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.

Cincinnati Bengals’ Position Grades after crushing the Ravens 41-17

Cincinnati Bengals
Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have arrived. In Week 7, they took the Baltimore Ravens to task with a 41-17 blowout win in Baltimore, a week after a similar result in Detroit. We’re starting to run out of reasons to doubt this team that easily could be 6-0 right now with a bit more luck.

This one was a complete team win for the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite another slow start on offense, they rattled off 28 unanswered points in the second half. Lamar Jackson put up 345 yards of total offense and it still wasn’t anywhere close to enough to overcome an absolutely dominating effort by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: A

It wasn’t a perfect game for #9. But, Burrow flashed his impeccable pocket presence all day against the Ravens. He didn’t let his mistakes turn into patterns and still managed to put up 416 yards and three touchdowns through the air. His chemistry and trust in his receivers was on full display as he carved up the Ravens’ secondary.

Unfortunately, that trust in Ja’Marr Chase bit him early in the fourth quarter. He slightly overthrew Chase on a touchdown attempt, likely expecting Chase to either come down with it or knock the ball away. Instead, Marlon Humphrey came up with a pick in the end zone that looked like it might give the Ravens a chance to build some late momentum.

It was a script the Ravens have executed many times this season. It’s also one the Cincinnati Bengals have been on the wrong side of many times in Zac Taylor’s career. The interception would be Burrow’s final pass attempt of the night. But, his performance to that point proved to be enough to allow the Bengals to coast the rest of the game after a big defensive stop.

Running Back grade: B+

Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine didn’t have a ton of opportunities to touch the ball this week. But, they were generally pretty efficient when they did. Early in the game, there were some pretty head-scratching inefficiencies running the ball on third and short. But, ultimately both running backs finished with over 4.7 yards per run. You’ll take numbers like that all day long.

At the end of the day, all that efficiency only translated to just over 50 rushing yards for either back. But, there’s something major to be said about both players putting up touchdowns on back to back drives in the middle of the fourth quarter.

The scores iced the game for a Cincinnati Bengals team that was already playing with extreme confidence. But, the second Mixon broke that 21-yard run into the end zone, you knew the game was basically over. 

Then, Perine hit one for 46 yards on the next drive. There’s no coming back from that.

Wide Receiver grade: B+

How can I criticize this unit too much when Ja’Marr Chase goes absolutely off for 201 yards and a touchdown? One of which was an absolutely mesmerizing 82-yard catch-and-run where he broke three tackles before sprinting down the length of the field.

That play broke the game wide open at 27-17 and might go down as one of the greatest highlights in Bengals history.

It was a struggle for the rest of the unit. Tee Higgins overcame an up and down first half performance to make an impact in the second half. In fact, at one point, he caught an 11-yard pass and absolutely trucked the defender for a key 3rd down conversion.

That came despite a defensive pass interference and the Bengals ended up with the ball at the 9 after looking like they might get stopped at midfield. Unfortunately, the end of that drive saw Burrow’s interception so the good plays from the drive will likely be forgotten about.

Tyler Boyd also struggled to make much of an impact for the Cincinnati Bengals. He did have a nice 25-yard catch at the beginning of that interception drive. But, the rest of his night was pretty quiet.

Tight End grade: B+

Drew Sample continues to be a complete non-factor in this offense. Zac Taylor’s tenure is starting to be known for very good performances in the draft. But, Sample is starting to look like a complete whiff. The Bengals selected him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, but he’s only caught two of his five targets this year. He no longer appears to be part of this team’s offensive thought process.

CJ Uzomah, on the other hand, is having a career year so far. He’s already at 256 yards receiving and five touchdowns on the year. Two of those touchdowns came on Sunday in the form of 55 and 32 yarders that helped the Bengals keep pace with the Ravens offense, before the game broke wide open late in the third quarter.

Another reception late in the second quarter gave him a final tally of 91 receiving yards on the day. One more catch and he could have broken the 100-yard mark.

Offensive line grade: B+

Joe Burrow was sacked HOW MANY TIMES against the Ravens? That’s right, once. This is a Ravens team that came into this game tied with the Bengals for the 10th most sacks in the NFL. Jackson Carman, in particular, had a really nice game.

That’s huge, because the Cincinnati Bengals really need him to develop into a franchise right guard after making the controversial decision to trade down in the draft for him. Over the last couple of weeks, he seems to be showing that was a good call.

Jonah Williams, on the other hand, had a rough game. In his defense, he had a really tough matchup this week against Justin Houston. But, you still have to come ready to play and he was visibly worked throughout much of the game.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: A+

If there was a criticism you could make for this unit, it’s allowing 88 yards rushing to the opposing quarterback. However, considering that opposing quarterback is Lamar Jackson, I’ll let it slide. Particularly because this unit regularly got in Jackson’s face for five sacks.

It’s the second time in Zac Taylor’s tenure the Bengals have compiled that many sacks. The last time was a meaningless Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns. Both teams’ seasons were over at that point, so you could argue Sunday’s sack total was more impressive.

On top of that, the Bengals only allowed 2.25 yards per run to Ravens players not named Lamar Jackson. A lot of that had to do with incredible performances from the boys up front. The only member of the starting four defensive linemen who didn’t have a flashy play was DJ Reader. Even then, both of his tackles allowed less than two yards.

Linebacker grade: B

It was a quieter night from the Bengals’ linebacker corps. Tight ends Mark Andrews and Josh Oliver looked like they were ready to break out in the second quarter. But, the Bengals got back on top of them in the second half and ultimately didn’t allow either to find the endzone. 

Logan Wilson once again led the team in total tackles (7). He did a lot of cleaning up Lamar Jackson breakaway runs. But, he also absolutely stoned Le’Veon Bell for a five yard loss on the Ravens’ first drive of the game.

That play set the tone for the Bengals’ defense the rest of the game. Just another day at the office for Wilson, who is starting to look like a star.

Cornerback grade: A-

The Cincinnati Bengals saw snaps from almost their entire cornerback roster this week from Chidobe Awuzie, to Eli Apple, to the newly acquired Tre Flowers. Outside of the one time Chidobe Awuzie got beat for a 39-yard touchdown by Marquise Brown, I don’t think any of them had a particularly bad play.

One of my favorite plays of the game came with 4:26 left in the third quarter. The Bengals’ defense was trying to hold on to a 10-point lead and Lamar Jackson found Marquise Brown for a quick play. Awuzie and Mike Hilton were right there at the perfect spot to stop the play short of a first down.

Hilton got faked out of his cleats. But, Awuzie stood firm and allowed only 3 yards, forcing a punt on the following play. It nearly led to a game-icing score on the following drive, except Burrow threw an interception in the end zone.

Safety grade: A

Jessie Bates’ claim as the best safety in the NFL is much quieter this year, but still very much alive. The splash plays are just not happening. But, to be fair, the defense as a whole isn’t really generating them. In fact, they don’t really need them to dominate opponents.

So, Bates gets to focus on being an elite cleanup crew in the passing game and a FORCE in the running game. Vonn Bell too. When opponents are making it to the third level, these two are simply not letting them get much else accomplished.

Special teams grades: A-

This may have been the most complete game Darrin Simmons’ unit has played all year. Evan McPherson easily converted both of his field goal attempts. One of them was a 52-yard attempt. Most NFL kickers are tested at that range, but McPherson didn’t blink and worked his way back to being known as ‘Money’. 

Kevin Huber had a rough first attempt when the Cincinnati Bengals were forced to punt from the Ravens’ 39. It sounds like a really bad coaching decision, but the Bengals were unable to get anything accomplished each of the last three plays so it seemed unlikely they would magically pick up 10 yards on 4th and 10.

Unfortunately, Huber put a bit too much power into his kick and the ball fell harmlessly for an easy touchback. 

With such a short field to work with, you’d hope he would have pinned the Ravens inside their own 5. Coverage on the following punt wasn’t great, giving the Ravens possession at their own 29 instead of their own eight. However, the Bengals didn’t punt again until their second-to-last drive of the game. This time, Huber knocked it out of bounds at the Ravens’ 16.

Darius Phillips had a good day as a returner. On his first punt return of the day, he set the Bengals up near midfield with a 13-yard punt return that looked close to going to the house.

Coaching grade: A

I think the biggest complaint against Zac Taylor this week was the lack of creativity on 3rd and short. Fairly regularly, the Bengals simply tried to run up the middle and got stuffed. It contributed to a first half performance that really felt like the Bengals missed a bunch of opportunities to not already be in full control of the contest.

Then, the second half started. Lamar Jackson shredded the Bengals on the first drive of the third quarter. But, those were the last points the Ravens would score the rest of the game. Offensively, it was another second half explosion. Zac Taylor is becoming known for his ability to make great adjustments at halftime, and that was on full display this week.

The vision is starting to materialize in Taylor’s third season. Everyone who was ready to fire him last year is starting to look real suspect.

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

The Cincinnati Bengals showed out against the Lions this week, and the position grades reflect that

Bengals Position Grades
Daniel Mears – Detroit News

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: B+

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

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

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

Running Back grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Receiver grade: A

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

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

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

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

Tight End grade: C+

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

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

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

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

Offensive line grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: B

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

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

Linebacker grade: A

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

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

Cornerback grade: A

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

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

Safety grade: A

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

Special teams grades: B

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

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

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

Coaching grade: B+

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

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10

Position grades are always a fun exercise, especially when the Bengals slay one of their biggest demons. This week, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field for the first time since Week 8 of the 2015 season. Almost 6 years ago. The convincing victory also gives the Bengals an early lead for first place in the AFC North.

It wasn’t a perfect game from the Bengals, who sputtered a bit in the fourth quarter and gave Bengals fans across the world heart palpitations. That sputtering will be reflected in the position grades, mostly because we’ve seen the Bengals lose too many games like this in the past. But, to their credit, they buttoned up where it mattered. That will also be reflected in the position grades.

Offensive Week 1 Position Grades

Quarterback grade: A-

If you only look at the box score and watch the highlights, you’re likely to think Joe Burrow was an interception away from being nearly perfect on the day. It was certainly a great day for him. But, the interception was an absolutely boneheaded decision to throw into triple coverage with Terrell Edmunds also in the area. It was an interception reminiscent of some of the worst he’s ever thrown in a Bengals uniform. On top of that there was a pattern of overthrowing the ball that Joe will likely want to address in the film room. Luckily, on one of those overthrows, Ja’Marr Chase bailed him out with an incredible touchdown catch.

Other than that, you have to like what you saw from Burrow this week. He was mostly accurate, willing to scramble when he needed to, and didn’t let mistakes turn into patterns. At the end of the day, he only missed four throws and found the endzone three times. So, I really don’t have much to criticize.

Running Back grade: A

Joe Mixon’s 5.0 yards per carry was a huge reason the Bengals performed as well as they did this week. The Bengals only ran 42 offensive snaps as opposed to the Steelers’ 73, but they still managed to dictate the tempo of the game. That was mostly because Joe Mixon ran the ball so well.

The only reason this grade isn’t higher is because Mixon was largely non-existent in the passing game. However, Samaje Perine turned in an 8-yard catch on a scoring drive. So, you can’t knock the unit’s position grades too hard for that one element.

Wide Receiver grade: A+

Yelling and screaming about how the Bengals made the right choice taking Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 overall pick is starting to feel a bit redundant. At this point, it just feels like beating a dead horse. This week, Chase put the conversation to rest by becoming only the ninth receiver in NFL history to score a touchdown in each of his first three NFL games. In fact, he tacked another one on in the third quarter.

Tyler Boyd also got in on the touchdown action in the first quarter. He caught another 3 passes for a total of 36 yards across all four receptions. Despite the absence of Tee Higgins, Mike Thomas and Auden Tate both got their catches in on the day. Tate came down with his catch for 14 yards and Thomas went for 19. I’m not sure what more you could want from a unit that looks like one of the best in the NFL.

Tight End grade: C-

The Bengals’ tight ends didn’t really do much in this game to swing their position grades one way or the other. CJ Uzomah was only targeted once in the passing game. You could argue he could have been more aware of the ball and come down with the pass. But, I would argue it was Burrow’s fault for throwing the pass behind him. Drew Sample helped prevent a pick six on the interception, but that was about it.

Offensive line grade: A-

After two weeks, the Bengals’ offensive line looked dead in the water. Arguably, the worst performing member of the unit was Xavier Su’a-Filo. A knee injury kept him sidelined this week in favor of second round rookie Jackson Carman. It looked like a massive upgrade, and Burrow was barely touched all game. In fact, he was only pressured twice all game.

Upon further review, per PFF, Carman seemed to struggle a bit as a run blocker (35.8). However, he graded generally well as a pass blocker (68.8). His poor performance as a run blocker was essentially negligible given high quality run blocking performances by Jonah Williams (79.0) and Isaiah Prince (85.6).

In fairness, the Steelers’ defensive line was decimated by injuries. TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu were all out this week. Let’s see what they do against teams like the Ravens and Browns before we call this unit “fixed”. But, aside from a smattering of penalties in the first 35 minutes of the game, it was a refreshingly solid performance from a much maligned unit.

Defensive Week 1 Grades

Defensive line grade: A

Another week, another great performance from the Bengals’ most improved unit in 2021. The four sacks from BJ Hill, Trey Hendrickson, Cameron Sample, and Sam Hubbard felt like an homage to the early 2010s Bengals units that dominated in the trenches. Najee Harris couldn’t get a thing going on the ground, putting up a measly 2.9 yards per carry. Six times the Bengals managed to stop a Steelers ball carrier in the backfield for a negative gain. The Bengals are looking like a truly competitive team through 3 weeks, and this unit looks to be the most responsible.

Linebacker grade: A+

Logan Wilson looks like the next elite NFL linebacker. Not only did he lead the team in tackles (14) but he also recorded two interceptions on Ben Roethlisberger. The first interception came a few plays after Joe Burrow’s interception, essentially nullifying the impact. The second interception set the Bengals up in the red zone for an easy touchdown drive that gave the Bengals a 24-7 lead in the middle of the third quarter.

Germaine Pratt, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Jordan Evans also assisted in some really big stops. On the whole, the unit was above average in pass coverage, elite against the run, and instrumental in creating turnovers.

Cornerback grade: C

Opposing teams seem to be catching on to the fact that Eli Apple is a liability. Chase Claypool tripled the receiving production of anyone else on the team other than Najee Harris, likely due to there being an obvious mismatch. Apple was regularly getting burned by Claypool and combined with Chidobe Awuzie for a pair of infuriating pass interference penalties that didn’t need to happen. Darius Phillips also struggled on the day, particularly down the stretch.

Other than that, it was a pretty solid performance from this unit. Awuzie may have had that pass interference on 3rd and 11 that gave the Steelers a free first down. But, he generally held his man in check most of the day. Mike Hilton rarely got beat and got to enjoy celebrating a much needed revenge win over his former team.

Safety grade: B

It was another day where the safeties didn’t have to get involved much, which is always nice. It’s a huge change of pace from last year where Jessie Bates was required to be the superhero so often. This week, he played well on cleanup duty, only once allowing a play to go for more than three yards when he got involved. Vonn Bell was used sparingly as a blitzer and contributed to the pressure the Bengals were able to generate on Roethlisberger. But, other than a single pass deflection, he didn’t have much of an impact on this game.

Special teams grades: C-

Kevin Huber continued to prove he is an absolute weapon this week, pinning the Steelers inside the 20 three times and inside the 10 once. Unfortunately, the same sentiment can not be had about the punt coverage, or the return unit. Early in the game, Huber punted the ball inside the Steelers’ 6, but poor coverage allowed a 14 yard return. The defense held the Steelers to a punt on the following drive, but mistakes like that could be critical against more explosive teams.

Evan McPherson did hit a 43-yard field goal early in the second half that gave the Bengals some momentum coming out of halftime. But, it wasn’t exactly the prettiest kick. It’s nit-picking, for sure, but it was probably the first time I’ve seen McPherson attempt a kick that I wasn’t 100 percent sure was going to go through after it came off his foot. But, he did hit it, and converted all his extra points. So, it’s still infinitely better than what the Bengals dealt with at kicker last year.

Coaching grade: A

Personally, I went into this game thinking – if they lose, I’m out on Zac Taylor. But, if they win, that’s huge for their confidence and momentum going forward. Well, they won, and I think Zac earned at least the rest of the season to make his case for continuing to be the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was a very well coached game from start to finish. For the second time this season, the Bengals held onto a lead despite the best efforts of the opposing team. The play calling was on point all game, the gameplan was clearly well thought out, and the Bengals generally avoided most huge mistakes.

Even when mistakes were made, they didn’t turn into meltdowns, which has been an issue the Bengals have needed to solve during Taylor’s tenure.

Cincinnati Bengals’ 53-man roster projection after preseason finale

Credit: Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up their 2021 preseason with a 29-26 loss to the Miami Dolphins. But, the biggest winners were the players who earned their way onto the 53-man regular season roster. The Bengals have until Tuesday August 31 at 4pm to make all the necessary cuts. Currently, they are sitting at 80. So, 27 players are either going to need to be released, sent to injured reserve, or waived with the intention to return later on the practice squad. Based on what we’ve seen since OTAs began, this is what I’m expecting the first depth chart of the 2021 regular season to look like.

Projected roster

LWRJa’Marr ChaseAuden Tate
RWRTee HigginsTrenton Irwin
SWRTyler BoydMike Thomas
LTJonah WilliamsFred Johnson
LGQuinton SpainMichael JordanHakeem Adeniji
CTrey HopkinsTrey Hill
RGXavier Su’a-FiloJackson Carman
RTRiley ReiffD’Ante Smith
TECJ UzomahDrew SampleThaddeus Moss
QBJoe BurrowBrandon Allen
RBJoe MixonChris EvansJacques Patrick
D/ST
LDESam HubbardKhalid KareemBJ Hill
NTDJ ReaderTyler Shelvin
RDTLarry OgunjobiMike Daniels
RDETrey HendricksonCam Sample
LBLogan WilsonJordan Evans
LBGermaine PrattMarkus Bailey
LBAkeem Davis-GaitherDarius Hodge
CBTrae WaynesEli Apple
SSVonn BellRicardo Allen
FSJessie Bates IIIBrandon Wilson
CBChidobe AwuzieJalen Davis
NBMike HiltonDarius Phillips
PTKevin Huber
PKEvan McPherson
LSClark Harris
HKevin Huber
KOEvan McPherson
PRDarius PhillipsBrandon Wilson
KRDarius PhillipsBrandon Wilson

To be clear; Hakeem Adeniji is currently recovering from a torn pectoral and is likely headed to short-term IR. The Bengals have to put him on the original 53-man roster to transfer him to that list. Most likely, based on these projections, that player is going to be LB Joe Bachie. Bachie capped off a good camp and preseason with 4 tackles and a pass deflection. I’m guessing he beat out DE Noah Spence for the 53rd roster spot, because Spence looked shaky at best and sloppy at worst in his only preseason action with the Bengals.

The inclusion of WR Trenton Irwin on the final roster is likely to raise a few eyebrows. An undrafted third-year receiver out of Stanford, he has had virtually no impact in the NFL before this year. Most expected him to wash out with the rest of the fringe wide receivers this offseason. But, save for one lackluster preseason Week 2 performance in Washington, he has been proving he belongs both in training camp and preseason.

Against the Dolphins in Week 3, he caught two passes for 39 yards. One of those two catches was an incredible 16-yard reception he held on to despite being immediately blown up by the defender. Similarly, his primary competition for the final WR spot, veteran Trent Taylor, also had a highlight-reel level play against the Dolphins.

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Unfortunately for Taylor, that’s about all he’s done in preseason so far. There was talk about him taking over the return duties vacated by Alex Erickson, but that role appears filled by Darius Phillips. Furthermore, he had one opportunity to show us what he had in that area this week and he ended up losing a yard on the play. You could make the argument Taylor might deserve a spot on the roster over Mike Thomas. But, Thomas has also flashed in the preseason and he seems to be well liked by the Bengals’ coaching staff. So, I would imagine Thomas ends up sticking around.

Since originally finishing this article, the Bengals announced they are trading C Billy Price, who I projected to make the roster, to the New York Giants for DE BJ Hill. Hill was a 3rd round draft pick in Price’s 2018 class who got out to a good start in his rookie year (12 starts, 5.5 sacks), and then never was counted on as a starter again afterwards. It makes you wonder what issue the Giants’ coaching staff had with him, but you can imagine he’s probably being brought in as depth with all the current injuries to edge players.

Waives, Cuts, Injuries, and Practice Squad

Waive (Or Trade)IRRegular Practice SquadVeteran Practice Squad
QB Kyle ShurmurDE Wyatt HubertLB Joe Bachie*WR Trent Taylor
RB Trayveon WilliamsDE Joseph OssaiOG Isaiah PrinceRB Samaje Perine
WR Scotty WashingtonRB Jacques PatrickTE Mason Schreck
OT Gunnar VogelTE Mitchell WilcoxCB Tony Brown
OG Keaton SutherlandRB Pooka Williams, JrS Trayvon Henderson
DT Kahlil McKenzieWR Stanley Morgan, JrDT Josh Tupou
LB Keandre JonesDT Renell Wren
CB Winston RoseDE Amani Bledsoe
CB Antonio PhillipsP Drue Chrisman
K Austin Seibert
DE Noah Spence

Back in July, the NFL confirmed they will be carrying over expanded practice squad rules from 2020 into 2021. That means teams will be allowed to carry sixteen players on the practice squad, six of whom may be veterans with more than two accrued seasons. That’s good news for guys like Trent Taylor and Samaje Perine. Both players have flashed talent throughout their careers. But, from where I’m standing, they didn’t do enough to hold off players like Trenton Irwin and Jacques Patrick.

It’s also good news for Mason Schreck, who joined the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2017. Since then, he has stayed with the Bengals in some capacity, whether it be on the roster or the practice squad. As I’m expecting Thaddeus Moss to make the final TE spot given his preseason production and his relationship with Joe Burrow, practice squad makes the most sense for Schreck.

The Bengals are going to need to initially waive a player from their 53-man roster so they can move OL Hakeem Adeniji to short-term IR. The hope is whoever they waive won’t be picked up by another team so they can sign the player back to the roster after the paperwork is completed. I’m guessing that player is going to be Joe Bachie. The Bengals claimed him off waivers back in May, so there is a possibility they waive someone else for fear he could get poached. But, to me, he seems most likely to clear waivers.

The time for evaluations is over. We’ve seen everything the players on the extended roster have to offer. On Tuesday, the bill comes due. There will be some tough decisions to make whether it be cuts or places on the roster. Some of those decisions, fans may disagree with. I’m sure we’ll hear all about them when that happens. But, to me, these make the most sense.