Bengals: Joseph Ossai’s injury teaches Cincinnati a lesson

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai (58) - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai (58) - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Joseph Ossai, the edge rusher out of Texas,  with their third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. In the Bengals’ first preseason game versus the defending champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ossai had an impressive showing.

Ossai was impactful from the very start as he sacked Tom Brady in the first series. He beat Tampa Bay’s right tackle Tristan Wirfs pretty easily with an inside move. Wirfs is coming off a rookie season where he only allowed one sack on 799 pass-blocking snaps yet the rookie Ossai got the best of Wirfs right away.

Ossai ended up with five pressures on 22 pass-rush snaps, that’s a 22.7% pressure rate. In addition, Ossai’s five pressures led all rookies in week one of preseason. Ossai’s performance was one of the clear highlights for Cincinnati in their first preseason contest.

Unfortunately,  Ossai was pulled from the game after sustaining a wrist injury. Perhaps the Bengals kept Ossai in too long, as he did have 33 snaps. Cincinnati could have avoided Ossai’s injury if he was taken out earlier.

The Bengals want to give their rookies plenty of reps so they can get acclimated to the NFL. This is of course understandable, however, Ossai shouldn’t have been in this long when he is clearly dominating and is even listed as a second-string. Why play your backup pass rusher for over half of a preseason game?

Rookies typically need plenty of snaps since they often struggle when transitioning to the next level, but Ossai was clearly excelling. There are still two preseason games after Tampa, so there was no need to play Ossai this much.

Joseph Ossai’s injury could put him behind for the Bengals

So far, Cincinnati hasn’t announced anything about Ossai’s injury. Dave Lapham, a Cincinnati Bengals radio analyst, reported in his podcast that Ossai has a fractured wrist. Meanwhile, Geoff Hobson, a senior writer for the Cincinnati Bengals, reported Ossai will be back in time for the season opener.

Lapham’s report never gave a timetable on Ossai’s recovery time, so for now Hobson’s report seems reliable. There was never a specific report of what kind of fractured wrist Ossai could have. Is it a clean break or just a hairline fracture? Of course, a hairline fracture would mean Ossai could realistically return by the season opener.

Regardless of Ossai’s recovery time, he could fall behind the undrafted rookie pass rusher, Darius Hodge. Hodge hails from Marshall, stands at 6’1″, and weighs 245 pounds. He played 26 snaps against the Buccaneers with some ridiculous production and had 1.5 sacks with five quarterbacks hits.

While Hodge was playing nothing but second and third strings, his performance still signifies he needs more snaps. With Ossai’s injury, Hodge will get more opportunities. Now, Hodge could seize the backup pass rusher spot, or could at least earn equal playing time with Ossai.

Both Ossai and Hodge had PFF grades above 89.0, as well pass rush win rates over 30%. This depth behind the starting ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard will be extremely useful for the upcoming season.

Thanks to Hodge, Cincinnati will not have to learn the hard way when it comes to overusing players in preseason games. Ossai is injured and will miss time, but Hodge could still provide good depth at defensive end.

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The Bengals should be thankful their situation is not worse with Ossai’s injury. This was a valuable lesson for Cincinnati, do not overuse key contributors in the preseason.