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.

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.

Cincinnati Bengals Week 1 grades after beating the Minnesota Vikings 27-24

The Cincinnati Bengals won their home opener in an absolute nail biter against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. This game really shouldn’t have been as close as it was, with the Bengals holding a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter. But, questionable coaching calls and some sloppy play let the Vikings back in the game, requiring the Bengals to win it in overtime. A win is a win, and I’m sure the Bengals are happy to be 1-0. But, when it comes to the Bengals’ Week 1 grades, we’re going to have to go a bit more in depth…

Offensive Week 1 Grades

Quarterback grade: A-

Seeing Joe Burrow take the field just 296 days after his gruesome knee injury was awe-inspiring. It was even better seeing him finish the day with a 128.8 passer rating (two TDs, no INTs). What was not fun to see was him misfiring a sure-fire touchdown pass to Mike Thomas and nearly throwing an easy pick to Mackensie Alexander. Luckily, the Bengals still got in the endzone on the former, and Tyler Boyd managed to come down with the later.

Running Back grade: A+

Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine both averaged 4.4 yards per carry. They also ran the ball 36 times, which is a lot. But, 147 yards and a touchdown makes you think that was the right call. If there was anything to critique in this game, it was Mixon slipping on a crucial fourth down run on their own 30 yard-line. The broken play gave the Vikings momentum while the team was up 21-7 late in the third quarter, but perhaps they shouldn’t have been doing anything but punting in that situation in the first place. I won’t count it against their overall Week 1 grades, especially considering Mixon was instrumental on both of the Bengals’ subsequent scoring drives.

Wide Receiver grade: A

Ja’Marr Chase deserves an A+ all by himself for putting together the greatest rookie WR debut in team history. 5 catches for 101 yards, one of which went for a 50 yard touchdown, was the perfect way to back up everything that has happened since he joined the team. Drops? Gaffes? Trash talk? Throw it all out the window. This kid is special and the Bengals picked a winner.

Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd looked good too, albeit to a lesser extent. Higgins came down with a key touchdown that brought the Bengals level after going down early. Boyd came down with a great heads up play on a ball that should have been intercepted and set up Chase’s touchdown pass. But, the true star of this game was Chase.

Tight End grade: C+

The Bengals’ tight ends are, arguably, their worst position group. There’s probably not much to expect out of this unit in 2020. I’m not entirely sure why Drew Sample was left 1-on-1 with Danielle Hunter at any point. But, it happened, and that was part of the reason the pass blocking looked so bad today. That said, you still have to give the unit credit for CJ Uzomah doing well as a pass blocker. Also, being in the right place for the catch that set up Evan McPherson’s game-winning kick.

Offensive line grade: C+

On the whole, the offensive line looks drastically improved from last year. Riley Reiff had an absolute game against his former team. That’s a massive upgrade over Bobby Hart, who is currently sitting on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. Jonah Williams looked steady, as always. Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo looked like a competent guard tandem, which is a massive upgrade over Michael Jordan and Alex Redmond. The offensive line was a huge reason why Mixon and Perine did so well.

Still, the Bengals gave up five sacks and Burrow tweaked his ankle on one of those sacks. What the hell happened? Tre Hopkins, who is coming back from a torn ACL suffered in January, got absolutely worked all day. It’s unfortunate, because the Bengals were counting on him to be the same reliable center he’s been since winning the starting job in 2017. But, perhaps you can chalk it up to Week 1 jitters coming off a major injury. If he can go back to the Trey Hopkins we know and love, this offensive line can be a force and hopefully overcome their modest Week 1 grades.

Defensive Week 1 Grades

Defensive line grade: A

B.J. Hill looks like an absolute steal after the Bengals sent Billy Price to New York to acquire the services of the former 3rd-round defensive lineman. He tallied two of the Bengals’ three sacks of the day and played well against the run as well. Trey Hendrickson, despite totally whiffing on a tackle at one point, was an absolute force rushing the passer.

Same goes for Larry Ogunjobi, who the Bengals specifically brought in to replace Geno Atkins.

The Bengals’ defensive line was a huge part of why their first two seasons under Zac Taylor were unsuccessful. Arguably, just as much of a problem as the offensive line. This new unit appears to be a HUGE step up.

Linebacker grade: B+

For all the Bengals’ problems tackling on Sunday, you couldn’t tell if you were watching second-year linebacker Logan Wilson. In addition to causing some havoc as both a pass rusher and in coverage, he recorded 7 tackles and looked ultra-confident on each one. Germaine Pratt, on the other hand, had one really bad missed tackle. However, he also led the unit with 8 tackles, one of which came in the backfield. He also forced the game-changing fumble in overtime, so you have to give the linebackers’ Week 1 grades a boost on that alone.

Cornerback grade: C

Darius Phillips had a pretty good game for a player the Bengals refuse to start, for whatever reason. He allowed one reception in seven targets, but he stopped the catch short of the line to gain on a third down in overtime. Chidobe Awuzie looks like a solid addition. Mike Hilton wasn’t perfect in pass coverage, but he was a sure tackler and highly disruptive as a blitzer. Even Jalen Davis looked decent in the single snap he got as a run defender and one in coverage.

The glaring issue was Eli Apple, who showed why he’s on his fourth team in six years, despite being a top-10 draft pick. He whiffed on two tackles, one of which allowed a 24-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Adam Thielan. That touchdown was exactly the momentum swing the Vikings needed being down 21-7 with just over 2 minutes to go in the third quarter.

Safety grade: B+

Jessie Bates led the team in tackles (9) and did miss one, but on the whole he provided good support in pass coverage. It wasn’t exactly a signature game from the All-Pro, but there’s not a lot to nitpick either. Von Bell showed us why we will all remember his name in Cincinnati with another absolutely CRUSHING hit during the game. He was picked on a bit in coverage, but when he prepared to tackle someone they went DOWN.

Special teams grade: A

Darrin Simmons’ unit wasn’t exactly perfect defending returns, but the specialists were absolutely LETHAL. Evan McPherson comfortably nailed a 53-yard field goal to hold the Vikings’ comeback attempt at bay early in the fourth quarter. But, the truly exciting conversion came at the end of overtime after he initially made the 33-yard chip shot, got iced, and did it a second time to give the Bengals their first win of 2021. Say what you want about the ease of the kick, but Randy Bullock missed the same kick at the end of regulation in Week 1 last year.

Credit to Kevin Huber as well, who attempted 7 punts on the day and put three of them inside the 10, one of which was inside the 5. One of those punts was tipped and gave the Vikings decent field position, but the Bengals’ defense forced a 3-and-out so nobody is going to talk about it. It’s pretty much impossible to make this unit’s Week 1 grades anything lower than an ‘A’ due to the specialists alone.

Coaching grade: C+

A lot of people are going to complain about Zac Taylor’s decision to attempt a 4th down conversion in the third quarter on the Bengals’ own 30 yard line. It went about as badly as you could have expected, leading to a quick Vikings touchdown that let them back into the game. Personally, I didn’t hate the call when it was made because the Bengals’ offense was rolling at the time and you’d think Joe Mixon could have easily picked up one yard.

Well, he tripped, and the worst-case scenario happened. But, hindsight is 20-20 and Taylor was able to get his guys re-focused enough to come away with the win. Ultimately, that’s all that matters, and it gives the coaches’ Week 1 grades a bit of a boost.

Preseason Preview: Week 3 Dolphins @ Bengals

Dolphins ATB and Bengals ATB break down their respective offseasons, training camp and expectations ahead of Week 3 of preseason.

Acknowledgement:

Before we delve into the game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Kyle Phelps of Bengals ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this preseason matchup article.

Game Preview

Q. Last week the Dolphins had their dress rehearsal game. Was it the same for the Bengals? Which bubble players should we look out for?

Bengals:

KP: ” I wouldn’t exactly call week 2 a “dress rehearsal” for the Bengals. We definitely saw an emphasis on the first team trying to put more of a game plan together than they did Week 1. However. the majority of the snaps still went to the second and third team players.

I would expect the same against the Dolphins this week, as the Bengals seem to be mostly focused on developing their depth right now. The positive side of that is we’re sure to get a solid idea of who deserves to survive the roster bubble. Two players, in particular, you’re going to want to watch are WR Trenton Irwin and Edge Darius Hodge. 

Irwin had a fantastic camp and first week of preseason that made it look like he had the inside track for the final WR spot on the team. Unfortunately, a poor performance in Week 2 hurt his case. But, it’s not like Trent Taylor, likely his biggest competition for the spot, has done much in the first two weeks at all. So, Irwin probably has a chance to redeem himself this week and make his case for that No. 6 spot. 

Like Irwin, Darius Hodge went undrafted and has performed like a hidden gem so far. He absolutely terrorized the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the preseason along with another solid performance against the WFT in Week 2. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Bengals’ defensive edge right now, Hodge could very easily find his way onto the final roster with another big performance against the Dolphins.”

Dolphins:

Following Tuesday’s roster moves, the wide receiver competition looks like it is nearing an end. Having cut Ford, waived/injured Foster and placing Bowden on IR, the receiving room is taking shape. A big opportunity now presents itself for Kirk Merritt, a player who has been productive throughout camp, to make one last push for the final 53.

Early this week Brian Flores stated that going into the final preseason game around 3/4 positions are left unfilled on the final roster. Keep your eyes peeled at who makes the final depth spots on the offensive line. Jackson, Kindley, Deiter, Hunt, Eichenberg and Davis are all locks, Skura likely makes the team as a backup. Therefore, the battle ultimately falls on Rob Jones, Durval Queiroz Neto, Larnel Coleman and Greg Little. The Dolphins invested heavily in Jones as an UDFA, while recently trading for Little for backup at tackle. However, it is Coleman that has impressed throughout camp and in preseason even getting some reps with the starting offense.

Another interesting battle to look out for is how the corner backs lower down the depth chart can fare in their pursuit for the final roster spots. I believe McCourty makes the roster as safety, meaning the battle ultimately falls on CreVon LeBlanc, Jamal Perry, Javaris Davis and Trill Williams. As it stands Perry/Williams are the favorites to battle it out for a spot on the final 53. However with Trill Williams a hot property, its unlikely that if cut he clears waivers. It will all depend on what Miami sees in Williams long term. Throughout this week of practice Williams has continued to impress as the boundary corner in the second team.

Q. How did you fare in the first two games of preseason? What went well? Stand out performances? What/who concerns you?

Bengals:

KP: “The Bengals split their first two preseason games, beating the Buccaneers and falling to Washington. But, most aren’t worried about those results. What’s more important is the first-team defense has looked remarkable so far. One of the Bengals’ biggest problems in 2020 was the lack of a pass rush, but the first team defense has generated a sack and multiple pressures in both contests. They also haven’t allowed a score yet.

On the offense, one of the biggest standout performers has been Jacques Patrick. A former XFL running back, he is battling for the third and final RB spot (most likely) behind Chris Evans. Incumbent Samaje Perine has been either invisible or disappointing this preseason. In contrast, Patrick has arguably been the single best performer on the team both weeks. So, it’s just a matter of proving the Bengals should take a chance on the lesser known, younger talent in lieu of the more established player you know.”

Dolphins:

Technically like the Bengals the Dolphins split their first two games. However, when the starters and even second teamers were on the field they were 2-0. Tua showed promise in the first game despite the late pick and then continued to build on his strong start to the season against the Falcons.

During the Falcons game Tua showed his poise in keeping his eyes down the field, climbing the pocket with pressure in his face to allow his receivers to get open. The 3rd & 10 completion at the end of the half to Gesicki was a prime example of this. Tua’s footwork and pocket presence was a weakness in his game last year, now the improvements are clear. Throughout camp we have heard reports of Tua holding the ball for too long from the likes of Omar Kelly. While that may be the case from , it could be that in practice, in a non contact situation, Tua has not been able to experience the pressure in his face to that extent to allow him to extend the play.

Tua did this on multiple occasions including the touchdown pass to Myles Gaskin

If we are to nitpick at the faults of Tua during the game, there were a couple of instances where his accuracy was a little off, with the juggled catch by Hollins and then the overturned catch by Waddle. Nevertheless, these were very much an anomalies in an otherwise excellent game. He got the ball out quick, made the right reads and threw with anticipation demonstrating his comfortability within this offensive system. The offense was able to consistently move the ball down field with relative ease.

The standout performance was unquestionably Sam Eguavoen who racked up 11 tackles, 4 sacks and a safety, solidifying his position on the roster. Check out Tanner Elliott’s breakdown of his performance.

Q. Which players who are likely locks for the final 53 man roster are you focusing on for development?

Bengals:

KP: “We already have a pretty good idea of who’s in and who’s out at this point. But, some guys still need that extra push to prove what they can do. In particular, second round pick Jackson Carman has been having a pretty good preseason after a rough camp. The Bengals drafted Carman to fill the desperate need at right guard. Famously, they picked Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick under the assumption that they could find a perfectly talented lineman in the second round.

They passed on more notable names when their pick came around like Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, and Walker Little because they were convinced Carman was the best player available. Unfortunately, he struggled to impress in camp and failed to ingratiate himself as a starting-caliber player. He’s performed admirably in his preseason action so far. The hope is he’s still on track to work his way into the starting lineup, but I don’t think that’s even a remote possibility unless he has another great game.

Other players to watch out for include OL D’Ante Smith and RB Chris Evans. Smith is another lineman the Bengals took later in the Draft who has unexpectedly been running with the first team. Evans, the running back they selected in the sixth round, has absolutely earned his spot on the roster. Now, the question is whether he’s consistent enough to solidify the No. 2 spot vacated by Giovani Bernard.”

Dolphins:

On Thursday Brian Flores stated how Tua would not feature nor would many of the starters. However I do foresee one exception, the offensive line. After a concerning couple of weeks, the offensive line played well opening up running lanes that had been near none existent against the Bears. However, they still have a long way to go and should feature during the game to build the much needed chemistry and cohesion.

Not only did the Dolphins improve on their run blocking but the pass blocking remained relatively consistent building on a strong start against the Bears.

The biggest factor going forward is what to do with Liam Eichenberg. After starting camp as starting RT, to then starting LG, he is now back at RT in the second team behind Jesse Davis. However, with a strong performance against the Falcons he is knocking on the door once again for a starting position. The right side of Hunt and Eichenberg was a key factor in establishing the run and the performance of the line as a whole against the Falcons.

UPDATE: Liam Eichenberg left practice on Thursday having sustained injury. The injury does not appear to be serious. Larnel Coleman replaced him at RT.

Another player I would like to see more of is Jaelan Phillips. Phillips made his preseason debut against the Falcons and looked explosive off the line setting the edge well opposite Van Ginkel. Having missed a considerable chunk of camp sidelined with injury expect him to receive some reps giving him valuable experience heading into the season.

Q. How is Joe Burrow coming along in his journey back? Do you expect him to feature in the game? If so, how much?

Bengals:

KP: “If it was up to me, I would sit Burrow this week. If I had to bet, the coaching staff probably feels the same way. But, we know Burrow does not feel that way. If the staff gives in, he might play a series or two at the beginning of the game mostly filled with simple, safe plays. But, my guess is that you won’t see him take a snap until Week 1 against the Vikings.

(UPDATE: It was announced Wednesday that Joe Burrow WILL be making his preseason debut against the Dolphins.)

Reports of his struggles have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, when camp first started, he was looking unsure on his knee and he was struggling to connect with his receivers. The defense absolutely dominated the offense early on. But, I don’t know what everyone expected. Perhaps he has shown so many good tendencies since arriving in the national spotlight that everyone forgot he is, in fact, human. Far be it from him to act a bit skittish the first few times he steps on a football field after a catastrophic, traumatizing knee injury. 

But, since then, he has returned to the confident and poised Joe Burrow we all know and love. Reports from practice since that first week have been nothing but positive. He’s been scrambling, planting, and fearlessly engineering drives with virtually no issues to speak of. On top of that, you keep hearing about all these deep passes he’s completing, which is an improvement over the one major hole in his game last year.”

Q. Do you have any injury concerns entering the game?

Bengals:

KP: “As I mentioned earlier, the injuries on the defensive edge have become rather concerning. Third round pick Joseph Ossai, who was looking like an absolute stud in camp and the first preseason game, appears to have torn his meniscus and could miss the entire season. Fourth round pick Cam Sample is dealing with a shoulder injury that isn’t expected to be serious, but will keep him out against the Dolphins. Seventh round pick Wyatt Hubert tore a pectoral muscle in training camp and is already ruled out for the year. So, it’s no surprise the Bengals went out and signed Noah Spence.

Spence is a former second round pick who has struggled with injury, whom the Bengals picked up earlier this week after the Saints released him. The hope is new DL coach Marion Hobby can re-unlock his potential after injuries derailed his career. At the moment, Khalid Kareem is the only backup edge defender expected to make the roster who isn’t currently injured. So, Spence likely only needs to be able to hold his own on some level to make the final roster. That said, if Spence can return to the level of play we saw in the first six games of his rookie season, he could make the kind of serious impact the Bengals were hoping to get from their Draft class.”

Dolphins:

At last, Dolphins fans can rejoice as once again we have been treated with glimpses of Will Fuller and DeVante Parker (non-contact jersey) at practice.

As of Thursday, Preston Williams, Albert Wilson, Vince Biegel, Cethan Carter and Jevon Holland all didn’t practice due to injury. Adam Shaheen also did not practice, although the reason for his absence remains unknown, it is thought not to be injury related.

Fans can rest easy as all receivers have stated that they feel great in their fitness, but the coaching staff are intent on bringing them back slowly to avoid further complications heading into the season. In addition, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Holland has been walking around fine without any visible discomfort. The condition of Eichenberg is at present unknown.

Q. What is going on with Ja’Marr Chase? Do you stand by the pick giving the obvious need to protect Burrow?

Bengals:

KP: “Ja’Marr Chase is going to be fine. He was having issues with drops in training camp, and those issues popped up again against Washington. Luckily, he has that same blue collar, nose-to-the-grindstone mentality that Burrow has. He’s been working through his issues and the reports have been he’s turned the corner in practices this week.” 

“Don’t forget, this is the same guy who wanted to work on his hands in college and made the decision to catch 10,000 passes in one offseason with his fellow wide receivers. That was the offseason that preceded LSU’s undefeated run through the National Championship in 2019, the same season that put Chase on the map.

As far as the selection in the 2021 NFL Draft goes, I personally wanted Kyle Pitts, who wasn’t even available when we picked. But, I had the same mentality the Bengals seemed to have at the time. Everyone acted like Penei Sewell was this can’t-miss prospect, but the Bengals have had plenty of success finding offensive linemen in later rounds and plenty of failures in the first round.

They also replaced RT Bobby Hart with Riley Reiff in free agency, which was a HUGE upgrade. They ended up picking Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith in the first four rounds of the Draft. Carman hasn’t exactly had the fastest start, but he’s looked fine in the preseason, and Smith has been a bit of a hidden gem so far. Not to mention, Sewell hasn’t looked great in the preseason with Detroit. So, I think the strategy was justified.”

Q. Which Dolphins’ player scares you the most?

Bengals:

KP: “It’s preseason, so I don’t know if “scares” is the right word. But, I am definitely going to be watching how well the Bengals’ secondary plays against No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle. In addition to looking scary in college, I’ve been hearing nothing but good things from my friends who follow the Dolphins. It sounds like he’s the whole package, and could see a lot of playing time this week.

Naturally, as I’ve been impressed by the Bengals’ pass coverage this preseason, I’m fascinated by this matchup. I’m not currently sure who will be covering him during the game, as I’m not entirely sure when Waddle will be playing in the first place. But, I would love to see him challenge guys like Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple, who have both been fantastic free agency additions for the Bengals this year.”

Conclusion:

Once again I would just like to thank Kyle for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go and follow him on Twitter. The preseason finale will look different for many reasons. No Tua, no X, no Byron along with many other starters. Nevertheless, over the past 2 years this organisation has shown its worth in finding the diamonds in the rough. The players that get overlooked and go unrecognized, we will get our biggest look at the potential candidates yet this week. Who they will end up being we will find out come August 31 when the final 53 is finalized. Fins Up!

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Bengals’ Winners and Losers from their 17-13 loss to WFT

With their second exhibition game in 2021 under their belt, the Cincinnati Bengals are now almost finished with the 2021 preseason. There is still a game left to play, but the majority of the opportunities for players to make their mark before final cutdowns are now in the books.

The Bengals played a close game with the Washington Football Team this week and ultimately were unable to finish with a win. But, as we discussed in last week’s article, the results aren’t particularly important. What is important is how individual players performed and how the roster is taking shape. This week, we learned a lot about a few players who stood out for both good and bad reasons.

Winners

EDGE Darius Hodge

Another solid night from the undrafted rookie out of Marshall University. With extra opportunities as a result of Joseph Ossai’s injury this week, he absolutely delivered again. He didn’t record any tackles or sacks to get on the stat sheet, but he was still all over the field pressuring the quarterback and generally disrupting the backfield.

Hodge has a difficult road to the Bengals’ 53-man roster with guys like Khalid Kareem, Joseph Ossai, and Cameron Sample shoring up the edge depth. But, another night like the ones he had against Tampa Bay and Washington, and the Bengals might be forced to find some room for him.

OG Jackson Carman

There are still a few glaring issues in Carman’s game, so it’s understandable why the Bengals’ coaching staff still haven’t entrusted him to run with the first team yet. But, on the whole, he seems to be holding his own in the preseason action he does get.

In particular, this week, he looked impressive as a run blocker. Even as a pass blocker, he rarely looked out of place.

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“Playing nasty” is what you want to hear from the Bengals’ second round pick. There’s still a few issues to iron out, but for the most part he looks to be on track to earning his place on this team.

CB Jalen Davis

Jalen Davis absolutely looked like one of those players demanding a spot on the final roster this week. His two tackles for loss on the day massively disrupted Washington’s offensive rhythm and had to catch the attention of the coaching staff. At one point, he absolutely blew up a screen pass that directly lead to the defense getting off the field.

At this point, if you’re assuming Awuzie, Waynes, Hilton, Phillips, and Apple are the first five cornerbacks, it should leave one spot open in the CB room. No one has been more deserving of that spot than Davis so far.

DC Lou Anarumo

Bengals fans have been debating Lou Anarumo’s selection as defensive coordinator since he was hired. As a bottom-10 unit by most metrics both of the last two seasons, that skepticism has been getting more and more credible. With the spending spree the Bengals have put toward the defense over the last two offseasons, he is running out of excuses for poor performance.

So far this offseason, the investments appear to be paying off. We’ll have to see if they can keep up the impressive play once the season starts, but Anarumo’s unit has looked good both of the past two weeks in addition to training camp.

Against Washington, the Bengals’ defense vastly outperformed the offense. It wasn’t perfect, but Washington struggled to get anything going much of the day. In fact, the Washington offense didn’t really start moving the ball at all until the Bengals took their first team defense out.

Losers

LB Jordan Evans

For a player who once looked like a promising young rotational piece, Jordan Evans has looked more and more expendable by the week. This week, he regularly looked lost in coverage.

In his defense, he made more tackles on the night than most other players on the team. It seems unlikely he’ll completely fall out of contention for a roster spot. But, at this rate, he could easily end up on the back end of the roster with guys like Markus Bailey and Akeem Davis-Gaither looking much better.

WR Ja’Marr Chase

To be clear, Ja’Marr Chase is not fighting for a roster spot. He will be a focal point of the 2021 gameplan regardless of how he performs in the preseason. But, when you’re targeted three times in a game, the ball is perfectly on target each time, and you drop all three passes, you look really bad.

It wasn’t the best look for the Bengals’ No. 5 overall selection. It’s not even close to time to hit the panic button. But, after reports of Chase struggling with drops in camp, the Bengals should at least be taking notice. This is a very correctable issue at this very early stage. But, it certainly will need to be corrected.

QB Brandon Allen

While Allen isn’t in any real danger of losing his job, performances like this do little to instill any confidence.

Allen finished the night with just eight completions on 17 attempts. He played all but the final three drives of the game and only managed 70 yards passing. Granted, his receivers didn’t seem to be doing him any favors with drops being one of the biggest storylines of the day. But, he still looked totally out of sync. For as good as the Bengals’ defense looked, the offense looked equally bad this week. Allen’s inability to generate much of a passing game was the prime culprit.

WR Trenton Irwin

You have to give credit where credit is due. Irwin recorded more yards than any other Bengals receiver on the night. The problem? He was targeted twice as often as the next most targeted receiver on the team, and only caught two passes. One of those targets very nearly preceded a goal line turnover. But, a personal foul overturned the fumble.

In Irwin’s defense, the Bengals did not have the best quarterback play on the night. It’s hard to make plays on the ball when your quarterback is struggling to get it to you. But, it takes two to tango, and Irwin regularly looked out of place as well. At this stage, he has proven himself worthy of consideration for the final WR roster spot. But, consistency is one of the biggest factors when it comes to those decisions. He’s likely not out of the running yet, but he certainly didn’t make his case for a roster spot this week.