Bengals Position Grades after 25-22 loss to Packers

Bengals position grades
Katie Stratman – USA Today Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals showed they are worth taking seriously this week against a Super Bowl caliber team in the Green Bay Packers. NFL teams do not celebrate moral victories, and I’m not suggesting Bengals fans do either. But, these position grades will reflect the fact that the Bengals played mostly well in their 25-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Like it or not, the Cincinnati Bengals are on the radar now across the league. If just a few plays go differently, this is a 5-0 team right now. I said in our preview article for this game, the Bengals didn’t have much to lose in this game as long as they kept it close. The element of surprise is now gone. NFL teams will pay closer attention now when preparing to face this team. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, particularly for certain position groups. But, the most frustrating part is it should have been enough to come away with a win.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: C-

You can never truly count Joe Burrow out, as evidenced by his gutsy drives down the field late in the second half. Were it not for a holding penalty on Quinton Spain and a missed field goal by Evan McPherson, he might have done enough to come away with a huge statement win.

Unfortunately, the way he played in the final 20 minutes of regulation doesn’t tell the whole story. He threw a bunch of passes pretty far off target, looked like he was having trouble getting the ball where it needed to go, and threw two costly interceptions in the third quarter and in overtime. 

The first interception was severely underthrown and killed all of the momentum they had built by scoring just before halftime. The second interception looked like he didn’t even see De’Vondre Campbell right in front of him. It should have directly led to the game-winning field goal kick. Luckily, Mason Crosby missed on his third straight attempt and the Bengals got the ball back.

Running Back grade: B+

Samaje Perine was an absolute machine this week. The man refused to go down no matter how many Packers were on top of him. He turned in an impressive 5.4 yards per carry on the day, which you always love to see. He also caught the Bengals’ first touchdown of the day that gave them an early 7-0 lead at the end of a rough first quarter for both offenses.

Joe Mixon played through an ankle injury many thought could keep him out this week. Although, he certainly looked limited, only turning in 3.3 yards per carry. However, he did score the Bengals’ game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The 8-yard conclusion to an eight-minute drive breathed new life into a Bengals team that almost came back and won it near the end of regulation.

Wide Receiver grade: B-

It’s really hard to be overly critical of this unit’s performance when Ja’Marr Chase turns in six receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown. At the end of the day, Chase was one of the biggest reasons why the Bengals were in this game with a chance to win at the end.

The problem is the drops. Chase had a big one that would have gone for a first down and added to his already impressive totals. Tee Higgins… man. He had two absolutely brutal drops that would have extended drives and likely led to the Bengals putting more points on the board. In close games like this one, those huge missed opportunities matter. Boy, did they matter this week.

Tight End grade: C

We didn’t see much from the tight ends this week. CJ Uzomah was targeted twice and caught both passes for 16 total yards. Unfortunately, the first catch is largely forgotten about because it didn’t result in a first down. However, it did put the Bengals within long field goal range for Evan McPherson. Why Zac Taylor opted to punt the ball on the Green Bay 41 yard line is baffling. But, we’ll talk about that in later in the article.

Offensive line grade: C-

On the whole, the Bengals’ offensive line didn’t really have the best night. Joe Burrow was regularly under pressure, and quite a few of the rushing yards were only attained by plowing through a sea of defenders. That said, it wasn’t an all-out terrible night for a unit that did help put over 100 rushing yards on the day and only allowed Burrow to be sacked two times. 

He was sacked three times total. But, one of those was on a failed blitz pickup by Samaje Perine. Then again, maybe being happy he was “only” sacked three total times is an indication of how bad this unit has been in the past.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: C

Going into this game, Bengals fans were hoping to see a much more disruptive performance by the defensive line. Not only has this unit been playing really well this year, but the Packers were missing three starting offensive linemen. Trey Hendrickson had a pretty good game. He constantly got in the backfield, took down Aaron Rodgers twice, and hit him a third time.

Unfortunately, Hendrickson was the only member of the defensive line to have a particularly good day. Cameron Sample and DJ Reader were able to get a bit of pressure, but for the most part the unit got shredded by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Not to mention, DJ Reader’s killer tripping penalty that extended a Packers drive in the fourth quarter. The drive eventually resulted in a field goal. Without that penalty, the Bengals would have held the Packers to a 3 & Out immediately before the late eight-minute touchdown drive. There would have been no overtime, only victory.

Linebacker grade: B

It was a relatively quiet game for Logan Wilson, although he still had the third most tackles on the team this week. He was largely responsible for most of the Packers runs that were stopped for a short gain. Akeem Davis-Gaither was largely quiet too, primarily showing up as cleanup duty on broken plays.

Germaine Pratt, on the other hand, was a huge part of the defense’s ability to keep the Packers’ offense largely in check. Twice he stopped Packers running backs for a short gain, once for no gain, and once for negative yards. He did have to play cleanup duty on a couple big catches by AJ Dillon in the backfield, but in general he brought this unit’s grade up.

Cornerback grade: C+

Guarding Davante Adams is a nearly impossible task. He’s a top-two receiver in the NFL, and he’s clearly not number two. So, as ugly as it looked, I’m not going to destroy the Bengals’ corners for getting worked by him all game. Honestly, the fact that they only allowed Adams to get in the endzone once was remarkable. Other than Adams, there were a couple of big plays by Randall Cobb. But, that was about it.

Chidobe Awuzie once again showed why the Bengals believed in him this offseason  with two pass deflections, a tackle for a loss, and a huge interception on Aaron Rodgers early in the game. Mike Hilton got worked by Randall Cobb early in the game, but he cleaned things up as the game went on. He had a tackle for loss in the second quarter. After that, he only allowed one more intermediate play the rest of the game, an eight-yard pass to Davante Adams. 

Trae Waynes generally played well against his man. Eli Apple got burned by Davante Adams for a 22-yard catch that eventually led to a touchdown. But, you didn’t hear much else from him during the short period while he was filling in for an injured Awuzie.

Safety grade: C-

Jessie Bates was back this week and went right back to being the Bengals’ leading tackler like it was his birthright. It wasn’t exactly the most exciting night from him though, as he was regularly the one having to clean up big plays by Davante Adams. Adams burned Bates on that explosive 59-yard catch that ended up being his longest of the night.

While Bates was cleaning up big plays by Adams, Vonn Bell spent most of the night cleaning up big plays by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Except for the one play where he didn’t, absolutely whiffing on Aaron Jones in the backfield. He had him absolutely dead-to-rights on what would have been a big loss. But, Jones stepped to the side and ended up with a 57-yard run that eventually set up a chip shot 36-yard field goal by Mason Crosby late in the fourth quarter. Luckily, Crosby shanked it wide left. But, that could have been the back-breaking play that could have killed the Bengals’ comeback hopes.

Special teams grades: F

From what I understand, there was a wind current running through Paul Brown Stadium near the end of the game. That partially accounts for why Mason Crosby and Evan McPherson combined for five missed field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime.

That said, it’s no excuse for McPherson missing two opportunities to win the game. Granted, one was a 57-yard field goal that would have tied the all-time Bengals record for longest kick. But, the other was from a much more manageable 49 yards. He’s a rookie and I’m sure he’ll learn from this and be better in the future, but it’s something he and Darrin Simmons need to work on.

Kevin Huber had an ‘OK’ day punting the ball. But, poor special teams coverage ruined the punts he did hit well. Then again, there was the one time Zac Taylor decided to punt from the Packers’ 41-yard line. Huber couldn’t pin the Packers deep in their own territory despite the short field.

I’m not entirely sure what Darius Phillips was thinking trying to return a punt at the six-yard line. It likely would have resulted in a touchback. Instead, the Bengals’ offense ends up with the ball at the eight. After they went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Huber was only able to get the ball to the 38-yard line. Luckily, Rodgers threw an interception on the ensuing drive. But, you still never want to set an explosive team like the Packers up in good field position.

Coaching grade: D-

Oof. I will give Zac Taylor credit for the Bengals never giving up every week. If two or three plays goes differently on the season, this Bengals team could be 5-0 right now. The way they played this week, it makes you think they are right on the cusp of winning games like this. If they manage to sneak into the playoffs, you have to believe they might be able to make some noise.

That said, I really don’t understand Taylor’s decision making this week. Why the hell did we punt the ball from Green Bay’s 41-yard line? Or later in the third quarter from their 40? The defense was playing well and Evan McPherson hit a 60-yard field goal in warm ups. It sounds weird to say after all those misses at the end of the game. But, those misses hadn’t happened yet in the first and third quarters. 

What happened to that aggressive mentality he assured us they would have all season after that weird 4th down call he made against Minnesota? Why all the conservative playcalling? Why did they not utilize their running game more considering how effective it was when they actually did run the ball?

It’s Taylor’s third season as a coach and mistakes like this really shouldn’t be happening at this frequency. On the whole, they’re having a decent season. He’s going to look pretty good at the end of the season, if they win more games than they lose.

But, when they lose games like this, you can’t help but question what the hell he was thinking.

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