Solving The Mystery of Quarterback Play in 2022

The 2022 NFL Season is off to an interesting start, and the quarterback position has some of the most intriguing trends thus far.

We are about a month into the NFL season: the perfect time for storylines to develop, narratives to run rampant, and for trends to begin to take shape. We have certainly seen our fair share of each since the beginning of the season. However, none quite contend with the oddities in 2022 at the most important position in sports: the quarterback.

Quarterback play is, far and away, one of the most difficult levels of success to quantify. Some use advanced stats, carefully calculated metrics which mean nothing without context, while others use “the eye test”, rummaging their way through hours of film in hopes of validating their takes. Both are certainly valuable, but neither can explain the trends we have seen this year.

To put it bluntly, 2022 has been one of the weirdest, and statistically worst, years of quarterback play we have seen in quite some time. The mainstays of years’ past have been inconsistent and, in some cases, outright disappointing, thinning out the upper echelon of signal callers.

Unless, that is, you look at the top of any of the league’s advanced stat categories, in which you will find many new faces. However, these aren’t the anomalies of years’ past, such as Mahomes in 2018 or Herbert in 2020. No athletic freak getting his first true chance with a high powered offense. Rather, a collection of veterans and castaways whose offenses have seen astronomical jumps through the first month.

The most astounding example thus far? None other than Geno Smith.

No Russ, No Problem

When Seattle shipped off Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos for a king’s ransom, it was widely anticipated that the Seahawks would not only be inheriting a downgrade in quarterback play, but a substantial one at that. However, Geno Smith has been, by almost all accounts, phenomenal for Seattle through the first five games.

Smith is currently first in passer rating, completion rate over expected, completion rate, and a higher average intended air yards, per NextGenStats, than Patrick Mahomes (8.8 to 7.7).

Smith had largely been written off by the league after his tenure with the New York Jets. He was viewed as a career backup and, despite his nine year career, only has two more starts than Justin Herbert. However, being called to start the season for only the third time in his career, he has outplayed his predecessor in future Hall-of-Famer Russell Wilson.

A Healthy Balance

However, this isn’t the statistical anomaly we typically see from advanced stats. Smith’s success has transferred over to the tape as well. His ability to make tight-window throws along with making big plays under pressure, in particular, have been the catalysts to his success.

Geno Smith throws with timing and anticipation to the end zone.

What has distinguished him from the ‘efficiency darlings’ of the past has been the carry over of efficiency to aggressive throws. Typically, many stats favor the conservative and those quick to take the check down. Geno Smith has once again been the outlier, combining getting the ball out quickly with a knack for hitting his occasional shots downfield.

Geno Smith has been efficient on his aggressive throws.

Smith has found ways through the first month to maximize his talent in ways that Wilson had struggled with. Without their former Super Bowl champion, many expected Seattle to be in the running for the number one pick. However, they’re still in the thick of a difficult NFC West with Geno at the helm. If these quarterback trends continue throughout 2022 for Smith, it’s feasible to see Seattle sneaking into a Wild Card spot.

Rocky Mountain Disaster

It is the other side of the trade involving Seattle and Denver that, for multiple reasons, has been a struggle thus far. Wilson’s had a rough go of it to start his career in Denver. While it isn’t all on him, he certainly bears some of the blame.

Wilson has long garnered the reputation as a playmaker. He has been regarded as somebody who can not only deliver in the pocket, but also when the pocket becomes murky. This year, Wilson has tried many of the same plays, putting a supreme level of trust in his weaponry. However, he’s been slower to reads, unwilling to let a play die, and all around worse as a passer.

As someone who has disregarded throwing over the middle of the field, Wilson made his money on his “moon ball”- the deep throws down the sideline to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf were the center of his game. However, when defenses are taking away the deep game, Wilson has been just as aggressive, albeit in risky situations.

Per NextGenStats, Wilson ranks top ten in both average intended air yards and aggressiveness percentage. However, this has resulted in a completion percentage 6.3 percentage points below expectation, among the likes of Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Late Night Woes

All of this was on full display on primetime against the Indianapolis Colts. More specifically, on the throw shown below. Wilson feels pressure early, in large part due to the Broncos line, which hasn’t helped him much. However, the game situation would clearly dictate throwing the ball away.

It’s third down in the fourth quarter of a low scoring game. Living to play another down would likely mean the end of the game. Denver would be up by six, and Indianapolis had instilled no confidence in scoring a touchdown.

Despite this, Wilson decides to live and die by the big play, forcing the ball down the field and vastly overthrowing his target. Thus, Indianapolis is able to stay within a field goal and get the game to overtime.

It was in this overtime period, specifically the last play of the game, where Wilson and Hackett showed their pitfalls once again.

Denver has the ball on the five yard line on fourth and one. It’s do-or-die. If they fail to convert, Indianapolis wins the game. All Denver needs is a yard to keep the drive alive. Considering Denver’s rushing success on this drive, running the ball would likely be the solution. But Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson had other plans.

Uncharacteristic Mistakes

Hackett comes out in a light gun look, making it clear that he wants the end zone, and draws up a good play for Wilson. A simple pick to his right opens up KJ Hamler coming over the middle for what should be an easy touchdown.

However, Wilson, with all day to throw it, continues to stare down Courtland Sutton to the left. Keep in mind that Sutton is guarded by Stephon Gilmore, who already has a pick in this game.

Stephon Gilmore ends the game for Indianapolis.

Wilson continues to stare, forces the ball to his first read, and never sees Hamler. Gilmore is able to knock the ball down and win the game, on what looked like a rookie mistake from Wilson. It’s not often that we see a ten-year veteran stare down his first read this badly, much less force it into coverage.

The Broncos were widely expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year with Wilson and Hackett. However, both clearly have issues that must be ironed out, and are suffering because of them early on.

Super Bowl Hangover?

The Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson aren’t alone in their struggles, as the Super Bowl runners up have had their fair share as well. In the Cincinnati Bengals’ case, it’s also due to a combination of factors.

Last year, the Bengals’ deep attack was one of the best the league has ever seen. Jamar Chase and Tee Higgins excelled in one-on-one situations down the sideline, and Joe Burrow was hitting them at an all-time clip. It was the perfect storm of high-level deep accuracy and elite deep threats. Through this, they were able to annihilate defenses, and specifically single-high shells.

That being the primary feature of their offense was enough to get them a spot in the Super Bowl. In their championship bout, Cincinnati largely competed with the Los Angeles Rams. However, it was then that we began to see a counter form against their high-powered offense.

Simply put, teams began to move into more two-high defenses, preventing the deep passes the Bengals thrived upon. Along with this, Cincy faced more zone defenses, leading to fewer one-on-one situations for Chase and Higgins.

Not Enough Help

The typical counter to this would be to run the ball, and the numbers are simple. Coming out in two-high takes a player out of the box, and often gives a numbers advantage to the offense. The Bengals, on the other hand, haven’t been efficient enough in the run game to force teams back down. This is, in large part, due to their offensive line play.

It was well documented that Cincinnati’s fatal flaw last season was their offensive line. Joe Burrow was sacked more than any other quarterback, and the run blocking wasn’t much better.

Thus, the Bengals spent significant capital this offseason on revamping the line. Signing La’el Collins, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa, they hoped the veteran presence up front would solidify a contender. However, it’s clear that they haven’t gelled yet as a unit, and their individual play hasn’t been up to par either.

Despite these struggles, Cincinnati has largely been in close games, which is where more struggles — specifically Zac Taylor’s and Joe Burrow’s — have begun to show. The former’s play calling has been predictable and inefficient. Resorting to trick plays in the red zone and poorly managing short yardage situations have stood out among Taylor’s woes.

Law of Averages

Some of the blame, as stated before, does fall on Burrow’s shoulders. Unlike last year, the expectation wasn’t to hit on a historic percentage of difficult passes. However, this year has certainly been a fall from grace.

Along with the successful one-on-one shots being few and far between, Burrow has tried to overcompensate elsewhere. This was on full display in Week 1, where he threw four interceptions. What stood out on these plays was how much Burrow forced the ball into tight windows. Rather than taking what was in front of him, he tried too hard to be a playmaker and wrote checks that his arm — along with a majority of NFL arms, for that matter — couldn’t cash.

Minkah Fitzpatrick takes a Joe Burrow pass back for a pick-six.

This over-aggressiveness, along with the lack of help from his offensive line and coaching staff, has led to struggles for Burrow. While potentially predictable, it’s certainly uncharacteristic for what we’ve seen to this point in his career. Burrow has looked better recently, in particular against a depleted Dolphins secondary.

He will almost definitely improve down the stretch, but his quarterback play has been an interesting trend thus far in 2022, to say the least.

Other Interesting Trends in 2022 Quarterback Play

While Smith, Wilson, and Burrow have been the most interesting three, they aren’t the only quarterbacks to play outside of their expectations so far in 2022. Matthew Stafford and the Rams have struggled on offense, largely due to their offensive line play. Going into Week 5, they ranked 19th in pass-block win rate. When coupled with Stafford’s elbow injury concerns and the loss of Odell Bekcham Jr., regression has been rough.

On the flip side of the 2022 quarterback trends, we have also seen the development of several young quarterbacks. Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts rank third and ninth in passer rating, up drastically from last season. Each with new and improved weapons and circumstances, they have taken advantage of a great opportunity. Both were in their “prove-it year”, and they have shown out to this point.

No article about the quarterback trends of 2022 would be complete without mention of Cooper Rush in Dallas. Now 5-0 in his career as a starter, Rush has kept the Cowboys afloat in relief of Dak Prescott.

However, it’s clear their offense misses their 40 million dollar quarterback and will start him when he returns. That isn’t to discount Rush, though, who has shown he belongs and made the most of his opportunity.

The Cowboys are certainly a better offense with Dak Prescott in the lineup.

The year is clearly still very early for quarterbacks. We may very well see the high risers fall back to Earth, or positive regression for the struggling veterans. However, it certainly has been a different year to say the least.

The NFL always has something new to offer, and their most important position has been no different. It will be exciting to see how these quarterback trends progress and change as the 2022 season moves on.

7-round Mock Draft for the Cincinnati Bengals

The lead-up to the 2022 NFL Draft has been a very weird and unfamiliar experience for Bengals fans. In recent years, we’ve started looking deeply at the draft by mid-November or earlier. What’s the point in waiting when they have virtually no chance to make the playoffs? Back in the day we usually got to wait until at least December or early January, but having to wait until February this year left a lot of us playing catch up. The Bengals’ scouting department has had to play catch-up too due to a short offseason.

Now, we’ve all had roughly two months to play catch-up to this draft class. The Bengals did an excellent job addressing most of their needs in free agency, so they can have the luxury of focusing on quality prospects rather than needs. They’re still hoping to address minor holes like CB2, TE2, offensive line depth, wide receiver depth, and defensive line depth. But, the nice thing is there are no glaringly obvious holes like they’ve had to address the last few years. You can thank their success in free agency and the draft over the last few years for that.

My original plan for doing a 7-round mock for the Bengals ahead of tonight’s draft was to do it on my YouTube channel. Unfortunately, a particularly noisy fridge is destroying any hope of great audio quality, so we’re going to break down my selections as I imagine myself in the position of Bengals’ general manager. The following picks are made in the spirit of the Bengals’ particular need vs BPA ratio that they tend to follow. But, the final say is entirely what I think would be the best for the team. Think of it as an educated wish list. 

I also plan on releasing a full first-round mock of what I think all 32 teams will do later today. You might want to check that out too because it’s quite possible I will have a different selection for the Bengals in that article than in this one. But, without rambling any further, lets jump into these selections.

Using Pro Football Focus’s 7-round mock draft simulator as a basis for these selections, here is what we’re looking at initially.

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like PFF’s simulation was terribly kind to me as Tyler Linderbaum went two picks ahead of us at 29 to the Chiefs. They, of course, received that pick from the Dolphins for Tyreek Hill. I was also hoping to get guys like Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam and Zion Johnson, who are also gone. According to PFF, the best prospects available are wide receiver Skyy Moore, safety Lewis Cine and nose tackle Travis Jones. This would be a classic situation where trading down would be in the Bengals best interest. But, will they? I doubt it. I kind of like guys like Arnold Ebiketie, Nik Bonitto, and David Ojabo here. But, I can’t lie. I already know who I’m going with.

I know he didn’t test particularly well at the combine, and I’m sure most of you reading can figure out who I’m talking about based on that alone. Personally, I’m enamored with Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon. PFF has him ranked as the 58th best prospect in this draft. But, the way I see it, he has shown everything you need to succeed at the cornerback position.

Sure, he might need a bit of time to adjust to NFL speed. Luckily, the Bengals have a great No. 1 corner in Chidobe Awuzie and a serviceable No. 2 option in Eli Apple. Don’t get me wrong, picking Gordon at No. 31 comes with the intention of him taking Apple’s spot this season. However, it doesn’t HAVE to be Week 1. For that reason, I’m cool with betting on the upside. He won’t be available when we pick again at 63. So, ideally, we’d trade down. But, in this scenario I’m just going to take him.

Moving along to pick 63 in the second round, I’m still having pretty terrible luck with who is available.

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

I was definitely hoping to see someone like EDGE Nik Bonitto, tight end Trey McBride, or defensive lineman Logan Hall. Nope. They’re all gone. Yikes. The two remaining players I’m interested in are Kingsley Enagbare, the pass rusher from South Carolina and Dylan Parham, the interior lineman from Memphis. I’m really of a split mind on this one but I think I’m going to go with the guy who can bolster the Bengals’ pass rush.

I’m really confident in Joseph Ossai going forward. But, you can never have enough pass rushers, and Enagbare was one of the best in the country at that particular role. My issue with Parham is I feel he’s a bit of a project and after taking Jackson Carman last year I’d rather not risk Joe Burrow third season to more speculation on the offensive line. Not to mention, I like the depth that exists at interior OL more than I do the depth at edge. So, I’m taking Enagbare with pick 63.

Now we’re moving along to pick 96 and, would you look at that! There wasn’t a massive run on players I’m looking for!

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson did go to the Titans at 90. But, to be honest there’s another Kentucky prospect I’m eyeballing with this pick. I’m tempted to go with Virginia tight end Jelani Woods here because he has so much upside. At some point, I’m hoping to find a tight end to compliment Hayden Hurst because I REALLY don’t want to rely on Drew Sample, if possible. But, I think finishing the rebuild of this offensive line is imperative… especially going into Joe Burrow’s third season.

I’m picking up Luke Fortner here because, quite frankly, I’ve heard him described as a poor man’s Tyler Linderbaum. As a Kentucky fan, I can vouch for his consistency at the position. Personally, I’m 100 percent into the idea of taking a chance on him. If he’s ready to start right away, great! If not, Ted Karras can hold down the center position for now and Quinton Spain is still available to come back and solidify that left guard spot.

We’re moving along to the depths of the fourth round now and, once again, we’re back to slim pickings.

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

After losing Auden Tate to the Falcons, I think the Bengals could really use a really good fourth option at wide receiver. Perhaps I’m weird in thinking that Stanley Morgan Jr might actually be able to step into that role quite nicely. But, it might also be worth adding some talent. That’s why I’m looking at Velus Jones Jr from Tennessee.

He’s likely a developmental slot receiver at the NFL level, but that’s ok for me. Tyler Boyd only has two years left on his contract and this wide receiver room is about to get EXPENSIVE with Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins needing re-upped around that time. Jones could be a limited contributor for now and, perhaps, when the time is right, provide an insurance policy in case Boyd decides to move on in a few years.

All that said, the biggest reason I’m excited for Velus is his prowess as a kick returner. Y’all remember relying on Darius Phillips and Stanley Morgan to return kicks last season? Yeah. Muffs cost us a win against the 49ers. Darius Phillips is gone. Brandon Wilson, while reliable as a returner, doesn’t really add much value to the team at his natural position of safety. Picking Velus in the fourth round might be seen as a bit of a reach but I really don’t feel like he’ll still be there at 174. I’m making an executive decision. Let’s go.

As we move to the fifth round, it’s still looking pretty slim. I wouldn’t call this my ideal mock for the Bengals at all, but it is quite possible the real draft this weekend could play out like this.

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

Based on the list of available players I’m seeing here, I think most Bengals fans would want me to pick up nose tackle Curtis Brooks from UC. Personally, I don’t really get that. Definitely not in the fifth round. Yeah, sure, he’s athletic and tested very well. But, if the Bengals are going to pick up a defensive tackle I think they would probably be better off targeting a 3-tech rather than nose tackle. They’re pretty set with DJ Reader and Josh Tupou right now. Not to mention, it’s really hard to project what Brooks’ role would be in the NFL. Maybe if we see him again in the sixth round I’ll consider it but I think I’ll pass in the fifth.

I’m actually going to throw  a bit of a curve ball here. I’m going to take Brian Robinson Jr, the running back from Alabama. Why? Quite frankly I’m not a fan of Samaje Perine. I love Chris Evans, but Robinson provides a completely different set of skills than Evans. Notably, PFF calls him the best short-yardage bruiser in the draft class. Y’all remember when the Bengals couldn’t pick up one yard on three tries on the last drive of the Super Bowl? Pepperidge farm remembers. And Pepperidge farm ain’t gonna let that happen again. So sue me, I’m taking a running back.

Wouldn’t you know it, the sixth round is actually shaping up the way we want! If only the earlier rounds were like that.

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

Curtis Brooks is still here! I’m not going to lie though I’m still wondering about the value of taking a nose tackle, especially when the Bengals still need to shore up their offensive line depth. I’ve got my eye on offensive lineman Zachary Thomas here. He can play all five positions as a rotational backup if need be. Is that enough promise to betray all the UC fans who are probably screaming at me to take Curtis Brooks? Yes, I think it is. Sorry guys, I just think nose tackle is the one position we’re set at on the defensive line. Why take the chance with poor offensive line depth again when it literally cost us the Super Bowl? I’m going with Zachary Thomas here.

The Bengals actually have two picks in the seventh round this year and I think a lot of Bengals fans are wanting to use one of those picks on PUNT GOD Matt Ariaza. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s no longer on the board.

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

Honestly, that’s fine with me. Ariaza might be really good. But, it seems like the Bengals’ coaching staff really likes Drue Christman. We can probably find some solid competition for him in UDFA. Also, Curtis Brooks is gone too. Sorry, UC fans. 

Perhaps this is another curveball but I’m actually going to take Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy here. I was also thinking about Miami safety Bubba Bolden here but the Jags took him at the top of the round. The reason I’m thinking Purdy here is because.. let’s face it… Brandon Allen is a limited quarterback. He’s probably the best backup we’ve had since AJ McCarron, but that’s not saying much. He’s solid with his legs but he has accuracy issues and, for that reason, I don’t see any reason he shouldn’t have some real camp competition this year.

Years ago I thought Purdy was going to be a stud of a future NFL Draft prospect. He never quite hit that level, but I still think he’s really talented. I think he’ll adjust to the NFL extremely well and should be the kind of guy who can give you 70 percent of what Joe Burrow gives you in case Burrow has to miss time for any reason.

Finally, we’re moving to the Bengals’ final pick at 252 overall in the seventh round. Essentially, you’re just getting a head start on undrafted free agency here, so let’s see who is left.

PFF.com 7-round Mock Draft Simulator

I wanted to bring in a piece to compete with Drew Sample earlier in the draft. Unfortunately, the way things shook out, there were other great options available when I had the opportunity to take guys I really wanted like Colorado State’s Trey McBride, Virginia’s Jelani Woods, or Coastal Carolina’s Isaiah Likely. So, how about we go get Iowa State’s Chase Allen? He’s not going to wow you in any particular category but he’s a decent blocker and a decent underneath receiving option. At the very least, as I said, he can give Sample a run for his money. Plus, we can pair him back up with Brock Purdy.

So, there you have it. A full seven-round mock draft for the Bengals. I have no idea what they’re actually going to do for most of the draft. So, maybe it will be fun to go back and compare my mock to the actual results after the draft is completed. 

Hopefully I have a less noisy fridge by then and we can take the party back to YouTube. But, for now, this is what we’re working with and these are some of the players I think would make sense for the Bengals in 2022.

The Cincinnati Bengals Playoff Drought is Over

Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow ended the Bengals playoff drought with a win against Las Vegas
Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Playoff heartbreak and Bengals fandom has gone hand-in-hand for as long as the team has been in existence. Time after time, fans have gotten their hopes up, were dragged to the precipice of euphoria, only to be slapped in the face by disaster. Cincinnati Bengals playoff losses came to be expected, an inevitability.

“Montana! Touchdown! John Taylor!”

The Bengals 1988 season ended with a Super Bowl match-up with the San Francisco 49ers. That was really the start of it. Stanley Wilson got caught with cocaine before the game. Then, early on, Tim Krumrie, one of the defensive leaders, broke his ankle. Cornerback Lewis Billups dropped an interception in the fourth quarter, and then Joe Montana and John Taylor ripped out the hearts of every Cincinnatian.

There was no reason to think the Bengals blowout win over the Houston Oilers would be their last playoff victory for three decades when it happened. They waltzed over their divisional rival, then lost to the Raiders. In that game, running back Bo Jackson’s career was ended on a seemingly innocuous tackle. Cincinnati’s season ended and the “Curse of Bo Jackson” began.

“Carson Palmer is down!”

Don’t try to tell Bengals fans that they wouldn’t have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in January of 2006 if Carson Palmer didn’t have his knee shredded five minutes into the game. The hit from Kimo von Oelhoffen basically ended the game, and really, Palmer never was the same. Palmer led the Bengals to another playoff appearance a few seasons later, but the Jets handled them and the streak of playoff losses continued.

The 2011 NFL Draft re-vamped the team and led to immediate returns. The combination of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green led them back to the playoffs in 2011, but again and again, they couldn’t get over the hump. The Texans beat them twice. The Chargers got them in the 2014 playoffs. Then it was the Colts. The run culminated in January of 2016 against the hated Steelers.

There was just 1:36 seconds left on the clock, with Cincinnati leading by a single point when Vontaze Burfict intercepted Ben Roethlisberger near the 25 yard line of the Steelers. Bengals fandom erupted. This was it. Nearly 25 years of waiting was over. Then, the most unlikeliest of sequences in NFL playoff history unfolded.

“Here’s Hill. Ball is out!”

A play later, all of Cincinnati had the wind sucked from them. Running back Jeremy Hill was stripped of the ball and the Steelers were given new life. A first down would likely have ended it, but the curse had struck again. Bengals fans could only watch, knowing how it was going to end. It was inevitable.

With less than 20 seconds to go, Roethlisberger targeted receiver Antonio Brown over the middle. The throw fell incomplete, but Vontaze Burfict, moments ago a hero, became the villain. He was flagged for an illegal hit on Brown, which set up a long field goal attempt. Then, cornerback Adam Jones got a flag of his own, resulting in an easy game winner for Chris Boswell.

The silence resulting from the shocking conclusion could be felt across the entire state. To make matters worse, fans would have to think about the ending to this one for six years. That’s how long it would take to get another playoff shot.

The 2021 version of the Bengals felt different. Quarterback Joe Burrow and his “Baby Bengals” had the swagger of a team used to winning playoff games. When the playoff schedule was finalized, it was, inevitably, the Las Vegas Raiders standing on the opposite sideline. The Bengals would get a chance to exorcise their demons against the team that started the playoff losing streak 31 years prior.

“The season comes down to this. It is Carr, endzone. Intercepted! Germaine Pratt!”

On Saturday, January 15th, 2022, the Cincinnati Bengals rewarded all of the fans who stood by them through 31 years of heartbreak. Like Andy Dufresne, standing in the rain after escaping Shawshank State Penitentiary, Bengals fans felt the years of defeats wash away by tears of joy.

The Bengals move on in the playoffs, led by a second year quarterback who seemingly has icewater in his veins. He has the poise of a veteran and is surrounded by guys too young to know they’re supposed to lose in round one. They didn’t get the notice that Cincinnati folds in the playoffs.

“For the first time in 31 years, Cincinnati, your Bengals have won a playoff game!”

The crowd at Paul Brown Stadium was deafening. Fans in attendance and at home were crying, screaming, drinking, or some combination of the three. A playoff victory three decades in the making had finally happened. After the game, Burrow looked like it was no big deal. He’s on to next week.

The fans believe in Burrow, though. They’ve believed in him since before he was drafted. There was never any doubt he was going to end the playoff drought. Cincinnati Bengals playoff wins were coming. It was inevitable.

Bengals Week 17 Position Grades

bengals week 17 position grades
David Dermer/AP Photo

The Cincinnati Bengals Week 17 Position Grades aren’t going to be particularly hard this week. Aside from a few nuances here and there, everyone had a great game! They were going to need it considering they were up against the AFC’s current No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs. David beat Goliath this week. So, yes, we’re going to have some fun with it.

Cincinnati Bengals Week 17 Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback Grade: A+

Technically, the Bengals quarterbacks’ Week 17 position grades are influenced by two players. Personally, I thought Brandon Allen did an A+ job of kneeling and spiking once Joe Burrow left the field of play due to slight knee soreness. Beyond that, Joe Burrow was nearly perfect for the second week in a row. Had I written a Week 16 Position Grades article, I may have had to invent a grade higher than A+. 

He didn’t have quite as legendary a game this week. But, he still went toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes and came away with a 76 percent completion rating for 446 yards and four touchdowns. He also was excellent at keeping the ball and running it when he needed to. I have absolutely no notes.

Running Back Grade: B

The Bengals didn’t elect to run the ball much against the Kansas City Chiefs this week. Perhaps it had something to do with the state of the Chiefs’ secondary. Regardless of the reason though, the running backs didn’t have many chances to make an impact this week. That said, Joe Mixon finished the game with 4.5 yards per touch and Samaje Perine finished with 7.0. When their numbers were called, they did their job. It wasn’t spectacular. But, it’s all you can really ask.

Wide Receiver Grade: A+

Oh my god. Ja’Marr Chase is not human. He just isn’t. He was doing that thing again where the Bengals offense needs a spark so he turns a routine reception into a field-spanning touchdown. That particular aspect looked like a young AJ Green. But, he’s so much more talented than that. He did have one weird looking drop on the day. But, you have to accept things like that happen sometimes when he turns around and drops 266 yards and three touchdowns. Seriously, what drop?

But, the Bengals have a lot of wide receivers. Just because Ja’Marr Chase had an A+ performance doesn’t mean the rest of the unit automatically gets plus marks in the Week 17 Position Grades. Don’t worry though. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd made their presence known, too. In fact, Boyd added a fourth touchdown to the unit’s total. When this unit plays like this, nobody can stop them. There just aren’t enough defensive backs.

Tight End Grade: B

I feel like I say this every week. The Bengals’ offense does not really feature tight ends. So, it’s hard to ever give this unit a particularly high grade. But, both tight ends were useful this week. CJ Uzomah added another weapon for Joe Burrow to utilize, just to keep the defense on their toes. He finished with a modest, but still respectable four catches for 32 yards. Drew Sample continued to be absent as a pass catcher. But, he was one of the Bengals’ better pass blockers per PFF (71.2).

Offensive Line Grade:  C+

Four sacks looks ugly. But, I feel it’s important to give this unit some credit in the Week 17 Position Grades. Yes, Burrow was hit 10 times on the day. But, that’s largely because Kansas City thought it was a good idea to blitz Joe Burrow all day. If you’re an NFL defensive coordinator reading this article, for some reason, don’t do that. It doesn’t work.

Jackson Carman, Isaiah Prince, and Trey Hopkins were all credited with quite a few of those hurries and pressures. But, Jonah Williams had an A+ day as a blocker, particularly in the running game. Same goes for Jackson Carman and Fred Johnson, in all of the five snaps he played.

At the end of the day, this unit is playing pretty average football. Some guys are trending generally above average, some are trending generally below average. But, none of them are awful. That seems to be enough for the Bengals to find ways to win, and that’s what matters.

Cincinnati Bengals Week 17 Position Grades: Defense

Defensive Line Grade: B+

When you have the ability to create pressure with four rushers, you have a massive advantage going into each game. The Bengals have that advantage with guys like Sam Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson, Larry Ogunjobi, BJ Hill, and DJ Reader all pushing the unit to perform at a high level every single week.

The defensive line was unable to actually bring Patrick Mahomes down for a sack this week.

Linebacker Grade: C+

Considering the circumstances, I feel like the linebacker unit deserves a lot of commendation in the Week 17 Position Grades. They had to overcome the loss of Germaine Pratt to COVID this week. Logan Wilson did return to the field for the first time in four weeks after his shoulder injury. But, he looked limited by that injury at times on the field. He did a pretty good job in pass coverage and run defense. But, his tackling left a lot to be desired. He completely whiffed on two of his eight tackling attempts and, at one point, looked like he just froze in the middle of a play while Patrick Mahomes got free.

Markus Bailey made up for Wilson’s tackling issues, though. He also played well in pass coverage. In fact, the two linebackers combined to hold Travis Kelce to only five catches for 25 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t perfect, but the linebackers overcame a lot of tough circumstances.

Cornerback Grade: B-

If it wasn’t for how dominant the Bengals’ defensive line has looked this year, I’d say the cornerback room has been the most improved unit on the defense this year. The addition of Chidobe Awuzie has been an absolute godsend for the Bengals. He allowed a passer rating of only 82.8 this week, recorded four stops. Mike Hilton and Eli Apple both let a couple of plays go on their end. But, on the whole, the unit played well this week when it really mattered.

Safety Grade: C

Jessie Bates was rough in coverage this week. In particular, when he had to cover Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardiman. But, when he did get to his man, he was damn near perfect tackling. Vonn Bell got picked on a bit in coverage too. But, like the linebackers, they held Travis Kelce down to a relatively harmless day. This game despite the entire city of Cincinnati being terrified of what the former UC Bearcat would do to this defense that tends to struggle against tight ends.

Special Teams Grades: B-

Had Kansas City’s kickoff return for a touchdown not been nullified by penalty, I would have had a lot more to say about this unit in the Week 17 Position Grades. But, all things considered, it was a pretty decent day for Darrin Simmons’ unit. There was virtually no excitement on punt and kick returns for Trent Taylor. But, after that debacle against the 49ers a few weeks ago, you have to take that.

Kevin Huber had an ok day punting. Although, he did kind of botch the opportunity to pin the Chiefs deep in their own territory when punting from the Chiefs’ 45. Evan McPherson wasn’t tested much as a field goal kicker, although he did convert the walk-off field goal. It was from 20 yards, but still. The one issue I have, though, is he had some really odd looking issues on kickoffs early in the game. Nothing to get up in arms about, but maybe worth keeping an eye on.

Coaching grade: B+

My god. The absolute balls on Zac Taylor and Lou Anarumo to call the game the way they did. First of all, Anarumo’s decision to zero blitz Patrick Mahomes in the red zone worked. But, I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a hell of a risk. Then, Zac Taylor’s decision to KEEP GOING FOR THE TOUCHDOWN ON FOURTH DOWN IN A TIE GAME ON THE BENGALS’ LAST POSSESSION WITH ONLY ONE TIMEOUT AND PATRICK MAHOMES ON THE OTHER SIDE DAMN NEAR GAVE ME A HEART ATTACK.

But, I also have to give credit where credit is due. The Chiefs kept making little mistakes that kept giving the Bengals more opportunities to attempt to move the ball ONE YARD. He got lucky in that the Chiefs ended up draining all their timeouts and the Bengals were able to run the clock out and walk off with a field goal. But, if either of those penalties not been called the Chiefs would have gotten the ball with 50-58 seconds left and only needing to get in field goal range. 

Luckily, that didn’t happen, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt in the Week 17 Position Grades. If the Bengals lost because he decided not to just take the damn points after getting stuffed FIVE TIMES IN A ROW, all hell would have broken loose. But, to be fair, the Bengals said they wanted to be an aggressive team. They’re proving that’s who they are, and it worked. Thank god.

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.