Cincinnati Bengals vs Pittsburgh Steelers Rematch Sets Playoff Stage

Bengals vs Steelers
Ja’Marr Chase snags this touchdown just before halftime in the Cincinnati Bengals 24-10 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3. (Photo by Sam Greene/The Enquirer)

Bengals vs Steelers Week 12 Rematch

The Cincinnati Bengals vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 12 rematch sets an AFC playoff stage this Sunday. The Bengals beat the Steelers 24-10 in Pittsburgh in Week 3. A Bengals win Sunday would mark the first time the team has swept the Steelers in the regular season since 2009. A loss by the Steelers could set their course to the bottom of the AFC North.

Steelers T.J. Watt might return against Bengals

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

Cincinnati Bengals Mock Draft: Dueling Meek Brothers Edition

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.

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.

Check out Around the Block for all of our content and follow Vance Meek @vancemeek and Blake Meek @Bmeek23 on Twitter.

Midseason Position Grades for Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals midseason position grades
Gregory Shamus – Getty Images

That might have been one of the Cincinnati Bengals’ best bye weeks of all time. Things started to look bleak after losing to the lowly Jets and falling 41-16 at home to the Browns. So, the bye week seemed like it was coming at a good time anyway. It was an opportunity to rest, relax, and reset after this young Bengals team appeared to be letting early success get to their heads.

Then, the Baltimore Ravens fell to the even lowlier Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. The New England Patriots completely upended the Cleveland Browns 45-7. It looked way worse than what the Browns did to the Bengals the week before. The Pittsburgh Steelers failed to win against the winless Detroit Lions.

Had the Lions converted a missed extra point earlier in that game, the Steelers would have lost and the Bengals would be back in control of a playoff seed. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But, it was still a monumentally useful bye week for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are still looking fully alive at midseason.

Cincinnati Bengals Midseason Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: A-

Most of Joe Burrow’s 11 interceptions this season have not been his fault. Although, he is tied for third in the NFL with five turnover worthy plays.  But, perhaps it provides some context for the main area he’s been struggling this season.

For what it’s worth, he’s also tied for third in the NFL in Big Time Throws. They’re defined as “a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window” per PFF.

So, yeah, he’s been a bit erratic and inconsistent. But, he makes it work. In the last four games, he’s led the Bengals’ offense to 30+ point outings in all but one game. That one game against the Browns is the one freshest in our memories. But, it shouldn’t hold any more weight than any other game in the midseason position grades.

Running Back grade: B+

Joe Mixon is currently on pace for his best rushing season yet. If he continues his current production, he’d finish with 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns. Samaje Perine is also on pace for his best season since his relatively solid rookie season in which he started eight games for Washington.

The Bengals are still trying to find ways to incorporate Chris Evans into the game plan. But, he still has 133 all purpose yards and a touchdown. That’s pretty impressive for a third string running back who has only touched the ball 13 times, in five of nine games.

The one area this unit could stand to improve in the midseason position grades is pass blocking. For the most part it’s been ok, but inconsistent. Chris Evans has done a solid job filling in for Giovani Bernard’s vacated pass protecting role when he’s been on the field. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, on the other hand, have had as many struggles as they’ve had good plays in this department.

Wide Receiver grade: B

At the midway point, Ja’Marr Chase’s overall rookie season has been legendary. Especially, considering the general narrative surrounding his awful preseason. To be fair, he had a rocky last two weeks. The Jets locked him down and he and fell apart against the Browns.

But, even then he’s still on pace to shatter Bill Groman’s rookie receiving yards record of 1,473. Even in a 16 game season he would be on pace to break it with 1,484. But, with the extra game, it would be more of a surprise if he didn’t at this point. Especially considering he’s currently on pace for 1,577.

It hasn’t been as lucrative for Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, whom some were expecting could join Chase as 1,000 yard receivers in 2021. Neither are currently on pace for it, whether due to drops or simply not getting open enough.

With NFL teams starting to pay more attention to Chase, opportunities for Higgins and Boyd could certainly open up soon. But, they’ll need to take advantage of those opportunities to get there.

Tight End grade: B-

CJ Uzomah has been a revelation this year. He’s currently on pace for 591 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s not exactly going to be shattering any records (other than his own) with those numbers, but it’s still impressive for a tight end room many considered to be the worst in the NFL heading into this season. Uzomah’s fantastic season is a big reason why this unit grades so well in the midseason position grades.

Drew Sample, on the other hand, hasn’t been quite as impressive. He’s been below average as both a run and pass blocker. He’s been targeted only eight times as a receiver and, even then, only caught five passes for 45 yards. I think the Bengals were expecting a lot more out of their No. 52 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Offensive line grade: C-

Joe Burrow has been sacked 25 times this year. That’s seventh most among quarterbacks in the NFL, and fifth most for quarterbacks who aren’t known as a habitual scrambler. The Bengals’ offensive line ranks 23rd in the NFL this season in PFF’s pass blocking grade (57.8). That’s largely due to the revolving door at right guard for the second year in a row.

Second round pick Jackson Carman appeared to be doing a decent job of holding the position down, but has seemingly fallen back out of favor among the coaching staff despite earning their stamp of approval earlier in the season.

The run blocking has been better, although still not perfect. In this category, they rank 17th in the NFL (66.0). It’s a testament to how well the running backs have been performing that they’ve been putting up as much production as they have. 

Overall, the offensive line appears to be a step forward from where they were last year. Hence, their slightly below average result in the midseason position grades. It’s not a complete train wreck. But, there are still clear and obvious areas for improvement next year.

Perhaps Jackson Carman isn’t the answer at Right Guard? Maybe Tre Hopkins can be replaced at center? The tackles are doing fine, but the interior still has a lot of issues.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: B-

Another unit that looks massively improved from last year in the midseason position grades is the defensive line. Last year, they were a major part of an abysmal 17 sack season that ranks among the worst in franchise history. Through nine games, they’ve already passed their mark from last year. They are tied at No. 11 in the NFL for most sacks (23). Granted, it hasn’t really shown up much the past couple of weeks. 

They also rank No. 10 in the NFL per PFF’s run defense grade (61.7). I know it hasn’t looked like it the past few weeks, but this defense is performing like a top 10 unit this year. If they can get themselves back on track after the bye week, there’s no one the Bengals can’t beat in the NFL.

Linebacker grade: C+

Logan Wilson’s hot start this season, with the turnovers and the sacks, has been mostly reversed after he’s struggled to make a major impact in recent weeks. Granted, he’s still the team’s leading tackler virtually every week. But, there is an argument out there that the Bengals’ best overall linebacker in 2021 through nine games has been Akeem Davis-Gaither.

Unfortunately, he’s going to miss a good chunk of the rest of the season with a serious foot injury that sent him straight to Injured Reserve.

Cornerback grade: C+

For the most part, Chidobe Awuzie has been a godsend to a Bengals’ cornerback room that was bereft of talent in 2020. He has missed an uncomfortable number of tackles (seven, 11th among cornerbacks). But, he’s been lethal in coverage. He is only allowing 54.2 percent of the passes thrown his way to be competed. And, has the 13th most stops in the NFL (13).

You’d like to see him come down with more interceptions. But, overall the Bengals love what the results of their most recent free agent acquisition at cornerback.

What holds this unit back is the No. 2 cornerback spot. Last year’s big money free agent signing at the position, Trae Waynes, has only gotten on the field twice this year. When he was on the field, he didn’t look particularly good.

In fact, the much maligned Eli Apple has had more good games this year (3) than Waynes has played in his entire Cincinnati Bengals career. This unit really needs someone to step up at CB2, which is why I can’t grade this unit higher in the midseason position grades.

Safety grade: C+

We were all hoping Jessie Bates would step up and make a huge impact in his contract year. His All-Pro performance in 2020 led to a lot of people hoping he could be a major player on defense in 2021. But, he’s looked pretty average, in general.

Vonn Bell has been a major player this year, lining up all over the defensive backfield and making big plays that really helped this defense get off to a fast start. Even Ricardo Allen got in on the action before going down with an injury he just recently got back from.

Overall, however, this unit needs Jessie Bates to go back to playing at an All Pro level. Their midseason position grades are suffering as a result.

Special teams grades: A

Despite some of the week-to-week mishaps than happen for any NFL team, Darrin Simmons has coached up on of the best special teams units in the NFL this year. Their 91.4 overall grade per PFF ranks second in the NFL, behind only the also 5-4 New Orleans Saints.

Players like Joe Bachie, Wyatt Ray, Chris Evans, and Mitchell Wilcox, who generally struggle to make much of an impact in their primary roles, have really stepped up this year. Stanley Morgan, of all people, leads the unit with four tackles.

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson has had a few struggles, missing three of his 14 field goal attempts. Two of those misses happened in the same game. But, he hasn’t let it rattle him and has converted the winning field goal twice already this season, despite never having the opportunity in college.

Coaching grade: B

In general, I think Zac Taylor has done a solid job in 2021. The Cincinnati Bengals are 5-4 through nine games, despite analysts across the country squawking about how they wouldn’t win more than 6 games in 17 attempts. It seems more likely than not they’ll wind up in the playoffs, after going just 6-25-1 through his first two seasons.

Lou Anarumo has looked much improved as well. Granted, the recent two week skid makes you worry his unit overperformed through the first seven weeks. The last two have looked a lot more like what they’ve looked like the last three years. So, for the coaches to get up to an ‘A’ after the midseason position grades, Anarumo will need to get his unit back on track to playing at a high level.

Patriots vs Browns Preview

patriots vs browns preview
FOXBOROUGH, MA – OCTOBER 27: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns is sacked during a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

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.

Offensive Questions

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).  

Defensive Questions

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.

Injuries

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.

Advantage: Patriots

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.

Advantage: Browns

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.

Advantage: Patriots

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.

Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams

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.

Advantage: Patriots

Coaching

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.

Advantage: Patriots

Prediction

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.

Bengals Position Grades Week 9: 41-16 loss to Cleveland Browns

Bengals position grades
Kirk Irwin – Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals received an absolute beatdown when they hosted the 96th Battle of Ohio, and the Bengals position grades for week 9 reflect it. There was all this talk about how much better this team looks and how they look ready to contend a year earlier than many expected. Then, they get trapped by the New York Jets immediately after crushing the Baltimore Ravens.

They followed that up with a terrible 41-16 beatdown at home to the division rival Cleveland Browns. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Ravens found a way to win their game. Suddenly, the Bengals are two games behind the Ravens in the race for the AFC North crown after being hyped up as the AFC’s No. 1 seed two weeks ago. Rest assured, the Bengals position grades will reflect just how infuriating that game was.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: D+

Those two interceptions were brutal. The first one was a 14-point swing as the Bengals were on the Browns’ 3-yard line. The second one stung because it confirmed the Bengals weren’t going to have what it took to pull off the miracle comeback. But, with the game already at a 31-10 beatdown, it didn’t really affect the final outcome.

Other than that, Burrow played a pretty good game. He was able to help drive the Bengals down the field fairly often and would have easily gone over 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns if his receivers didn’t drop the ball. But, I don’t think I can emphasize enough how much those two interceptions killed any hope the Bengals had this week.

Running Back grade: B

Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine both averaged at least four yards per carry this week. In theory, you could make the argument they should have run the ball more because that was mostly working. Mixon, in particular, also put both of the Bengals’ touchdowns on the board.

Joe Mixon went over 100 all-purpose yards today. Samaje Perine did pretty good in the passing game as well. But, I just can’t get that stone cold drop on third down out of my mind. The Bengals were driving in a first half that, at the time, looked like it was turning into a shootout, rather than the beatdown it turned into.

But, Perine’s drop led to a fourth down attempt that fell short. On the very next play, Baker Mayfield connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 60-yard touchdown and the game was never in doubt after that point.

Wide Receiver grade: F

Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins both had some brutal drops this week. In one case, Ja’Marr Chase dropped a ball that he already caught. That’s called a fumble, and it capped off a disastrous first 23 minutes of the game for the Cincinnati Bengals. This was also the second week in a row Chase dropped a ball IN THE ENDZONE. 

He also dropped what would have been another 80-yard touchdown pass. In his defense, that one was a bit overthrown. But, he got his hands on it with no one around him. He should have come down with it. Bengals receivers combined for 154 yards today. I don’t care. They never came through when it mattered.

They made the game look like more of a beatdown than it should have been, and that’s why they get an ‘F’.

Tight End grade: B+

Finally, Drew Sample made an impact! Joe Burrow found both Sample and CJ Uzomah for some key plays this week. Considering how little the Bengals’ offense seems to emphasize tight ends, it’s pretty impressive they combined for seven catches and 60 yards. But, without either player finding the endzone, I can’t quite put them in the ‘A’ range.

Offensive line grade: D+

I will give the Bengals’ offensive line this – there were almost no killer penalties this week. Almost. Quinton Spain did ruin the one breakout play Ja’Marr Chase managed to pull down with a holding call. But, that was midway through the fourth quarter when the game was basically over anyway.

But, Joe Burrow was under pressure all game. You could possibly chalk up quite a few of his bad decisions to all the pressure that was constantly in his face. Myles Garrett and co. put an absolute beatdown on the Bengals’ offensive line. He was only sacked twice, but that was largely due to his recent propensity to scramble around in the pocket and create space.

It’s nice to see Burrow doing that again, but you’d hope it didn’t come under such dire circumstances.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: C-

Missed tackles. They’re becoming a pattern. The common theme in all of the Bengals’ losses this year have been a mind-numbing number of missed tackles by the defense. As inconsistent as the offense has been, it’s been a defensive issue that seems to herald. This week, so many of those missed tackles came from the defensive line.

To their credit, Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson generated some pressure and each recorded a sack. In fact, they were all over the place. But, they were the only ones. The interior defensive line was virtually non-existent throughout the game. Larry Ogunjobi alone, who we all were hoping would have a revenge game, led the team with three missed tackles.

Linebacker grade: D+

Despite recording one of the many infuriating missed tackles on the day, Germaine Pratt did pretty well this week. In general, he didn’t let much happen in coverage. Despite the one missed tackle, he still led the team in tackles. He only allowed a 79.2 passer rating when targeted and recorded three stops against the Browns’ rushing attack. That’s second only to BJ Hill, who had four.

Logan Wilson, on the other hand, looked awful. Part of the reason the Bengals’ defense appears to have taken such a step back is because he has looked really bad the last two weeks. His 29.4 overall PFF grade was the worst among all Bengals players who took at least five snaps.

He was a liability in coverage and constantly looked out of place when trying to defend the run. It was a huge factor in the Browns dropping 41 in a beatdown of the Bengals’ defense.

Cornerback grade: C-

Although it wasn’t a perfect day for him, Chidobe Awuzie generally kept the Browns’ passing game in check in his area of the field. He did allow one 26-yard pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones that annihilated what was shaping up to be a pretty good defensive drive for the Bengals. But, that play also happened late in the fourth quarter when all hope was virtually extinguished.

Mike Hilton played ok. It wasn’t great, and he did miss a tackle. But otherwise, he had a serviceable game. This unit probably would have graded in the ‘B’ range had it not been for Eli Apple, who got absolutely worked all afternoon. In fact, Baker Mayfield recorded a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating when targeting him.

He allowed 101 yards on four catches. He was responsible for covering Donovan Peoples-Jones on that 60-yard touchdown pass that broke the game open early in the second quarter. The Bengals never recovered from that play. Eli Apple is back to being a liability.

Safety grade: D-

For all of the hype surrounding Jessie Bates, he hasn’t exactly performed at a high level in 2021. This week, he did hold Baker Mayfield to an impressive 39.6 passer rating when he was targeted. But, he looked regularly out of place against the Browns’ rushing attack.

He had one missed tackle on the day, and it was an absolute doozy. He had Nick Chubb dead to rights on what should have been maybe a one or two yard pickup on the Browns’ first offensive possession. In a split second, the Bengals went from likely holding the Browns to a field goal and flexing a bit of defensive muscle, to trying desperately to keep them out of the endzone and sparking a beatdown.

That, of course, didn’t end up happening. The Bengals’ defense did hold the Browns out of the endzone to fourth down. But, safety Ricardo Allen was called for a completely unnecessary pass interference on the third down play, which gave the Browns the ball at the 1-yard line.

The infuriating thing was he didn’t need to, because Baker Mayfield overthrew Austin Hooper on the play. Two plays later, Nick Chubb took the Browns up 14-7.

Special teams grades: B

Evan McPherson converted his lone field goal attempt and the one extra point. He actually came out of it looking like the better kicker. Browns kicker Chase McLaughlin shanked a 45-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter. But, it wasn’t the best day for Kevin Huber, who averaged 40.7 yards per punt and only put the Browns inside the 20-yard line once. 

His first punt was a weird, wobbly one that set the Browns up at their own 30. You could argue the short field position really didn’t matter as Nick Chubb’s ensuing 70-yard touchdown run would have gone to the house from anywhere on the field. But, maybe the Browns approach that drive with a different scheme from the 20 instead of the 30.

Punt and kick coverage was pretty solid though, only once allowing a return of more than 5 yards. That was an 11-yard return on a short kickoff intended to run out the remaining two seconds on the clock after the Bengals scored a field goal going into the half.

Coaching grade: D+

For the most part, I don’t really have a lot of negative things to say about Zac Taylor this week. I thought his offensive playcalling was solid. The biggest letdown on offense was the lack of execution from guys like Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. But, he seemed to regularly have them in position to make big plays and do what they needed to do to stay competitive in this game.

However, Lou Anarumo’s defensive gameplan might have been one of the worst I’ve ever seen him put together. That’s two weeks in a row now his defense has received a beatdown, looking completely lost and out of place all game.

You can’t discount the progress they’ve made through the first seven games. But, they need to get things turned back around soon or you have to start wondering if they’ve regressed back to the point they were at last year, when everyone was calling for him to be fired.