Position Grades for the Cincinnati Bengals after dismantling the Lions 34-11

Bengals Position Grades
Daniel Mears – Detroit News

Position grades for the Cincinnati Bengals are going to be fun this week. It was a rough first half for a Bengals offense that has gotten out to slow starts all season. But, a 24-point explosion in the second half shows the Bengals deserve to be taken seriously this year. They’ve been climbing up the Power Rankings all season, but (spoiler alert) they should break into the top 10 now.

Sure, the Lions are a winless football team. But, nobody has beaten them by as many points as the Bengals did this week. In fact, the Bengals shut out an NFL opponent on the road all the way up until the backups started going in and they shifted to prevent defense.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: B+

Joe Burrow’s first half was one to forget. The Bengals did put together a solid first drive. Burrow showed off his mobility and found RB Chris Evans for the Bengals’ first opening drive touchdown of the year. Unfortunately, he overthrew Ja’Marr Chase in the redzone on the next drive, resulting in a gut-wrenching interception.

Throughout the rest of the first half, Burrow looked inaccurate and indecisive. 

Luckily, he pulled a complete 180 in the second half. At one point, he took a 12-yard sack in a goal-to-go situation where he really should have just thrown the ball away. But, to his credit, he found Chris Evans and CJ Uzomah on the following two plays to erase the lost yardage and punch the ball in the endzone. He finished the game with 271 passing yards, 20 rushing yards, three passing touchdowns, and just the one early interception. It was good for a 115.7 passer rating, which you’ll generally take every time.

Running Back grade: A

Because this unit failed to score a rushing touchdown, many will forget the impact they had. That said, 125 rushing yards should tell more than enough for the Position Grades. Joe Mixon alone put up 5.2 yards per carry and was an absolute weapon in second half 3rd and 4th down situations. In fact, he was responsible for 153 yards of total offense if you count his receiving touches.

Rookie Chris Evans was more effective as a pass catcher than a runner. He caught 3 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. 

Only Ja’Marr Chase put up more yards per catch on the day. Even Trayveon Williams, who was just called up from the practice squad, got in on the action once the game was fully under control late in the 4th quarter. He only managed a measly 2.2 yards per carry. But, he did convert the 4th & 1 on the Bengals’ final drive that allowed them to run the rest of the clock out. It didn’t make a huge difference in the game. But, it did allow the Bengals to preserve the largest margin of victory against the Lions this season.

Also, worth noting, Chris Evans looked fantastic in pass protection today. So did Joe Mixon. Their 80.0 and 83.9 PFF pass blocking grade, respectively, was the highest rated of any Bengals RB tandem all season.

It’s not the first time Evans flashed solid blocking chops this season, either. The Bengals have seen so many issues from defenses taking advantage of running backs who can’t block. The Bengals may have found a gem in this kid from Michigan who missed a lot of playing time in college due to academic issues.

Wide Receiver grade: A

Ja’Marr Chase has been such a boost to the Bengals’ offense it doesn’t even seem real. He’s arguably the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He added to his case this week with 97 yards on four catches. One of those catches was a 34-yard conversion on 3rd and 10 that set the Bengals up for a field goal going into halftime. It helped turn the Bengals’ offensive momentum around from a mostly terrible first half performance.

Later on, in the 3rd quarter, he reeled in a 53-yard bomb that set up the Bengals’ third touchdown of the game. It would be the final drive of the game for the Bengals’ offensive starters. Oh, and then there was the time when he outran Mixon to lay a crushing block that ended in a 40-yard touchdown.

This kid is special, and that’s reflected in the Position Grades.

Tee Higgins also looked great with 44 yards on three catches. Although, he was targeted six times. His connection with Joe Burrow has been rocky the last few weeks. But, even then he managed to be a factor in this game. He also drew a 21-yard pass interference near the end of the game that helped Brandon Allen extend their second to last drive. It allowed them to run some more time off the clock and eventually get into the endzone for the fourth time on the day.

Tight End grade: C+

CJ Uzomah had a good day this week. His first two catches went for a combined 13 yards and didn’t have much of an impact on the day. But, his third catch went into the endzone and gave the Bengals a 27-0 lead.

Drew Sample, on the other hand, was a complete non-factor in the passing game and Position Grades once again. He was only targeted on one play and he dropped the pass.

However, he did grade a 76.0 as a pass blocker on nine pass blocking reps, the most of all non-linemen. So, maybe you can look past the poor performance as a receiver.

Granted, it wasn’t exactly easy and the defender played the ball well. But, he’s starving for any impact on this offense and is starting to look expendable. 

Offensive line grade: B

For once, the biggest criticism against the Bengals’ offensive line was not their pass-blocking ability. Burrow was only sacked twice  and generally had plenty of time to throw the ball. There were a few hiccups, but the biggest problem was the penalties. 

The Bengals’ second drive ended in an interception, so Trey Hill’s back-to-back holding and false start penalties were largely forgotten. The infuriating part is the holding penalty wiped out by a 15-yard catch by Tee Higgins that would have kept the Bengals’ early momentum going. Instead, the Bengals ended up on 2nd&25 and Burrow forced a ball for a killer interception. Although, Hill played pretty well the rest of the day, which helps this unit’s Position Grades.

The following drive, Riley Reif wiped out a first down catch by Tyler Boyd with a holding penalty on third down. The Bengals punted and began a series of terrible scoreless drives that wouldn’t end until Evan McPherson sank a 38-yard field goal as the first half expired.

The second half, however, was much better. There was one terrible rep where Riley Reiff got absolutely manhandled by Austin Bryant en route to a sack. But, for the most part, the line got their act together in the second half with the rest of the offense. 

That said, despite the up-and-down play by the offensive line, it seems clear the Bengals made the right pick at No. 5 overall. Penei Sewell struggled against Trey Hendrickson all day and has generally had a rough rookie season.

Bengals’ second round pick Jackson Carman was carted off the field after throwing up in relief for a struggling Trey Hill. But, he looked really good when he was on the field. Unfortunately, he only played about a third of the snaps this week. But, when he was on the field, he only gave up a single QB hit and graded 90.3 as a run blocker.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: B

Jared Goff was only sacked once the entire game, which is not what you want to see. But, Trey Hendrickson was still regularly in the backfield pressuring Goff and forcing errant decisions. Three times he was credited with a QB hurry, and five pressures For Sam Hubbard, three pressures and two QB hurries.

DJ Reader was a huge part of the Bengals keeping the Lions to only 36 yards rushing. In fact, every time he got in on a play, the rush only went for one or zero yards. BJ Hill continued to show why the Bengals wanted to trade for him as he contributed with two pressures and one QB hurry.

Linebacker grade: A

Logan Wilson was back in the spotlight this week when he caught a ball ripped away by Vonn Bell for an interception that cancelled out Burrow’s early INT. He also stopped Lions ball carriers in the backfield twice for losses. Akeem Davis-Gaither also contributed with two pass deflections and a short stop in coverage. 

Wilson is starting to become the really solid coverage linebacker the Bengals always needed. Despite allowing four catches on five targets, he still only allowed a 57.1 passer rating when targeted. He got picked on a bit on the Lions’ final drive of the game. But, at that point the Bengals were largely playing prevent and focusing on big plays, so you can excuse the issues.

Cornerback grade: A

Chidobe Awuzie continues to look like one of the Bengals’ best free agent pickups in recent memory. At one point he had one of the prettiest bats in the air you’ll ever see on a deep pass. Jared Goff targeted him seven times on the night and he allowed five receptions. Even so, he only allowed a 76.5 passer rating when targeted. Eli Apple also looked really good, allowing only a 39.6 passer rating when targeted. To be fair, that was only once, but he didn’t allow a catch on 45 coverage snaps.

The Lions put together a decent passing attack on the day through TE TJ Hockenson and RB D’Andre Swift. But, the Lions’ leading wide receiver was Kalif Raymond, who only recorded 37 yards on six catches. Even without Trae Waynes or the newly acquired Tre Flowers, Bengals cornerbacks managed to come together for an outstanding night and overall fantastic Position Grades.

Safety grade: A

Vonn Bell is starting to play like the Bengals’ best safety. Yes, that’s with Jessie Bates III on the field. Without question, Jessie Bates has an incredible ceiling. But, in 2021, Bell has been the one making major plays.This week, he led the Bengals in tackles (7) and created a turnover when he ripped the ball out of Amon-Ra St. Brown’s hands. He was credited with a pass deflection rather than a forced fumble, because the officials ruled the receiver never completed the catch. So, the credit for the turnover goes to Logan Wilson. But, Bell deserves just as much credit for the play if not more.

Special teams grades: B

After struggling with missed kicks both of the last two weeks, rookie kicker Evan McPherson got back on track this week. He converted both of his field goal attempts and all four extra points. It looked like he was going to push the first field goal way wide to the right. But, he used the air current to his advantage this time, and caught the bottom right corner inside the uprights. You’d prefer he didn’t give everyone a heart attack like that, but he was automatic today and you have to give that to him.

The rest of the special teams unit was solid as well. Kevin Huber got quite a bit of work in the second quarter, but he did a great job on all three punts. All three times he put the ball inside the 20. 

Unfortunately, the Bengals’ punt coverage wasn’t quite so good. They only held the Lions inside the 20 on one of those punts, and that was because of an illegal block above the waist. The kickoff coverage was much better and helped the unit’s Position Grades look a bit better. However. They held the Lions behind the 25 yard line on three of the four kickoffs that didn’t result in touchbacks.

Coaching grade: B+

Throughout the first half, Taylor’s deficiencies as an offensive manager were on full display. Aside from finally scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of a game, the majority of the Bengals’ first half drives look uninspired. Despite a decent running game, it looked like the passing game couldn’t get anything going. The short plays on second and long were confounding. I’ll partly blame coaching for the rash of penalties that destroyed drives in the first quarter.

However, as we’ve seen them do so many times during Zac Taylor’s tenure, they made massive adjustments at halftime. Suddenly matchups were being taken advantage of and the Bengals began to dominate the way everyone expected them to. Also, you absolutely have to give it up to Lou Anarumo. He has put together an absolutely stifling defense despite so many Bengals fans wanting the team to move on from him after last year.

You’d prefer to see the coaching staff get this team ready to play 60 full minutes and have schemes that don’t require halftime adjustments to bear fruit. But, as long as the Bengals are winning, you can’t criticize too hard.

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