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.

Week 11 Bengals Position Grades

Week 11 Bengals Position Grades
Chris Unger – Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals got back on track after their bye this week with a 32-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. The Week 11 Bengals position grades were a bit tough to formulate because it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. But, all around, it was good enough to get the job done. It’s really hard to knock a team, or a unit, when they achieve that goal.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: B+

It wasn’t the most spectacular game in the world for Joe Burrow. But, at the end of the day, he played well enough to lead the offense to 30+ points. He did a pretty good job recognizing when he needed to run the ball and finding the lanes to do so effectively.

He only managed to throw for 148 yards. But, he completed 20 of his 29 passes and found Ja’Marr Chase for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. From that point on, the Bengals looked fully in control of the game and the result wasn’t in doubt.

So, you could describe Burrow’s performance this week as… unspectacular, but clutch. He also avoided throwing any interceptions for the first time since week 4, and only the third time all season. When Joe Burrow plays concise, efficient football… the Bengals tend to win. But, I can’t give him an ‘A’ in the Week 11 Bengals position grades with the limited production he had.

Running Back grade: B+

By the end of the day, Joe Mixon looked like a huge reason why the Bengals won this game. It’s not necessarily false, but it took him a while to get to that point. In the first half, he was only averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Not nearly good enough for the Bengals to win. But, he really got it going in the second half, finishing with 123 yards on the ground and 4.1 yards per carry. Furthermore, his two touchdowns came at critical turning points in the game.

Samaje Perine wasn’t nearly as effective, however. He totaled 1.5 yards per run on the day. He wasn’t really needed because Joe Mixon managed to get things going in the second half. But, Perine had a mostly quiet day. Ultimately, he made more special teams tackles on the day than first down plays.

It was nice to see Chris Evans back in the lineup, though. He only caught one pass for seven yards on a drive that ended in a punt. But, he was occasionally brought in on certain packages that gave the Bengals a much more dynamic look on offense than they had without him.

Wide Receiver grade: C+

It seems like every receiver on the roster crawled out of the woodwork to get involved in the passing game this week. It was particularly encouraging to see Tyler Boyd get featured so much after struggling to make an impact against the Browns. Tee Higgins made some plays too, so it felt like the Bengals didn’t need an all-time performance from Ja’Marr Chase to develop a solid passing attack.

That said, the passing attack still never really developed. Receivers struggled in contested catch situations all night. Yeah, you could make the argument that a lot of the targets were broken up by good defensive play or were difficult to catch. But, there were way too many missed opportunities from this unit.

It’s really a testament to the Bengals’ offensive potential that they managed to put up 30+ points despite their highly touted receiving corps receiving such an average grade in the Week 11 Bengals position grades.

Tight End grade: C-

Drew Sample and CJ Uzomah were largely absent in the passing game this week. Although, Uzomah did convert a key third down late in the third quarter. The ensuing drive eventually led to the Bengals taking their first double-digit lead of the game.

However, the real impact in this game from the tight ends was the blocking. Drew Sample was excellent as a lead blocker. He did well in both the H-back role and simply blocking from the tight end spot. You could make the argument that Joe Mixon probably wouldn’t have gotten going in the second half if Sample didn’t lay down some really strategically advantageous blocks.

Offensive line grade: C+

Don’t look now, but the Bengals’ offensive line has been doing a really great job lately of not committing penalties. Quite often, offensive line penalties can be some of the biggest momentum sucks over the course of a game. So, as much as you can point out certain flaws in their game, you have to respect their discipline.

That said, Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff got worked all day. Joe Burrow was constantly dealing with pressure in his face and it was largely due to problems coming from the tackles. That’s particularly problematic because the tackles are supposed to be the ones we can rely on this year.

Joe Burrow’s fumble on the first drive happened almost entirely because Riley Reiff couldn’t handle Yannick Ngokoue. The offensive line’s Week 11 Bengals position grades are largely representative of those issues.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: B+

The way Sam Hubbard closed out that game on the Raiders’ final meaningful drive was a work of art. To just completely, single handedly turn the Raiders’ chances on their heads and break their hearts with back to back sacks and a fumble recovery. Oh by the way, Trey Hendrickson was the one who forced the fumble. 

The Bengals only came down with two sacks on the day. But, they mostly kept Josh Jacobs and Kenyon Drake in check. There were still a few issues with missed tackles on the day. But, they made the ones they needed to. This unit’s Week 11 Bengals position grades are much improved from last week because they were mostly where they needed to be when they needed to be there. It was a huge step up from the last two games.

Linebacker grade: C

Another unit that, on the whole, you could argue largely did their job when they needed to, was the linebackers. That is, other than in coverage. It was painfully obvious the Bengals were missing Akeem Davis-Gaither, their best linebacker in coverage. Darren Waller finished the day with 116 yards on seven receptions.

In fact, the Raiders needed only three plays to put together their only touchdown drive of the game. How did they do it? Back-to-back 20-yard passes to Darren Waller and another one to Fabian Moreau, who Logan Wilson completely lost in coverage. It was a weakness the Raiders probably should have exploited more. Luckily they didn’t, but it could be an issue the Bengals need to keep an eye on going forward.

Cornerback grade: A

Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple had one of their best games of the season this week. There were a few bad plays sprinkled in here and there during the game. So, it wasn’t perfect. But, Derek Carr only completed five passes for 50 yards to wide receivers this week. One of those was a weird 20 yard pass to Zay Jones on broken coverage. But, everything else went to Hunter Renfrow, who only averaged 7.5 yards per catch.

Then, there was Eli Apple’s beautifully timed interception. It was like a gift from the football gods. I remember it in my head as though I watched it in slow motion. Did Eli Apple really just make one of the most clutch defensive plays I’ve seen from the Bengals all year?

Yes, yes he did. The Bengals capitalized on that interception with a touchdown when the Raiders had brought the game within just a couple of drives earlier. For as much crap as I’ve given him all year, I have to give him a shoutout in the Week 11 Bengals position grades.

Safety grade: B

What the hell is going on with Jessie Bates this year? Is his contract situation so distracting that he can’t play coverage? Part of the reason for Darren Waller’s big day was Jessie Bates’ lack of coverage. Going into this season, everyone in their right mind would have pegged him as the Bengals’ unquestioned superstar on defense. But, he hasn’t lived up to the hype even a little this year.

Vonn Bell was much more effective. He led the team in tackles and did a great job of cleaning up plays over top before they broke for long gains. A big reason why the Bengals only allowed one touchdown this week was because he played his role very well. It’s a big part of why I didn’t grade this unit lower in the Week 11 Bengals position grades.

Special teams grades: A+

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson joined Josh Scobee, Morten Andersen, Neil Rackers, and Sebastian Janikowski as the only kickers in NFL history to convert three 50+ yard kicks in a game. I don’t care if it happened in a closed stadium. That’s still damn impressive and was a huge reason the Bengals won this game. Sure, the Bengals would have still won by 10 points even without those field goals.

But, until the fourth quarter, it was basically the only reason they were winning. What’s even weirder is he capped all that off by missing an extra point late in the fourth quarter. But, he made up for it by converting a 47-yard field goal. I don’t get it, but I’ll take it.

The Bengals’ special teams coverage was absolutely lethal this week. The Raiders regularly started behind the 20-yard line this week. It was partially due to questionable returning decisions, but it was also because the Bengals’ special teams was all over the ball carrier. Darrin Simmons’ unit gave the Bengals a really underrated advantage this week.

Coaching grade: A

This might not be a direct representation of how the coaches performed in the game itself. But, I just have to point out how nice it is to watch a Bengals team look ready and prepared for an opponent after a bye week. Too many times we watched Marvin Lewis coached teams in Cincinnati look like they were hoping for an extra week of vacation after byes.

The Bengals came into this game needing to be ready to go and ready to make an impact. They did just that and took back control of a playoff seed in the process.

You really have to give credit to Zac Taylor’s staff for putting together a really effective game script and executing it as well as they did. Lou Anarumo’s defensive unit, for all its flaws, came out and played a really solid game. Yes, they let Darren Waller shred them. But, they didn’t allow much else. The Raiders were only able to find the endzone once this week, and the offense went over 30. That’s a winning formula if there ever was one.

Midseason Position Grades for Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals midseason position grades
Gregory Shamus – Getty Images

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

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals Midseason Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: A-

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

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

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

Running Back grade: B+

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

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

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

Wide Receiver grade: B

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

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

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

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

Tight End grade: B-

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

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

Offensive line grade: C-

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

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

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

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: B-

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

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

Linebacker grade: C+

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

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

Cornerback grade: C+

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

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

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

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

Safety grade: C+

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

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

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

Special teams grades: A

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

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

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

Coaching grade: B

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

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

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

Bengals position grades
Kirk Irwin – Getty Images

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Offense

Quarterback grade: D+

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

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

Running Back grade: B

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

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

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

Wide Receiver grade: F

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

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

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

Tight End grade: B+

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

Offensive line grade: D+

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

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

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

Cincinnati Bengals Position Grades: Defense

Defensive line grade: C-

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

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

Linebacker grade: D+

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

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

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

Cornerback grade: C-

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

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

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

Safety grade: D-

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

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

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

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

Special teams grades: B

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

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

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

Coaching grade: D+

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

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

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