The Cincinnati Bengals won their home opener in an absolute nail biter against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. This game really shouldn’t have been as close as it was, with the Bengals holding a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter. But, questionable coaching calls and some sloppy play let the Vikings back in the game, requiring the Bengals to win it in overtime. A win is a win, and I’m sure the Bengals are happy to be 1-0. But, when it comes to the Bengals’ Week 1 grades, we’re going to have to go a bit more in depth…
Offensive Week 1 Grades
Quarterback grade: A-
Seeing Joe Burrow take the field just 296 days after his gruesome knee injury was awe-inspiring. It was even better seeing him finish the day with a 128.8 passer rating (two TDs, no INTs). What was not fun to see was him misfiring a sure-fire touchdown pass to Mike Thomas and nearly throwing an easy pick to Mackensie Alexander. Luckily, the Bengals still got in the endzone on the former, and Tyler Boyd managed to come down with the later.
Running Back grade: A+
Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine both averaged 4.4 yards per carry. They also ran the ball 36 times, which is a lot. But, 147 yards and a touchdown makes you think that was the right call. If there was anything to critique in this game, it was Mixon slipping on a crucial fourth down run on their own 30 yard-line. The broken play gave the Vikings momentum while the team was up 21-7 late in the third quarter, but perhaps they shouldn’t have been doing anything but punting in that situation in the first place. I won’t count it against their overall Week 1 grades, especially considering Mixon was instrumental on both of the Bengals’ subsequent scoring drives.
Wide Receiver grade: A
Ja’Marr Chase deserves an A+ all by himself for putting together the greatest rookie WR debut in team history. 5 catches for 101 yards, one of which went for a 50 yard touchdown, was the perfect way to back up everything that has happened since he joined the team. Drops? Gaffes? Trash talk? Throw it all out the window. This kid is special and the Bengals picked a winner.
Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd looked good too, albeit to a lesser extent. Higgins came down with a key touchdown that brought the Bengals level after going down early. Boyd came down with a great heads up play on a ball that should have been intercepted and set up Chase’s touchdown pass. But, the true star of this game was Chase.
Tight End grade: C+
The Bengals’ tight ends are, arguably, their worst position group. There’s probably not much to expect out of this unit in 2020. I’m not entirely sure why Drew Sample was left 1-on-1 with Danielle Hunter at any point. But, it happened, and that was part of the reason the pass blocking looked so bad today. That said, you still have to give the unit credit for CJ Uzomah doing well as a pass blocker. Also, being in the right place for the catch that set up Evan McPherson’s game-winning kick.
Offensive line grade: C+
On the whole, the offensive line looks drastically improved from last year. Riley Reiff had an absolute game against his former team. That’s a massive upgrade over Bobby Hart, who is currently sitting on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. Jonah Williams looked steady, as always. Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo looked like a competent guard tandem, which is a massive upgrade over Michael Jordan and Alex Redmond. The offensive line was a huge reason why Mixon and Perine did so well.
Still, the Bengals gave up five sacks and Burrow tweaked his ankle on one of those sacks. What the hell happened? Tre Hopkins, who is coming back from a torn ACL suffered in January, got absolutely worked all day. It’s unfortunate, because the Bengals were counting on him to be the same reliable center he’s been since winning the starting job in 2017. But, perhaps you can chalk it up to Week 1 jitters coming off a major injury. If he can go back to the Trey Hopkins we know and love, this offensive line can be a force and hopefully overcome their modest Week 1 grades.
Defensive Week 1 Grades
Defensive line grade: A
B.J. Hill looks like an absolute steal after the Bengals sent Billy Price to New York to acquire the services of the former 3rd-round defensive lineman. He tallied two of the Bengals’ three sacks of the day and played well against the run as well. Trey Hendrickson, despite totally whiffing on a tackle at one point, was an absolute force rushing the passer.
Same goes for Larry Ogunjobi, who the Bengals specifically brought in to replace Geno Atkins.
The Bengals’ defensive line was a huge part of why their first two seasons under Zac Taylor were unsuccessful. Arguably, just as much of a problem as the offensive line. This new unit appears to be a HUGE step up.
Linebacker grade: B+
For all the Bengals’ problems tackling on Sunday, you couldn’t tell if you were watching second-year linebacker Logan Wilson. In addition to causing some havoc as both a pass rusher and in coverage, he recorded 7 tackles and looked ultra-confident on each one. Germaine Pratt, on the other hand, had one really bad missed tackle. However, he also led the unit with 8 tackles, one of which came in the backfield. He also forced the game-changing fumble in overtime, so you have to give the linebackers’ Week 1 grades a boost on that alone.
Cornerback grade: C
Darius Phillips had a pretty good game for a player the Bengals refuse to start, for whatever reason. He allowed one reception in seven targets, but he stopped the catch short of the line to gain on a third down in overtime. Chidobe Awuzie looks like a solid addition. Mike Hilton wasn’t perfect in pass coverage, but he was a sure tackler and highly disruptive as a blitzer. Even Jalen Davis looked decent in the single snap he got as a run defender and one in coverage.
The glaring issue was Eli Apple, who showed why he’s on his fourth team in six years, despite being a top-10 draft pick. He whiffed on two tackles, one of which allowed a 24-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Adam Thielan. That touchdown was exactly the momentum swing the Vikings needed being down 21-7 with just over 2 minutes to go in the third quarter.
Safety grade: B+
Jessie Bates led the team in tackles (9) and did miss one, but on the whole he provided good support in pass coverage. It wasn’t exactly a signature game from the All-Pro, but there’s not a lot to nitpick either. Von Bell showed us why we will all remember his name in Cincinnati with another absolutely CRUSHING hit during the game. He was picked on a bit in coverage, but when he prepared to tackle someone they went DOWN.
Special teams grade: A
Darrin Simmons’ unit wasn’t exactly perfect defending returns, but the specialists were absolutely LETHAL. Evan McPherson comfortably nailed a 53-yard field goal to hold the Vikings’ comeback attempt at bay early in the fourth quarter. But, the truly exciting conversion came at the end of overtime after he initially made the 33-yard chip shot, got iced, and did it a second time to give the Bengals their first win of 2021. Say what you want about the ease of the kick, but Randy Bullock missed the same kick at the end of regulation in Week 1 last year.
Credit to Kevin Huber as well, who attempted 7 punts on the day and put three of them inside the 10, one of which was inside the 5. One of those punts was tipped and gave the Vikings decent field position, but the Bengals’ defense forced a 3-and-out so nobody is going to talk about it. It’s pretty much impossible to make this unit’s Week 1 grades anything lower than an ‘A’ due to the specialists alone.
Coaching grade: C+
A lot of people are going to complain about Zac Taylor’s decision to attempt a 4th down conversion in the third quarter on the Bengals’ own 30 yard line. It went about as badly as you could have expected, leading to a quick Vikings touchdown that let them back into the game. Personally, I didn’t hate the call when it was made because the Bengals’ offense was rolling at the time and you’d think Joe Mixon could have easily picked up one yard.
Well, he tripped, and the worst-case scenario happened. But, hindsight is 20-20 and Taylor was able to get his guys re-focused enough to come away with the win. Ultimately, that’s all that matters, and it gives the coaches’ Week 1 grades a bit of a boost.