With the 2021 NFL season half over, it’s been a yearly tradition for the past 5 or so years for Bengals fans to look ahead to the NFL Draft. However, with the win over the Raiders, the Bengals are firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt and fans have more important things to look forward to than the draft.
Next week’s game against Pittsburgh is a huge game and has nearly all of our focus. With that being said, my brother and I decided to take a quick look ahead to the 2022 NFL draft with this four round Cincinnati Bengals Mock Draft.
Vance Meek’s Cincinnati Bengals Mock Draft
Pick 23: Tyler Linderbaum, iOL, Iowa
The Bengals have an issue on the interior of the offensive line. Trey Hopkins rushed back from injury and has struggled at times. Right guard has been a revolving door of inadequate players all season. Linderbaum is a bit small, but has tremendous technique and knows how to use leverage to win. He could be a long-term answer at center for a team that has lacked a great one for quite a while.
Pick 45: Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington
With Riley Reiff clearly a short-term solution, the Bengals can certainly stand to add another tackle. Kirkland has experience outside and inside, but has the physical gifts to enable him to be a starting NFL tackle. He has great length and moves well laterally. He also should be solid as a run blocker with his movement skills.
Pick 89: Alontae Taylor, CB, Tennessee
Arguably, cornerback is the Bengals biggest need going into the 2022 offseason. The top guys were all gone before earlier picks, but Taylor has nice value here. He has good size and physicality for the NFL. Taylor is a solid tackler and isn’t afraid to get involved in the run game. He is still growing as a cornerback, having begun his career as a receiver. His upside is nice.
Pick 119: Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State
The Drew Sample experiment has failed. Adding another guy who can block, but is also a threat in the passing game is appealing, and the value here is very nice. He has enough speed to be effective at the next level, while also possessing the traits necessary to be a good blocker. He could develop into a solid starting tight end once CJ Uzomah moves on.
Pick 136: Isaac Taylor-Stuart, CB, USC
Another high upside cornerback is the pick here. Taylor-Stuart is a very good athlete with a track background. He still shows some rawness, but he also has a very high ceiling. He could wind up being a steal as a day three selection.
Blake Meek’s Cincinnati Bengals Mock Draft
Pick 23: Tyler Linderbaum, iOL, Iowa
Center has been one of the biggest weaknesses on the Bengals offensive line. Hopkins, who had a good year in 2020 before the injury, just hasn’t been good this year. Linderbaum has been the best center in all of college football this year and would be an immediate starter for the Bengals. Protecting Joe Burrow is still priority number one and adding Linderbaum would be a big help in that department.
Pick 45: Derion Kendrick, CB, Georgia
Cornerback is one of the top two or three biggest needs for the Bengals this offseason. Chidobe Awuzie has been fantastic for the Bengals this year, but after that it falls off a bit. Kendrick would be a steal for the Bengals at pick 45. He has legit first round talent, and paired with Awuzie would give the Bengals a feared CB duo. This would allow the Bengals to part ways with Trey Waynes and save around nine million dollars.
Pick 89: Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
Faalele is a mountain of a man on the right side of the Gophers offensive line. He has elite athleticism for a guy who is pushing 400 pounds. He played rugby in Melbourne, Australia, before coming to the US in 2016 to play his first snap of American football. With Riley Reiff a free agent after this season, right tackle is a position of need for the Bengals. Faalele has the talent to be one of the top right tackles in the league.
Pick 119: Romeo Doubs, WR, Nevada
Wide receiver isn’t anywhere near the top of the needs list for the Bengals, but Doubs’ talent was too much to pass on here. Doubs is a different kind of receiver than the Bengals currently have. He is a dynamic, big play guy who has the speed to really be an elite deep ball WR. That isn’t all he is though. Doubs also has the talent to separate in the intermediate and short area. Adding Doubs to this receiver room really wouldn’t be fair to opposing defenses.
Pick 136: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State
Tight end may not be a need for the Bengals depending on what happens with C.J. Uzomah in free agency, but Kolar would be a fine replacement if Uzomah decides to sign elsewhere. Kolar is a big bodied tight end who used to play basketball in high school. He is very good in contested catch situations and will be an excellent red zone mismatch.
The Cincinnati Bearcats continued to impress on Friday night, running Temple out of the building 52-3. In the process, they brushed aside any concerns of a post-Notre Dame letdown, remained unbeaten, and allow themselves to sit back on a Saturday and watch the rest of the college football world destroy themselves.
Perfection Looms Large; how will it shape Cincinnati’s future?
As each week passes and the Bearcats continue their march towards perfection, one common occurrence has remained. Find any social media post about this Bearcats team and you’re instantly thrusted into playoff conversations. Better yet, check out the 100 different scenarios the Bearcats need to navigate through just for consideration.
I’ll admit: it can often be fun to partake in these conversations, especially as they put the finishing touches on a win in South Bend. That said, we must make sure the conversation and frustrations don’t overshadow what we are actually witnessing.
So many people are rightfully skeptical of the playoff committee and how they view outsiders like UC that they have already begun to spiral into all the reasons why UC won’t get a fair shake and why they will be left out of the playoff. Now before I say what I am about to, let me first just reiterate I WANT UC TO BE IN THE PLAYOFF.
I believe they are earning the right to play against anyone else in the country with their play on the field. I believe they have a top 10 defense and an offense that is dynamic enough to cause fits for anyone. Look no further than last year’s Georgia game, where despite being the better team for 59 minutes, Georgia still won.
So what happens if Cincinnati doesn’t get in?
This team is too fun, and deserves too much respect from fans for me get upset about the end. Furthermore, we don’t know what will or won’t happen at the end of the season. If I’m being honest, I don’t think UC gets in the playoff and that’s ok? Yes I will be bummed, yes I will think they deserve the shot, but I remember when Rick Minter was the coach and in order to buy basketball tickets you HAD to buy football tickets with them.
I remember when being bowl eligible felt like a championship season. I remember Tommy Tuberville mailing it in here and being run out of town. What Luke Fickell has built has been nothing short of incredible, and it shows from the on-field product. Week to week, this has been the most fun I’ve had as a Bearcat fan.
A 13-0 record with wins over Indiana and Notre Dame is huge for Cincinnati. However, being left out of the playoffs won’t make those 13 weeks any less fun. My plea to the Cincinnati Bearcats faithful is: never forget how fun this sport is. We’ve been on a wild ride we’ve been on the last two seasons. Live in the moment and Go Cats.
Radio: Dan Hoard and Dave Lapham 700 WLW, 1530 ESPN, 102.7 WEBN
This week’s Bengals preview is for a game for which Bengals fans have been waiting a long time. One that could make a major difference. The Bengals and Packers don’t play each other often. These teams rarely finish in the same spot in their division, so typically they only play once every four years.
That said, in recent years, the Bengals are 3-1 all-time against Aaron Rodgers. That history won’t make much of a difference this time around as only P Kevin Huber and LS Clark Harris were around last time the Bengals beat the Packers in 2013.
Both teams currently lead their division, but only one was supposed to be here. That team, the Green Bay Packers, enters the game as 3.5 point favorites on the road. This Bengals preview, on the other hand, covers a team looking to prove themselves with a win over a team many consider to be a Super Bowl contender.
The Story So Far:
At 3-1, the Green Bay Packers have largely overcome their disastrous Week 1 blowout by the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Since then, the Packers have trounced the Detroit Lions, survived a comeback attempt by the San Francisco 49ers, and handily beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers. Through those games, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions, and has posted an average passer rating of 118.2.
The Cincinnati Bengals are still looking for respect across the NFL, despite the same 3-1 record as the Packers. Fair or not, the national audience is still not sure what to make of them, considering their strength of victory so far. The opponents the Bengals have defeated are a combined 2-10 right now, and the one team they lost to is a very sketchy looking 2-2 Chicago Bears team. No one is going to blame the Bengals if they lose this week, but they’ll need to win to legitimize their record in the eyes of many.
Green Bay Packers
Strengths: As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, they’ll have a strong offensive attack. Both players have a strong argument as the very best players at their respective positions. The two have combined for an average of 93.3 yards per game, 19 first downs, and a touchdown. Rodgers, in particular, seems to have a sixth sense about him when pressure is coming in the backfield, so actually bringing him down before he makes an insane throw could be difficult whether the Bengals’ defensive line gets pressure or not. Their pass rush has also been above average this season, totaling 33 quarterback hurries on the season.
Weaknesses: The Packers rank near the bottom of the league in passing touchdowns allowed (10), sacks (7), and first down percentage allowed (51.1 percent passing, 30.5 percent rushing). Their rushing game is also not performing particularly well with a measly 3.6 yards per carry and a 20.0 first down percentage on the ground.
Strengths: Quarterback Joe Burrow has been called a young Aaron Rodgers by many. Particularly, by former Packers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who has been in Cincinnati during both of Burrow’s seasons. On the season, Burrow has recorded a 113.8 passer rating with 988 yards and nine touchdowns in just four games. His steely, confident demeanor has been a huge reason why the Bengals have won three of their four games this season, and almost came back to beat Chicago in Week 2. Much like the Packers, the Bengals’ pass rush has also been stellar so far this season. They’ve notched 45 QB hurries and 13 sacks so far.
Weaknesses: Although it has improved from last year, the Bengals’ pass blocking has been inconsistent and downright frustrating at times. It’s a pretty strong emphasis for this Bengals preview, especially with Pro Bowl DT Kenny Clark on the other side. Tackles Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff have generally been consistently good this year, but there is still a lot of inconsistency in the interior. Rookie RG Jackson Carman appears to be able to hold his own in place of the injured Xavier Su’a-Filo, and LG Quinton Spain is starting to come along in recent weeks, but C Trey Hopkins has largely struggled on the year after coming back from a torn ACL in January. There have also been some issues with tackling on the defensive side of the ball. Their 36 missed tackles on the season have been a blight on an otherwise stifling defense.
The biggest injury news for this Bengals preview is the players they are expecting to get back. FS Jessie Bates III, WR Tee Higgins, and CB Chidobe Awuzie all missed last week’s game. But, they have been practicing and appear to be on pace to play against the Packers. LB Akeem Davis-Gaither, CB Trae Waynes, C Trey Hopkins and DT Larry Ogunjobi all have new injuries. But, they also seem to be on pace to play, which is useful information for this Bengals preview.
Unfortunately, RB Joe Mixon is a new addition to the injury report. He’s listed as “Questionable” on Friday’s injury report, but he hasn’t practiced all week. It sounds like they’re waiting to make a final decision on his injury status based on how he does on Saturday, when he is expected to practice. Still, the Bengals are going into this game remarkably healthy, which could be a significant advantage.
Green Bay Packers
Let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room. The Packers’ already porous secondary isn’t looking good heading into this week. Although they haven’t said whether he’s out for the year, we know stud cornerback Jaire Alexander won’t play this week. CB2 Kevin King was limited with a concussion most of this week, although he is expected to play. Against the Bengals’ elite trio of wide receivers, this could turn into a massive mismatch.
There’s also concerns about injuries to the Packers’ offensive line. Pro Bowl left tackle Elgton Jenkins missed practice on Wednesday and was limited the rest of the week with an ankle injury. He’s officially “questionable”, but you wonder how effective he will be if he does play. Backup right tackle Dennis Kelly missed practice on Thursday and Friday with an undisclosed illness and is also questionable. Rookie starting center Josh Meyers is officially not playing. It could be a rough week for the Packers at certain vulnerable position groups, especially considering those position groups happen to line up with some of the Bengals’ biggest strengths.
Keys to the game
Make Rodgers sweat
For as much magic as Aaron Rodgers can make, on the whole he hasn’t performed well against consistent pressure this season. In fact, his passer rating is a pedestrian 85.1 when blitzed and a dismal 39.7 when pressured. Compare this to Joe Burrow, whose passer rating only drops to 70.0 when pressured and actually dynamically increases to 133.3 when blitzed.
Let it rip
In addition to already being one of the Packers’ biggest weaknesses, their secondary will be missing a key player. In particular – Jaire Alexander, who is currently hoping to avoid season-ending surgery. You wonder how the Packers are going to be able to cover Higgins, Boyd, Chase, Uzomah, and possibly Chris Evans. A strong emphasis on the passing game this week could pay dividends.
Don’t give Rodgers time at the end
You absolutely can not allow Aaron Rodgers an opportunity to drive down the field at the end of the game. Two weeks ago, the 49ers became the latest victims of his unbelievable clutch gene. If it’s a close game and the Bengals have the ball near the end of the game, they’ll need to make sure they close it out with proper clock management. It doesn’t matter if the Packers need a field goal or a touchdown at the end of the game. Aaron Rodgers will find a way to make it happen the way he has SO many times in his legendary career.
This week’s Bengals preview possible makes the outcome of this game seem more dire than it really is. Nobody is going to blame the Bengals for failing to come away with a win this week against the Packers. That is, assuming they don’t get blown out. But, the Bengals have an opportunity to make an absolute statement this week. Regardless of the injuries, the Packers are a Super Bowl contender. This win would signal the Bengals are for real and the rebuild is paying off. Make no mistake, they don’t have much to lose, but they have so much to gain.
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.
Position grades are always a fun exercise, especially when the Bengals slay one of their biggest demons. This week, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field for the first time since Week 8 of the 2015 season. Almost 6 years ago. The convincing victory also gives the Bengals an early lead for first place in the AFC North.
It wasn’t a perfect game from the Bengals, who sputtered a bit in the fourth quarter and gave Bengals fans across the world heart palpitations. That sputtering will be reflected in the position grades, mostly because we’ve seen the Bengals lose too many games like this in the past. But, to their credit, they buttoned up where it mattered. That will also be reflected in the position grades.
Offensive Week 1 Position Grades
Quarterback grade: A-
If you only look at the box score and watch the highlights, you’re likely to think Joe Burrow was an interception away from being nearly perfect on the day. It was certainly a great day for him. But, the interception was an absolutely boneheaded decision to throw into triple coverage with Terrell Edmunds also in the area. It was an interception reminiscent of some of the worst he’s ever thrown in a Bengals uniform. On top of that there was a pattern of overthrowing the ball that Joe will likely want to address in the film room. Luckily, on one of those overthrows, Ja’Marr Chase bailed him out with an incredible touchdown catch.
Other than that, you have to like what you saw from Burrow this week. He was mostly accurate, willing to scramble when he needed to, and didn’t let mistakes turn into patterns. At the end of the day, he only missed four throws and found the endzone three times. So, I really don’t have much to criticize.
Running Back grade: A
Joe Mixon’s 5.0 yards per carry was a huge reason the Bengals performed as well as they did this week. The Bengals only ran 42 offensive snaps as opposed to the Steelers’ 73, but they still managed to dictate the tempo of the game. That was mostly because Joe Mixon ran the ball so well.
The only reason this grade isn’t higher is because Mixon was largely non-existent in the passing game. However, Samaje Perine turned in an 8-yard catch on a scoring drive. So, you can’t knock the unit’s position grades too hard for that one element.
Wide Receiver grade: A+
Yelling and screaming about how the Bengals made the right choice taking Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 overall pick is starting to feel a bit redundant. At this point, it just feels like beating a dead horse. This week, Chase put the conversation to rest by becoming only the ninth receiver in NFL history to score a touchdown in each of his first three NFL games. In fact, he tacked another one on in the third quarter.
Tyler Boyd also got in on the touchdown action in the first quarter. He caught another 3 passes for a total of 36 yards across all four receptions. Despite the absence of Tee Higgins, Mike Thomas and Auden Tate both got their catches in on the day. Tate came down with his catch for 14 yards and Thomas went for 19. I’m not sure what more you could want from a unit that looks like one of the best in the NFL.
Tight End grade: C-
The Bengals’ tight ends didn’t really do much in this game to swing their position grades one way or the other. CJ Uzomah was only targeted once in the passing game. You could argue he could have been more aware of the ball and come down with the pass. But, I would argue it was Burrow’s fault for throwing the pass behind him. Drew Sample helped prevent a pick six on the interception, but that was about it.
Offensive line grade: A-
After two weeks, the Bengals’ offensive line looked dead in the water. Arguably, the worst performing member of the unit was Xavier Su’a-Filo. A knee injury kept him sidelined this week in favor of second round rookie Jackson Carman. It looked like a massive upgrade, and Burrow was barely touched all game. In fact, he was only pressured twice all game.
Upon further review, per PFF, Carman seemed to struggle a bit as a run blocker (35.8). However, he graded generally well as a pass blocker (68.8). His poor performance as a run blocker was essentially negligible given high quality run blocking performances by Jonah Williams (79.0) and Isaiah Prince (85.6).
In fairness, the Steelers’ defensive line was decimated by injuries. TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu were all out this week. Let’s see what they do against teams like the Ravens and Browns before we call this unit “fixed”. But, aside from a smattering of penalties in the first 35 minutes of the game, it was a refreshingly solid performance from a much maligned unit.
Defensive Week 1 Grades
Defensive line grade: A
Another week, another great performance from the Bengals’ most improved unit in 2021. The four sacks from BJ Hill, Trey Hendrickson, Cameron Sample, and Sam Hubbard felt like an homage to the early 2010s Bengals units that dominated in the trenches. Najee Harris couldn’t get a thing going on the ground, putting up a measly 2.9 yards per carry. Six times the Bengals managed to stop a Steelers ball carrier in the backfield for a negative gain. The Bengals are looking like a truly competitive team through 3 weeks, and this unit looks to be the most responsible.
Linebacker grade: A+
Logan Wilson looks like the next elite NFL linebacker. Not only did he lead the team in tackles (14) but he also recorded two interceptions on Ben Roethlisberger. The first interception came a few plays after Joe Burrow’s interception, essentially nullifying the impact. The second interception set the Bengals up in the red zone for an easy touchdown drive that gave the Bengals a 24-7 lead in the middle of the third quarter.
Germaine Pratt, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Jordan Evans also assisted in some really big stops. On the whole, the unit was above average in pass coverage, elite against the run, and instrumental in creating turnovers.
Cornerback grade: C
Opposing teams seem to be catching on to the fact that Eli Apple is a liability. Chase Claypool tripled the receiving production of anyone else on the team other than Najee Harris, likely due to there being an obvious mismatch. Apple was regularly getting burned by Claypool and combined with Chidobe Awuzie for a pair of infuriating pass interference penalties that didn’t need to happen. Darius Phillips also struggled on the day, particularly down the stretch.
Other than that, it was a pretty solid performance from this unit. Awuzie may have had that pass interference on 3rd and 11 that gave the Steelers a free first down. But, he generally held his man in check most of the day. Mike Hilton rarely got beat and got to enjoy celebrating a much needed revenge win over his former team.
Safety grade: B
It was another day where the safeties didn’t have to get involved much, which is always nice. It’s a huge change of pace from last year where Jessie Bates was required to be the superhero so often. This week, he played well on cleanup duty, only once allowing a play to go for more than three yards when he got involved. Vonn Bell was used sparingly as a blitzer and contributed to the pressure the Bengals were able to generate on Roethlisberger. But, other than a single pass deflection, he didn’t have much of an impact on this game.
Special teams grades: C-
Kevin Huber continued to prove he is an absolute weapon this week, pinning the Steelers inside the 20 three times and inside the 10 once. Unfortunately, the same sentiment can not be had about the punt coverage, or the return unit. Early in the game, Huber punted the ball inside the Steelers’ 6, but poor coverage allowed a 14 yard return. The defense held the Steelers to a punt on the following drive, but mistakes like that could be critical against more explosive teams.
Evan McPherson did hit a 43-yard field goal early in the second half that gave the Bengals some momentum coming out of halftime. But, it wasn’t exactly the prettiest kick. It’s nit-picking, for sure, but it was probably the first time I’ve seen McPherson attempt a kick that I wasn’t 100 percent sure was going to go through after it came off his foot. But, he did hit it, and converted all his extra points. So, it’s still infinitely better than what the Bengals dealt with at kicker last year.
Coaching grade: A
Personally, I went into this game thinking – if they lose, I’m out on Zac Taylor. But, if they win, that’s huge for their confidence and momentum going forward. Well, they won, and I think Zac earned at least the rest of the season to make his case for continuing to be the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
It was a very well coached game from start to finish. For the second time this season, the Bengals held onto a lead despite the best efforts of the opposing team. The play calling was on point all game, the gameplan was clearly well thought out, and the Bengals generally avoided most huge mistakes.
Even when mistakes were made, they didn’t turn into meltdowns, which has been an issue the Bengals have needed to solve during Taylor’s tenure.