Generally I don’t like giving out grades when reflecting a player, a position or a team. I think grades are too generic based on arbitrary variables generally accepted as scientific-specific reasoning. When you got a "B" in class, you knew it was based on a percentage of questions you got right or wrong. Some mainstream writers throw grades around, but don’t define what constitutes that grade. An "A" obviously means playing great where an "F" means you’re playing really bad. Do you include "plus" or "minus"? In my mind, an "F" would be mean not playing or long term injury. Then you have to include the curve. Did a player lose a letter grade because he missed two games? Would that even be included in the final grade?
That’s why I generally steer clear of them. But I’m not avoiding my personal system of reflecting players, positions or the team in general. I have three: Expected, below expectation and above expectation. Yes, it’s still based on personal preference. But at least you know I’m not throwing letters and numbers out there as a meaningful grade. All I’m saying is if the player/position/team meets my expectation. At least you know there’s no scientific formula involved here and primarily based off my expectations.
THE OFFENSE – BELOW EXPECTATION
Going into the season, I felt this team could break the 10-win barrier. The offense, having returned every starter with some getting comfortable contract extensions, should have been gorgeous (think: Steve Irvin). Last season’s fourth ranked offense (26.3 points per game) is 12th this season scoring 21.9 points per game.
QUARTERBACK – BELOW EXPECTATION
As much as I’d like to positively spin Carson Palmer’s first half, I can’t. He admits his mechanics are off because he’s concerned about the knee by lifting his leg during the pass. Palmer has gone two games without a touchdown and thrown multiple touchdowns in only four games. He’s six percentage points off his completion rate from last season and has been sacked four more times than all of last season. Sure, you can blame the line all you want, but many are coverage sacks also.
Obviously he’s recovering from a nasty injury last January. You were reminded time and again that it’d take a full calendar year before Palmer was 100%. So in a way, I expected less Carson Palmer and more rushing. He’s actually on pace to throw more times this season than last. So much for the running game.
ONE BRIGHT SPOT: Palmer’s still recovering and with time, he’ll be back to his old self. That, by the way, is a lot of hope.
RUNNING BACK – BELOW EXPECTATION
Rudi Johnson is having the worst season of his career since taking over full time. He’s averaging 3.9 yards per carry and only 78.6 yards per game. He hasn’t been below 90 yards per game since 2003 when he split time with Corey Dillon. He’s failed to reach 20 carries in five games this season; his 2004 total. He missed 20 carries in six games last season (if you take out the fluffy Kansas City game). The only thing he’s on pace to reach is his touchdowns (6). He had 12 rushing touchdowns in each of his past two seasons.
If there was ever a deserving "F" – if I did such things – it would be Chris Perry. Trust me, I’m not being harsh. But he’s missed five games and hasn’t made the impact I thought he would. He’s touched the ball on offense 10 times and now has many fans terrified to death on kickoff return. And yes, Kenny Watson is still on the team.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: When Rudi Johnson rushes 20 times or more, the Bengals are undefeated (3-0).
The Bengals had the best turnover ratio (+24) last season. They gave the ball away 20 times and took the ball away 44 times. This season, the Bengals have a +2 turnover ratio.
WIDE RECEIVERS – BELOW EXPECTATION
Chris Henry missed three games for "actions detrimental" to the sport and the team. T.J. Houshmandzadeh missed two games at the start of the season from a bum heel. Chad Johnson hasn’t missed a game yet, but he’s playing the role of Waldo. Tab Perry and Antonio Chatman are out for the season and Kelley Washington has missed the past two games. Good lord. And this was a strong suit of the team?
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: None.
OFFENSIVE LINE – BELOW EXPECTAION
You can’t argue against the numbers. Rudi Johnson’s yards-per-carry are down. Carson Palmer’s sacks are up. Injury and poor play has forced the team to play musical chairs. It’s been horrific if you ask me. They’ve played some good games (thinking Carolina) but have also been dreadful. An area on the team that saw three very comfortable contract extensions has really been disappointing – if not the most disappointing this season.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: Having a second left tackle on the team that’s also had some time at guard provides plenty of confidence when someone goes down.
LINEBACKERS – BELOW EXPECTATION
I figured Odell Thurman’s return would energize this defense and give some attitude to the rush defense. Nope. Jack has to go out and get drunk and drive. Now he’s out for the season. David Pollack is out for the season after fracturing his C6 vertebrae. Like Thurman, it’s not even certain he’ll ever return. Brian Simmons, to his credit, has done well, but is now dealing with injury that’s limited his time. Rashad Jeanty has been out four games leaving Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller as the only linebackers to play each week this season.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: The emergence and exponential development of Ahmad Brooks.
DEFENSIVE LINE – EXPECTED
I suppose the percentages suggest someone would be tagged with an "expected" label eventually. That is depending on your pre-season expectations of Sam Adams. Obviously, he’s been a bit disappointing. But so has Bryan Robinson. However, Justin Smith and Robert Geathers, as individuals, are having sensational seasons – especially Smith. Smith is on pace for over 100 tackles and 13 sacks. He’s also been asked to play in zone coverage. He’s knocked down a pass, forced a fumble and recorded 3.5 "stuffs".
Robert Geathers is having a similar season. While his on-pace numbers aren’t the same – mostly due to defensive packages – Geathers has impressed the heck out of me this season. I knew Jumpy would be serviceable, but he’s likely to become a mainstay. Geathers is on pace for 12 sacks and has recorded three stuffs this year. I’m also excited to see what Domata Peko will be able to do when given more playing time.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: The play of Smith, Geathers and Peko.
SECONDARY – EXPECTED
Take out Tory James and this becomes "above expectations". While the turnovers aren’t there, Deltha O’Neal is limiting the opposition’s number one receiver. Madieu Williams is at the top of the tackle stat sheet and second with two interceptions. His run support has been great. Kevin Kaesviharn leads the team with three interceptions – including two game saving picks.
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: Johnathan Joseph is really impressing me. He’s a hard hitting cornerback that will come up and smack the running back if they dare enter his zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS – ABOVE EXPECTATION
Kyle Larson has dumped 17 punts inside the twenty – that’s third best in the NFL. The opponent’s punt return team is averaging 5.7 yards per return – that’s best in the NFL. He’s getting better every week and this is, by far, his best season to date. Shayne Graham remains consistent kicking 14 of 16 successful field goals. His longest, 51 yards, is two yards longer than his season best 49-yard field goal last year. His kickoffs aren’t that great though. He’s ranked 25th in the NFL with a 63.5 yard average. The team really needs to improve on their 27th ranked punt return (6.9 yards per) and their 28th ranked kickoff return team (19.7 yards per).