvin Ingram. Ingram has made a killing beating up on the interior of offensive lines since early in his career. Carman holding up is a fantastic showing of promise for the young offensive lineman.

Now he gets a little bit of help here by way of a push, but this is still a thunderous pancake. He takes the linebacker and slams him into the turf. Hopefully, we see some of this without the help, but this was encouraging to see. I will be looking for more of this type of power from Carman on Thursday night against Jacksonville.

Lastly, for Carman, we have an impressive rep. He first sets the defender with good hand placement to the chest. After the defender attempts to make a move on him he punches down on his arm. The defender was using that arm to push into Carman and it is kind of like a judo momentum type of move. This is called a snatch trap and the idea is to knock out a defender’s arm when they are leaning on it. It works to perfection here as he gets the defender to faceplant.

You can see it was really a mixed bag with Carman’s first start. He had his share of missed opportunities but also showed some high level ability as well. Over time I expect Carman to slowly weed out some of the hand placement issues and start to showcase more of his high end athleticism and power.

Germaine Pratt

This is not a sexy player to talk about. There are probably two other linebackers most fans are more excited about, especially with Logan Wilson leading the league with three interceptions. 

I haven't seen anyone else talk about Germaine Pratt. He is having a career year in Cincinnati. Let's highlight some of his best plays.

Starting with the thing no one cares about, his ability to fit the run. On this play, the Steelers are running GY counter with both the guard and the tight end pulling. Pratt’s job on this play is to “spill the puller” which essentially means he is going to cut and rip inside of the pulling guard. He does so by running tight off of the backside of the down block by the right tackle. The guard overruns him and Pratt has done his job. However, doing his job was not enough for him on this play as he then blows up the pulling tight end as well. 

As Rex Ryan once said, “I will never trade one for one, but I can do two for one." 

That’s exactly what Pratt did here. He made the offense trade two for one on the play. With everything blown up in the intended gap, Najee Harris tries to bounce this play to the outside. Awuzie is waiting on the outside as the force player and while he does not make the tackle, he holds Harris up long enough for reinforcements. Pratt is one of the reinforcements ripping at the ball. Excellent play against the run for the young linebacker.

This is absolutely insane. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I watch this play. Pratt is utilizing ROBOT technique on this play which means he is going to first fit the run, and then he is going to turn around, find the crossing/over route, and run with it. That’s something that is easier said than done for most linebackers in the league. Not only does he run with the wide receiver stride for stride on the over route, but that’s Chase Claypool. That is the Steelers' number one deep threat that he is running with. Pratt’s ability to ROBOT on this play lead to a coverage sack on Roethlisberger who I am sure did not think that a linebacker was going to keep up with his wide receiver. This is not the first time he has done that this season either.

On this play, Pratt does the same ROBOT technique. This time he saves a touchdown as there is a collision of defenders that would have left the wide receiver open. It’s not something that shows up on TV, but this play was a crucial one for the Bengals' defense.

To go with all of this, Pratt was the defender who forced the fumble and recovered it in Week 1 to give the Bengals a chance to win in overtime. He might be your least favorite linebacker getting regular playing time, but to me, he has absolutely earned those snaps with his play. I hope he can continue to play at a high level to give this defense another player for offenses to look out for.

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