The Cincinnati Bengals put up a game for the ages in front of the whole country on Thursday Night Football this week. It was a tale of two halves, but by the end of it both teams turned in a spectacle worthy of a battle between two No. 1 overall picks. Coming off a dismantling of the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers, this team’s confidence is sky high, and the Bengals position grades reflect that.
After roughly 29 minutes of play, the Cincinnati Bengals looked cooked. They simply couldn’t get anything going on offense, and when they did they had the absolute worst luck with penalties and even a missed field goal from the chosen one, Evan McPherson. But, to their credit, after an absolutely clutch fourth down goal line stand at the end of the first half, they made the necessary adjustments and put together a win that properly honored the inaugural Bengals Ring of Honor class that was inducted at halftime.
Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense
Quarterback grade: A+
Our look at the Bengals position grades starts at the top. Joe Burrow’s box score stats this week read: 25/32, 348 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 132.8 QB rating. It was a signature win that showed all the swagger and moxie the Bengals hoped they were getting when they selected him No. 1 overall in last year’s draft.
Perhaps more impressive than the final stats, however, was his mentality. Despite the first half going so badly, Burrow kept his head and responded with laser-focus. He only threw three incomplete passes the entire second half, and none on the Bengals’ game winning drive at the end. It’s the kind of performance we’ve seen from Burrow a few times since he’s been in Cincinnati, but this might be the first time the Bengals took advantage of it and actually won.
Running Back grade: B–
As with many of these Bengals position grades, it’s going to be hard to grade the running backs too high considering how bad things looked in the first half. Part of the reason the Bengals weren’t able to generate much of any offense in the first half was the ineffectiveness of the running game. But, Joe Mixon got things going in the second half and ended up averaging 4.2 yards per carry by the end of the night. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but in theory you’d get roughly 12 yards per set of downs if you only ran the ball all night, so you’d have to take it.
However, the entire unit was virtually absent in the passing game. Samaje Perine only averaged 2.3 yards per carry. So, the unit’s overall grade takes a bit of a dip because of that.
Wide Receiver grade: B+
Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase alone accounted for 195 receiving yards on the day. Neither found the endzone, but the Bengals were very close to having two 100+ yard performances by wide receivers on the day. Chase ended his run of consecutive games with a touchdown reception, but he did turn in a 44-yard grab early in the third quarter that helped spark the Bengals’ 14 unanswered point explosion. Trenton Irwin even made a major contribution with a 25-yard reception on the Bengals’ game-tying touchdown drive.
There seemed to be a few chemistry issues from the unit, however. It seemed like the receivers just weren’t where Burrow wanted them to be in the first half. Mike Thomas, in his one opportunity to contribute on the day, couldn’t even pick up the two yards necessary to keep the drive alive while the offense was sputtering in the second quarter. Overall, however, it was a really impressive performance from a unit missing Tee Higgins.
Tight End grade: A-
CJ Uzomah had the best performance of his Cincinnati Bengals career on Thursday. He nearly broke the 100-yard mark as a pass catcher, got in the endzone twice, and snagged the crucial catch that put the Bengals in game-winning field goal position. He even graded pretty well, per PFF, as a pass blocker (70.2) and decently as a run blocker (61.6).
Drew Sample didn’t perform nearly as well. He was a non-factor in the passing game and allowed Burrow to be pressured on one of his three pass blocking reps. He performed better as a run blocker, but on the whole he didn’t come close to measuring up to Uzomah this week. That said, Uzomah had such a good day I can’t knock the unit’s grade too hard.
Offensive line grade: B
It wasn’t exactly the best night from RT Riley Reiff and RG Jackson Carman. Reiff allowed three pressures on Burrow and two hurries, while Jackson Carman struggled to stay on his man and also allowed a pressure on Burrow. In Carman’s defense, he graded fairly well per PFF in true pass sets (73.0), but he struggled to do much in less traditional passing situations. Nothing particularly concerning considering he’s a rookie and, on the whole, appears to be an upgrade over Xavier Su’a-Filo. But, something to keep an eye on as he looks to shore up the last glaring hole on this Cincinnati Bengals offensive line.
That said, Joe Burrow only took one sack and Joe Mixon was able to be pretty effective in terms of yards per carry. Jonah Williams, Trey Hopkins, and Quinton Spain all performed well as pass blockers, and Reiff measured up to those three as a run blocker. If the offensive line can consistently play at least at this level, this Bengals team can be special.
Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense
Defensive line grade: B-
You have to give the Bengals’ defensive line credit for getting some pressure on Trevor Lawrence when it mattered. But, it seemed, way too often, Lawrence had all day to throw. Lawrence’s 3.32 seconds to throw on average was nearly a full second longer than any game Joe Burrow has played all season. To the Bengals’ credit, some of the best performers on the defense this week were defensive linemen. Trey Hendrickson, B.J. Hill, Sam Hubbard and D.J. Reader combined for 12 QB hurries, 12 tackles, and an average PFF grade of 74.5. But, they struggled to hit home in most situations.
In fairness, the Jaguars’ offensive line has been one of the few bright spots for their team this year. Coming into this game, Trevor Lawrence had only been sacked five times, tied for fourth best in the NFL. But, to their credit, they did come up clutch when Larry Ogunjobi combined with Logan Wilson for a huge stop at the goal line on fourth down with 59 seconds left in the first half. They gave Burrow the chance he needed and the rest is history.
Linebacker grade: A+
Logan Wilson is having a hell of a season. Right now, he looks well on his way to a Pro Bowl season. Not only did he record the Bengals’ only sack of the night, but he provided the final push that kept Trevor Lawrence out of the endzone on that crucial fourth down goal line stand at the end of the first half that ignited the Bengals’ momentum in the game.
Also, at one point, Germaine Pratt looked like he made a HUGE stop on the Jaguars behind the line on the Bengals’ 8. The Jaguars were knocking on the door to score after the Bengals tied the game in the third quarter. The following play, Trey Hendrickson sacked Trevor Lawrence for a 10 yard loss and it looked like the Bengals were about to put together another incredible stop. Unfortunately, Vonn Bell was called for defensive holding and the Jaguars ran the ball in the endzone on the following play. So, that great series of plays was largely forgotten. But, I didn’t forget. I see you, Germaine Pratt.
Cornerback grade: C-
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Eli Apple showed he is a solid option at cornerback this week. He allowed only a 77.1 quarterback rating after starting the day batting away a pass intended for Laviska Shenault. The play came on a key third down on the Jaguars first drive that could have set the Bengals up for immediate success had the following offensive drive not stalled and resulted in a missed field goal. He also stopped Shenault short of the goal line immediately before the Bengals’ game-changing goal line stand. Jalen Davis had a couple good plays too. He only got in for two snaps but he didn’t allow a reception on either play, despite being targeted on one.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals’ cornerback room allowed a 114.4 quarterback rating. Mike Hilton and Darius Phillips both got bullied and whiffed on a pair of tackles. Hilton stood out like a sore thumb being responsible for nearly half of Lawrence’s completions on the night
Safety grade: D+
Dear Mike Brown, please pay Jessie Bates whatever he wants immediately. Vonn Bell got picked on this week filling in at Bates’ free safety position. He also got dinged with an awful defensive holding penalty, immediately killing all the energy generated by a Trevor Lawrence sack by Trey Hendrickson. On the following play, the Jaguars reacquired the lead with a 4-yard James Robinson touchdown run. It felt like a step back in the middle of a massive Bengals comeback attempt that had very little room for error at the time.
Brandon Wilson slotted in at strong safety, filling in for Bell who had to fill in for Bates, and it didn’t go particularly well either. He didn’t miss any tackles like Bell did. But, every time he was involved in a play it went for 20 yards. In addition to Bates, Ricardo Allen’s absence looked glaring this week as well. Hopefully both make it back soon, because the safety plan this week was a massive liability.
Special teams grades: D
I truly wonder if Darius Phillips makes any sense as the answer at the return position. Personally, I was hoping the Cincinnati Bengals would draft a talented returner like Khalil Herbert or Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Right now, Phillips is the only answer and it’s a problem. He’s regularly making infuriating decisions. For example, retreating behind the point of the catch this week for a -1 yard return to the 14 yard-line. On the one good return he had, Mike Thomas got it called back with an illegal block above the waist. Oh, and don’t forget about the decision to return a kickoff from five yards deep in the endzone. A decision that set the Bengals’ offense up at the 19 yard-line.
Kevin Huber didn’t have a good day either. His first punt was fair caught at the 27. The second was a touchback. His third was fair caught at the 38. Evan McPherson, the chosen one, missed a 43-yard field goal wide left. It highlighted an abysmal first half for the Bengals. The missed field goal was part of a scoreless first half. It hurt them in the second half too, as they never held a lead until the end. Though, to his credit, he did hit the game-winning 35-yard kick as the clock expired. It erased the memory of an otherwise awful special teams day in the minds of viewers. It is the only reason why I didn’t give this unit an F to round out the player portion of the Bengals position grades.
Coaching grade: B
Coaches aren’t exempt from our breakdown of the Bengals position grades! That first half was ugly. The Cincinnati Bengals looked wholly unprepared for Thursday Night Football against a winless Jaguars team. It looked like they were falling victim to the classic trap game situation. The play calling was questionable at best. There was weird looking clock management at the end of the first half. That is what was largely responsible for the boos from the crowd as the players went into the locker room.
But oh man did that second half save Zac’s ass. One of Taylor’s greatest strengths through his career with the Cincinnati Bengals has been his ability to make halftime adjustments. They’ve struggled quite a bit in the fourth quarter throughout his career. But, they tend to come out looking better after the half than they did before. Halftime adjustments were a huge black mark on Marvin Lewis’s career in Cincinnati. So, seeing that improve so drastically under Taylor is huge for his argument to keep his job this season.
A lot of people are crediting Joe Burrow for keeping the Cincinnati Bengals focused and not panicking at halftime. But, I think Zac deserves credit for being the kind of coach the players want to go to war for. You can criticize some of his decision making. But, you can’t deny these players love him and it is making a difference.