Bengals Week 15 Position Grades

Cincinnati Bengals Week 15 position grades
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

In determining the Bengals Week 15 position grades, I had to think about things a little differently than I’ve thought about them the rest of the season. Why? Because the Bengals beat the Denver Broncos 15-10 in a manner we really haven’t seen them do much this year.

They won a defensive game against an opposing team that was also playing really great defense. So, we can choose to focus on how ugly the win was. Or, we can choose to focus on the fact that they won at all. For now, I’m going to choose the later.

Cincinnati Bengals Week 15 Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback Grade: A

The Cincinnati Bengals didn’t ask a whole lot of Joe Burrow this week. They ran the ball more times than he passed, and the Broncos took significantly more offensive snaps than the Bengals in the first place. But, he was efficient in both passing and rushing situations. 15 of the 22 passes he attempted connected with his target.

Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for a game-swinging touchdown pass and he didn’t turn the ball over. Considering how the Bengals have been losing games lately, that’s huge.

Running Back Grade: B-

Neither of the running backs were much of a factor today in the passing game. But, you have to give them credit in the Week 15 position grades because they both performed well on the ground. It wasn’t always perfect. But, both Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine averaged enough yards per carry to average a first down every three runs.

At the end of the day, that’s all you really need. If your running game can accomplish that over the course of a whole game, you have a really good chance of controlling the tempo.

Perine, in particular, did a solid job of filling in for Mixon while Mixon dealt with injury issues. With the Bengals holding a slim lead late in the game, they needed him to be on point when he touched the ball. For the most part, he was.

On the Bengals’ final meaningful drive, he couldn’t break a run for more than three yards. But, considering the defense was playing well and the Broncos were out of timeouts, it was basically enough to get the job done.

Wide Receiver Grade: B-

Ja’Marr Chase got shut down pretty convincingly this week. Hence, this unit’s less-than-inspiring result in the Week 15 position grades. Luckily, Tyler Boyd was playing like a man possessed this week. This is exactly what the Bengals had in mind with their elite wide receiver trio.

Chase is clearly the most explosive of the bunch. But, he can’t show that off all season without drawing attention. So, if he’s shut down, throw the ball to Tee Higgins. He’s highly explosive in his own right. If he’s covered? Throw it to the best slot receiver in the NFL, Tyler Boyd.

The game broke for Boyd this week, finally allowing the Bengals to showcase the versatility of their receiver corps. His 44-yard touchdown catch erased all the momentum the Broncos had built with their lone touchdown and turned a game that was turning into a snooze-fest into a nail-biter.

Tight End Grade: B-

The Bengals’ offense continues to not make much of an effort to feature tight ends. But, CJ Uzomah remains Joe Burrow’s reliable safety blanket as he always has. The man who caught Burrow’s first professional touchdown caught three of his four targets this week. Only one of those catches went for a first down, but he bailed Burrow out a couple of times and that matters for the game script.

Drew Sample, once again, wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game. But, he was probably the most consistently “pretty good” blocker in both the running and passing game across 16 blocking snaps.

Offensive Line Grade:  B+

Joe Burrow was sacked three times against the Broncos. But, only one of those sacks was attributed to an offensive lineman. That lineman was Fred Johnson, who otherwise had a really good game in relief of the injured Riley Reiff. Had he not allowed that sack, this unit’s Week 15 position grades probably would have been in the ‘A’ range.

Also, I can’t for the life of me figure out why Jackson Carman isn’t playing more. He took a couple of games to adjust to the NFL speed. But, I feel he’s generally held his own pretty well this year. He took 33 snaps at tackle this week and was the team’s best pass blocker of the day per PFF (85.2). He also held his own as a run blocker (64.5).

I don’t understand why the Bengals drafted this guy only to bench him despite playing fairly well.

Cincinnati Bengals Week 15 Position Grades: Defense

Defensive Line Grade: A+

You could probably make the argument that the Bengals won this week because of their stellar defensive line play. I can’t think of any reason to not give them an ‘A+’ in the Week 15 position grades because Trey Hendrickson and Larry Ogunjobi both recorded sacks.

DJ Reader was a monster against the run. Even Khalid Kareem, who only recorded 13 total snaps, made a MASSIVE impact this week with a QB hit, two run stops, and a game-changing fumble/yoink on Drew Lock. He was injured during the fumble return. But, hopefully he’s okay. If so, he deserves more playing time.

Linebacker Grade: B

The reason this unit doesn’t rank higher in the Bengals Week 15 position grades is because of Germaine Pratt’s inconsistency. He was a disaster in pass coverage. But, he was also a force in the backfield and recorded 15 tackles on the day. That’s nine more tackles than the second-place player on the Bengals’ defense (Vonn Bell and Joe Bachie).

Unfortunately, Bachie and Markus Bailey both sustained injuries during the game. Unfortunately, Bachie’s injury was a torn ACL. Now, you have to start wondering about this unit’s depth with Logan Wilson still waiting to come back from his injury and Akeem Davis-Gaither still waiting on IR.

It doesn’t make you feel great about this unit’s long term prospects, much like the Bengals’ CB room last year. But, for this week, they put up a performance generally worth being proud of.

Cornerback Grade: B-

The Bengals’ cornerbacks showed a wide variety of prowess and ineptitude throughout this game. Without a doubt, they were the most difficult unit to accurately represent in the Week 15 Position Grades. That’s because you had guys like Mike Hilton allow an opposing passer rating of 39.6 and generally lock their guy down all game.

Then, you had Eli Apple who had, like he seemingly has every week, some questionable plays early on and some really great, clutch plays at other points in the game. Like his end zone pass breakup that prevented a touchdown.

Then, there was Trae Waynes. My god, he was terrible. He allowed a 112.5 passer rating as a result of the three passes he allowed for 42 yards and the Broncos’ only touchdown of the game. Oh, and an infuriating missed tackle that would have been for a loss, but ended up allowing a first down.

Even after finally getting on the field, he’s struggling to actually earn a bit of the $15 million he was guaranteed on his contract.

Safety Grade: C

Another week, another example of why the Bengals were hesitant to pay Jessie Bates a huge contract. It’s not that he’s playing badly, but he definitely isn’t playing up to his standards. It seems like just about every week he has at least one mind-boggling missed tackle in the running game.

Not to mention, he isn’t shutting down the passing game in his direction like he did last year. I’m not saying the Bengals shouldn’t re-sign him. But, I am saying that the longer he plays like this the more likely the two sides are going to be unable to agree on a proper contract.

Special Teams Grades: A

After two weeks in a row of the Special Teams unit arguably being the biggest reason the Bengals lost, they finally got their crap together. Their results in the Week 15 Position Grades are heaving influenced by Trent Taylor stabilizing the punt and kick returning position. But, the specialists did a great job too.

Kevin Huber’s punts consistently set the Broncos up in tough field position. Also, the absolute legend Evan McPherson BROKE the Bengals’ all-time record for longest field goal with a 58-yarder at the end of the first half. You can’t ask for much better production out of this unit.

Coaching grade: B+

I can’t figure out why some Bengals fans are criticizing Zac Taylor for running the ball on the final set of downs in the game. Like what else should they do? The defense was playing incredibly well all game, Drew Lock wasn’t playing particularly well, and the Broncos were out of timeouts. Not to mention, it’s not like Joe Burrow was having a great day passing the ball. He was efficient, yes. But, he wasn’t lighting things up.

So, what’s wrong with draining the clock and putting the Broncos’ offense in a situation you know they won’t be able to handle? I thought it was a great decision by him and I commend him for not over-correcting after making the same decision in a completely different situation where it didn’t make any sense last week. 

I hope, when the situation actually calls for it, Zac choses to trust Joe Burrow to go win the game. But, this week did not present that situation.

Grading the Bengals’ positions after their Week 2 loss to the Chicago Bears

Grading the Bengals’ performance in Week 2 is not an easy task. The final score will show the Cincinnati Bengals played decently well against the Chicago Bears in Week 2. However, they did not play well, unlike Week 1. For the majority of the game, the Bengals looked absolutely lost. Nobody wanted to tackle, they couldn’t generate any offense, and they fell apart at almost any opportunity they had to generate momentum. It wasn’t until a really clutch succession of plays late in the fourth quarter the Bengals looked truly competitive in this game. When grading each position this week, you have to take that into account.

Offensive Week 1 Grades

Quarterback grade: D+

In what might have been the worst performance of Joe Burrow’s professional career, he barely completed 50 percent of his attempted passes until waking up on the final two drives and pulling the Bengals out of the jaws of a blowout. The biggest problem? He threw three straight interceptions before the remarkable comeback attempt. Even before the interceptions, he looked out of rhythm with his receivers and inaccurate on a lot of his throws.

Knowing Burrow, he’ll likely put this game behind him and come roaring back next week to put together a bounce back performance. But, he couldn’t make it happen in time this week. The Bengals proved, even with all the new talent they added, they still aren’t good enough to overcome Joe being off his game.

Running Back grade: C-

It was not a game to remember for Joe Mixon. He finished with 69 yards on 20 attempts, quite often being stopped for only a yard or two. In his defense, the offensive line did not block well at all. He also flashed a few really nice runs here and there, so you have to consider that when grading him this week. But, on the whole, the running game looked generally ineffective.

Wide Receiver grade: B-

A big part of the reason the Bengals lost this game was the turnovers. Burrow’s three interceptions were really bad. But, Tee Higgins fumbling a 14-yard catch killed any momentum the Bengals’ offense was building after halftime. This is what I meant earlier when I said they fell apart at almost any opportunity to generate momentum. However, Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase both turned it on near the end of the fourth quarter when it was crunch time.

They each secured key touchdown grabs that made the final four minutes of the game look way more interesting than they probably should have. You could make the argument they were garbage time touchdowns. But, if Trey Hendrickson doesn’t totally whiff on a Justin Fields scramble, the Bengals have an opportunity to send that game to overtime or possibly even win.

Tyler Boyd, however, deserves credit for his performance this week. He was targeted nine times and came down with seven of those passes. He regularly bailed the Bengals out on 3rd downs and made few mistakes at all. It wasn’t anything eye-popping. But, when grading this unit, his performance convinced me to give them a boost.

Tight End grade: D

Once again, the Bengals’ pass protection was bad, and you can point to the tight ends as part of the problem. This comes the same week offensive coordinator Brian Callahan calls Drew Sample one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. Didn’t look like it to me, and the whole unit was virtually a non-factor in the passing game.

Offensive line grade: F

Trey Hopkins looked completely out of place for a second week in a row. I’m not sure what is going on with him, but he’s becoming a liability at a position the Bengals really needed to fix this season. Grading this unit is starting to become a chore.

Joe Burrow was sacked four times, hit nine times, and looked like he was running for his life constantly. Not every sack this season is the fault of the offensive line, but he’s still on pace to be sacked more than any other player in NFL history over the course of one season.

The run blocking wasn’t good either. Mixon regularly had to create his own holes. The fact that he even managed 3.5 yards per carry was a testament to how talented of a player he is. But, the offensive line absolutely has to be better. It looked like the worst case-scenario this week, after a relatively solid game last week.

Defensive Week 1 Grades

Defensive line grade: A-

It wasn’t a perfect game by the Bengals’ defensive line, by any means. As I’m grading this performance, I find myself going back and forth between The “B” range and the “A” range. On the positive side, they were consistently disruptive in the pass rush and regularly held Chicago running backs to short gains, if not losses. Larry Ogunjobi, DJ Reader, Cam Sample, Sam Hubbard, and Trey Hendrickson all ad mostly great games.

That is, unless Justin Fields or Andy Dalton started running. Dalton ran twice for an average of 12.5 yards. Fields ran much more often and only recorded 3.1 yards per carry. But, that 3.1 yards was usually enough to pick up a key first down or extend a drive. The unit did record 3 sacks, but you could argue they should have had way more.

Then, there’s Trey Hendrickson’s whiff on a 3rd & 9 just before the two-minute warning. Had he brought Fields down, the Bears would have punted, and the Bengals would have had roughly 2 minutes to at least get in field goal range, if not win the game.

On the whole, I have a hard time grading this unit’s performance too low because they were probably the only reason the Bengals weren’t totally blown out. But, I still gotta take points off for allowing the final nail in the coffin.

Linebacker grade: B

Logan Wilson continues to be an absolute force for a Bengals team that desperately needed someone to step up at linebacker. This week, he was the leading tackler on the team (9), and was really effective in pass coverage. Notably, he caught the Justin Fields interception that led to a quick Bengals touchdown and a real chance to pull a win out of nowhere. Unfortunately, he also totally whiffed on a fumble recovery that easily could have gone for a defensive touchdown. The Bengals would have been up 10-7 late in the third quarter and would have been the difference in what ended up being a 3-point game.

Germaine Pratt and Akeem Davis-Gaither, on the other hand, were largely irrelevant this week and didn’t effect the grading much. They didn’t make any major mistakes, but they also didn’t do much more than cleanup duty either. Logan Wilson absolutely deserves the spotlight with the way he’s playing so far this year. But, with the spotlight comes a bigger emphasis on the big mistakes.

Cornerback grade: B+

Eli Apple, for the second week in a row, didn’t help this unit’s overall grade. Notably, there was a completely unnecessary pass interference on the first drive that turned a 4th down into a new set of downs.

That set of downs eventually turned into the first touchdown of the game.

In his defense, however, he played much better most of the rest of the game. The whole unit only allowed 83 yards passing on the day. Honestly, it boggles the mind the Bengals managed to turn those numbers into a loss. That’s what happens when the turnover margin is 4-1 in the opposing team’s favor, but you can’t really blame this loss on the secondary play.

Safety grade: B

Jessie Bates had to play a bit more cleanup than you’d like this week, but he generally did a solid job of everything he was asked to do. He even got involved as a blitzer and recorded a QB hit on the day, which really helps boost the grading. Vonn Bell was actually the more impactful safety. He was instrumental in run defense, blowing up David Montgomery. behind the line in the second quarter on a drive that resulted in a punt.

But, Bell also hurt the grading for the unit when he couldn’t keep out of Andy Dalton’s face. The new emphasis on the taunting rule is probably the stupidest rule the NFL has ever enacted. But, the rule is what it is, and Bell has to know he can’t do that.

Special teams grade: B

For the most part, the special teams unit proved it’s one of the best in the NFL. Evan McPherson was perfect on the day, including a 53-yard strike. Kevin Huber was a machine, constantly putting the Bears in unfavorable field position despite the offense struggling to move the ball. Darius Phillips made good decisions on punt returns and returned one for 15 yards. Were it not for a Tee Higgins fumble on the following play, it would have been part of a drive that built a lot of momentum for a Bengals team that was only down four points at the time.

Brandon Wilson is the only reason this unit didn’t get an “A” grade. He muffed a kickoff that set the Bengals offense up at their own nine, and made a terrible decision to attempt a return a kick in the fourth quarter that set the Bengals up 8 yards behind where they would have been if he just let the ball go for a touchback.

Coaching grade: F

Those who follow me know I have, unabashedly, been a defender of Zac Taylor through all the ups and downs. I can’t defend this game. The absolutely abysmal playcalling, sloppy technique, and lack of attention to detail shows me a lot of why goes a long way of showing why he might not be “the guy” to lead this team to greatness. While I was grading this performance, I wondered if we have ever seen a game that more perfectly exemplified all of Taylor’s shortcomings as a head coach. That’s how bad things looked.

That doesn’t mean I think the Bengals need to move on right now. Let’s see how they bounce back from this game, and how the rest of the season goes. But, more performances like that should have the Bengals looking for a new head coach at the end of the season.