Steelers star linebacker T.J. Watt did not play in his team’s Week 3 loss to the Bengals. He could be ready for the Week 12 rematch after injury derailed him in Week 10 in the Steelers tie against the winless Detroit Lions. A healthy Watt would be a difference-maker for the Steelers, who failed to sack Bengals QB Joe Burrow in the Week 3 loss.
Bengals go with ground game from Joe Mixon
The Bengals rode running back Joe Mixon for 123 yards on 30 carries in their Week 11 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Mixon dented the Steelers for 90 yards on 18 carries in the Week 3 Bengals win. Ground production from Mixon is key for the Bengals’ playoff push. It’s even more important against the Steelers to keep their pass rush off balance.
Steelers’ playoff life at stake against Bengals
Losses to both the Bengals in Week 3 and Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11 put the Steelers close to a do-or-die playoff position. The Steelers relied on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in both of those losses. He threw 58 times against the Bengals and 44 against the Chargers. The Bengals sacked him four times and linebacker Logan Wilson intercepted him twice in Week 3. But Roethlisberger should benefit greatly from the presence of leading receiver Diontae Johnson, who missed the first tilt with the Bengals.
Time to find out if the Bengals are for real
The Bengals still looked like AFC North contenders headed into their Week 9 matchup against the Cleveland Browns. After a 41-16 beating at home, the Bengals looked like more like playoff pretenders. Their playoff viability is in their hands against the Steelers this week and the Chargers next week. Both games are at home, which gives the Bengals a bona fide chance for redemption at Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals vs. Steelers Prediction
The Bengals are still forming their identity. They could be great Sunday like they were in their Week 7 road romp over the Baltimore Ravens 41-17. Or they could get their identity handed to them like they did against the Browns.
The Steelers are far more recognizable. It took a fourth-quarter freakish frenzy against the Chargers to make a game of it. The Steelers look more like the cellar dwellers of the AFC North this year than the Bengals do.
So, let the playoff stage be set: Bengals 27, Steelers 23
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 Bengals got back on track after their bye this week with a 32-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. The Week 11 Bengals position grades were a bit tough to formulate because it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. But, all around, it was good enough to get the job done. It’s really hard to knock a team, or a unit, when they achieve that goal.
Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense
Quarterback grade: B+
It wasn’t the most spectacular game in the world for Joe Burrow. But, at the end of the day, he played well enough to lead the offense to 30+ points. He did a pretty good job recognizing when he needed to run the ball and finding the lanes to do so effectively.
He only managed to throw for 148 yards. But, he completed 20 of his 29 passes and found Ja’Marr Chase for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. From that point on, the Bengals looked fully in control of the game and the result wasn’t in doubt.
So, you could describe Burrow’s performance this week as… unspectacular, but clutch. He also avoided throwing any interceptions for the first time since week 4, and only the third time all season. When Joe Burrow plays concise, efficient football… the Bengals tend to win. But, I can’t give him an ‘A’ in the Week 11 Bengals position grades with the limited production he had.
Running Back grade: B+
By the end of the day, Joe Mixon looked like a huge reason why the Bengals won this game. It’s not necessarily false, but it took him a while to get to that point. In the first half, he was only averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Not nearly good enough for the Bengals to win. But, he really got it going in the second half, finishing with 123 yards on the ground and 4.1 yards per carry. Furthermore, his two touchdowns came at critical turning points in the game.
Samaje Perine wasn’t nearly as effective, however. He totaled 1.5 yards per run on the day. He wasn’t really needed because Joe Mixon managed to get things going in the second half. But, Perine had a mostly quiet day. Ultimately, he made more special teams tackles on the day than first down plays.
It was nice to see Chris Evans back in the lineup, though. He only caught one pass for seven yards on a drive that ended in a punt. But, he was occasionally brought in on certain packages that gave the Bengals a much more dynamic look on offense than they had without him.
Wide Receiver grade: C+
It seems like every receiver on the roster crawled out of the woodwork to get involved in the passing game this week. It was particularly encouraging to see Tyler Boyd get featured so much after struggling to make an impact against the Browns. Tee Higgins made some plays too, so it felt like the Bengals didn’t need an all-time performance from Ja’Marr Chase to develop a solid passing attack.
That said, the passing attack still never really developed. Receivers struggled in contested catch situations all night. Yeah, you could make the argument that a lot of the targets were broken up by good defensive play or were difficult to catch. But, there were way too many missed opportunities from this unit.
It’s really a testament to the Bengals’ offensive potential that they managed to put up 30+ points despite their highly touted receiving corps receiving such an average grade in the Week 11 Bengals position grades.
Tight End grade: C-
Drew Sample and CJ Uzomah were largely absent in the passing game this week. Although, Uzomah did convert a key third down late in the third quarter. The ensuing drive eventually led to the Bengals taking their first double-digit lead of the game.
However, the real impact in this game from the tight ends was the blocking. Drew Sample was excellent as a lead blocker. He did well in both the H-back role and simply blocking from the tight end spot. You could make the argument that Joe Mixon probably wouldn’t have gotten going in the second half if Sample didn’t lay down some really strategically advantageous blocks.
Offensive line grade: C+
Don’t look now, but the Bengals’ offensive line has been doing a really great job lately of not committing penalties. Quite often, offensive line penalties can be some of the biggest momentum sucks over the course of a game. So, as much as you can point out certain flaws in their game, you have to respect their discipline.
That said, Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff got worked all day. Joe Burrow was constantly dealing with pressure in his face and it was largely due to problems coming from the tackles. That’s particularly problematic because the tackles are supposed to be the ones we can rely on this year.
Joe Burrow’s fumble on the first drive happened almost entirely because Riley Reiff couldn’t handle Yannick Ngokoue. The offensive line’s Week 11 Bengals position grades are largely representative of those issues.
Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense
Defensive line grade: B+
The way Sam Hubbard closed out that game on the Raiders’ final meaningful drive was a work of art. To just completely, single handedly turn the Raiders’ chances on their heads and break their hearts with back to back sacks and a fumble recovery. Oh by the way, Trey Hendrickson was the one who forced the fumble.
The Bengals only came down with two sacks on the day. But, they mostly kept Josh Jacobs and Kenyon Drake in check. There were still a few issues with missed tackles on the day. But, they made the ones they needed to. This unit’s Week 11 Bengals position grades are much improved from last week because they were mostly where they needed to be when they needed to be there. It was a huge step up from the last two games.
Linebacker grade: C
Another unit that, on the whole, you could argue largely did their job when they needed to, was the linebackers. That is, other than in coverage. It was painfully obvious the Bengals were missing Akeem Davis-Gaither, their best linebacker in coverage. Darren Waller finished the day with 116 yards on seven receptions.
In fact, the Raiders needed only three plays to put together their only touchdown drive of the game. How did they do it? Back-to-back 20-yard passes to Darren Waller and another one to Fabian Moreau, who Logan Wilson completely lost in coverage. It was a weakness the Raiders probably should have exploited more. Luckily they didn’t, but it could be an issue the Bengals need to keep an eye on going forward.
Cornerback grade: A
Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple had one of their best games of the season this week. There were a few bad plays sprinkled in here and there during the game. So, it wasn’t perfect. But, Derek Carr only completed five passes for 50 yards to wide receivers this week. One of those was a weird 20 yard pass to Zay Jones on broken coverage. But, everything else went to Hunter Renfrow, who only averaged 7.5 yards per catch.
Then, there was Eli Apple’s beautifully timed interception. It was like a gift from the football gods. I remember it in my head as though I watched it in slow motion. Did Eli Apple really just make one of the most clutch defensive plays I’ve seen from the Bengals all year?
Yes, yes he did. The Bengals capitalized on that interception with a touchdown when the Raiders had brought the game within just a couple of drives earlier. For as much crap as I’ve given him all year, I have to give him a shoutout in the Week 11 Bengals position grades.
Safety grade: B
What the hell is going on with Jessie Bates this year? Is his contract situation so distracting that he can’t play coverage? Part of the reason for Darren Waller’s big day was Jessie Bates’ lack of coverage. Going into this season, everyone in their right mind would have pegged him as the Bengals’ unquestioned superstar on defense. But, he hasn’t lived up to the hype even a little this year.
Vonn Bell was much more effective. He led the team in tackles and did a great job of cleaning up plays over top before they broke for long gains. A big reason why the Bengals only allowed one touchdown this week was because he played his role very well. It’s a big part of why I didn’t grade this unit lower in the Week 11 Bengals position grades.
Special teams grades: A+
Rookie kicker Evan McPherson joined Josh Scobee, Morten Andersen, Neil Rackers, and Sebastian Janikowski as the only kickers in NFL history to convert three 50+ yard kicks in a game. I don’t care if it happened in a closed stadium. That’s still damn impressive and was a huge reason the Bengals won this game. Sure, the Bengals would have still won by 10 points even without those field goals.
But, until the fourth quarter, it was basically the only reason they were winning. What’s even weirder is he capped all that off by missing an extra point late in the fourth quarter. But, he made up for it by converting a 47-yard field goal. I don’t get it, but I’ll take it.
The Bengals’ special teams coverage was absolutely lethal this week. The Raiders regularly started behind the 20-yard line this week. It was partially due to questionable returning decisions, but it was also because the Bengals’ special teams was all over the ball carrier. Darrin Simmons’ unit gave the Bengals a really underrated advantage this week.
Coaching grade: A
This might not be a direct representation of how the coaches performed in the game itself. But, I just have to point out how nice it is to watch a Bengals team look ready and prepared for an opponent after a bye week. Too many times we watched Marvin Lewis coached teams in Cincinnati look like they were hoping for an extra week of vacation after byes.
The Bengals came into this game needing to be ready to go and ready to make an impact. They did just that and took back control of a playoff seed in the process.
You really have to give credit to Zac Taylor’s staff for putting together a really effective game script and executing it as well as they did. Lou Anarumo’s defensive unit, for all its flaws, came out and played a really solid game. Yes, they let Darren Waller shred them. But, they didn’t allow much else. The Raiders were only able to find the endzone once this week, and the offense went over 30. That’s a winning formula if there ever was one.
The Browns visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday with both teams looking to firmly assert their positions in the AFC playoff picture. The Patriots have recovered from a sluggish start to the season having won 4 of their last 5, including three in a row. With a win, the Patriots would stay a half-game back of the Bills for the division lead. While continuing to send shivers through the rest of the NFL.
The Browns are 2-3 in their last five and currently sit ninth in the AFC playoff picture. The Browns are hoping they righted the ship in a 41-16 thrashing of the Bengals last week. A win for them on Sunday would legitimize their aspirations of being a threat for the postseason and help wash away the taste of an inconsistent start to the season.
Going into the Game
The Pats put themselves in a poor spot early in the season and have been climbing out of it ever since. Every game has felt like a big one as the Pats face top teams week in and week out. They announced their return two weeks ago against the Chargers and ground out a hard-fought win last week against a feisty Panthers team. Another win Sunday would cement their status as an AFC top dog.
Despite the recent winning streak, the Pats are still facing questions. Outside of the two games against the Jets, the Pats offense is averaging 21.5 points which is further inflated by two defensive touchdowns over the past two weeks. Counterpoint? The Chargers and Panthers feature two of the best pass defenses in the NFL. Both rank in the top six in passing defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average).
The Pats defense has also feasted on weaker competition thus far this year. Against teams with 1-4 wins, the defense is allowing 12.8 points per game, 298.8 yards per game, averaging 2.4 takeaways per game, and have an opposing passer TD:INT ratio of 5:10. Against teams with 5 or more wins the numbers paint a different picture; 26.5 points per game, 392.3 yards per game, on average a single takeaway per game, and a TD:INT ratio of 7:3. While troubling, the defense has been jelling as of late and playing top-level ball since facing off against TB12 on Sunday Night Football.
However you want to slice this game, injuries will play a part. Both teams will likely be missing key contributors. Running backs on both sides may be absent as Patriots Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson deal with concussions. The Browns will be without top backs Nick Chubb (COVID) and Kareem Hunt (IR-calf). The Browns are also facing injuries along their offensive line with starting RT Jack Conklin on IR. Starting C JC Tretter a late addition to the injury report this week with a knee ailment. In a repeat of previous weeks, this will be a knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out affair that promises to be low scoring and bring fans back to a brand of football rarely seen in today’s pass-happy league. Without further ado, the breakdown is presented in “Who has the advantage when…” format.
Patriots Pass the Ball
It’s been mentioned many times in this column but the Patriots’ passing game starts with protecting Mac Jones. Last week his play fell off as the Panthers got pressure. Successful defense starts with the marriage of pass rush and coverage and the Browns are exceptionally good at getting pressure. They have the second-best pressure rate in the league despite blitzing on only 20.8% of opponents’ dropbacks. Myles Garrett continues to be a complete force, pacing the team with 12.5 sacks. The team totals 27 sacks, also good for second in the league despite the next highest single sack total belonging to Jadeveon Clowney with 3.5 sacks.
The passing attack sputtered last week against an aggressive and fast front seven. The task doesn’t get any easier against a similar group in Cleveland. The Pats will be able to take advantage of the Browns’ aggressive linebackers in coverage with screens and play action. Multiple times against the Bengals last week, the Browns’ LB’s vacated the short intermediate middle field on hard play action. That is Mac’s comfort zone and if he can get cooking there, the offense will have success through the air. The Browns feature primarily zone coverage, something Mac and the Pats’ offensive concepts usually exploit. None of it matters if the hog mollies upfront doesn’t keep Mac upright.
Patriots Run the Ball
The Pats face a challenge before even stepping on the field Sunday as the health of both Harris and Stevenson is questionable for the game. If the two lead backs can’t go, the Pats would be left with Brandon Bolden and JJ Taylor to shoulder the load. According to reports, Stevenson has a better chance at returning than Harris. If the Pats do enter the game with only two active backs on the roster, it would not be surprising to see Jonnu Smith getting snaps out of the backfield ala Cordarrelle Patterson 2018.
The Browns feature the third-best run defense according to DVOA. The Pats rushing game had its best single-game output last week against a similar style defense. The Browns feature much more talent along their defensive front, which may make having success on the ground a much different task. The Pats would be wise to utilize some misdirection plays and counters with pulling guard action in hopes of taking advantage of the Browns’ aggressive style. This has the makings of running to keep the defense honest and set up play-action rather than running due to success.
Browns Pass the Ball
It all starts with the tight ends in the Cleveland passing game. The two leading receivers in terms of catches on the Browns roster are tight ends David Njoku and Austin Hooper. This grouping is the engine that drives the Browns passing game. The Browns also utilize “13” personnel (one running back, three tight ends) at an absurd rate. They lead the league with 129 plays ran from “13” personnel, the next closest team, the Titans, has 52. Belichick has also been harping on the fact the Browns are one of few teams that regularly run tight end screens throughout the game. The Patriots are uniquely set to defend this grouping with utility safeties Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips skill sets provide the defense favorable matchups. Not many teams roster hybrids of this pedigree, something the Browns have been able to take advantage of but probably stops this week.
When the Browns do go outside in the passing game it isn’t big-name Jarvis Landry making the plays of late, it’s been second-year man Donovan People-Jones. All three of the Browns passing touchdowns to a wide receiver have been to People-Jones. Over his last three games, People-Jones has caught 11 of 14 targets for 257 yards with an average depth of target of 21 yards. He adds the explosive element to this Browns passing attack. My bet is J.C. Jackson draws People-Jones in man and zone coverages.
The loss of Chubb is also felt in the passing games as Mayfield’s numbers drop-off significantly without the talented back. Mayfield’s completion percentage is 73.5% with a TD:INT ratio of 4:0 with Chubb on the field. Without those numbers read 63.6% and 4:3. The loss of Chubb may have disastrous effects throughout all levels of the Browns offense.
The health of the Browns offensive line is something the Pats should look to take advantage of. If Tretter can’t go, rookie Christian Barmore will very much be in line for another disruptive game. The loss of veteran Conklin places a lot of pressure on backup Blake Hance. Hance famously entered a playoff game a year ago after signing earlier in the week. That led to QB Baker Mayfield commenting on their introduction in the locker room before kickoff. While Hance may have had a nice introduction to Mayfield and the team, he may be in for a long introduction to Matt Judon. The Pats will want to bring pressure while keeping Mayfield in the pocket. The advantage here lies with the stellar front seven of the Pats and the veteran savvy of their defensive backfield. The Pats will look to capitalize on the inevitable interception.
Browns Run the Ball
It wasn’t long ago that the Patriots’ run defense was being lambasted for poor effort. Some may have wondered if Hightower had lost a step in his year away. Since, the Pats have held the Jets, Cowboys, Texans, and Panthers under 4 yards per carry. This improvement has revolved around the stellar play of Hightower and fellow linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. The loss of Chubb provides a more significant challenge for the Browns offense against a suddenly surging Patriots defense.
Earlier in the year, the Browns found themselves in a similar situation against the Broncos. All third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson did in that matchup was run for 146 yards on 22 carries. The Browns continue to lead the league with 160.2 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry on the ground. Both are video game numbers. The game will come down to this matchup. If the Pats can limit the Browns rushing attack, their offense will be stuck in the mud throughout Sunday afternoon.
The Browns enjoy motioning a tight end or fullback into the backfield for a late numbers advantage. The Pats will need their big boys up front to eat up blocks without yielding ground to keep their linebackers clean to make the play. The Pats opened the game a week ago with a heavy 3-4 front that featured Lawrence Guy (315 lbs.), Carl Davis (320 lbs.), and Davon Godchaux (311 lbs). Expect the Pats to stay here while occasionally adding Barmore (311 lbs for those wondering) for jumbo packages.
The Pats have been rounding into form after a rough start to the season on special teams. Return man Gunner Olszewski is set to miss the game with a concussion. Last week this forced WR Jakobi Meyers into action on punt returns. JJ Taylor may be in line this week to field kicks.
The Browns have had an inconsistent season from their special teams’ units thus far. K Chase McLaughlin has been solid but the Browns punting units have had issues. P Jamie Gillan ranks last in the league with a 41.8-yard average. The loss of core special teamer Demetric Felton (COVID) may lead a lane open for the Pats to exploit in the return game.
Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski was in elementary school when Belichick was head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Join that with the lights-out play calling of Steve Belichick (lip licking aside) and Mayfield might not be the only one confused on Sunday. McDaniels has been calling smart and safe plans of late, something that should continue against a Browns defense that doubled their takeaway total last week against the Bengals.
This game may be in the running for the quickest game played Sunday as long as the refs don’t get too involved (the Browns were flagged 10 times last week, average 7 per game). If there was ever a game to bet the under, it’ll be this one. Both teams will look to establish a healthy ground game without much luck while having to play small in the passing game. This is going to be a physical “do your job” 60 minutes and I’ll take Belichick’s boys every day of the week in that kind of matchup. Pats win 20-17.
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.