Four weeks into the season, and the Bengals have already acquired four wins. This week, the win came against a Kansas City Chiefs team that looked absolutely helpless against the Bengals' stellar quarterback play and high-pressure defensive line. The Bengals saw some great play from a lot of familiar faces, but also some less expected players, the best of which were Andy Dalton (+4.2), Geno Atkins (+2.3), Emmanuel Lamur (+2.0), Jeremy Hill (+1.7), and Darqueze Dennard (+1.7).
For years, Andy Dalton has carried around the ugly "Bad Andy" persona; like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Bruce Banner and the Hulk. Now, it seems that he has shed "Bad Andy" and synthesized his talent and drive to create a great quarterback. Over the course of the season, Dalton has acquired a very positive cumulative grade for his efforts (+12.0). That's his second best four game stretch in his career, behind only the team's final four games of the 2013 regular season (+15.5).
Against the Chiefs, his 70 percent completion rating, 321 yards, and lone touchdown were good for a 127.1 QB rating and a great overall grade from PFF (+4.2). He also completed all three of his intermediate passes to the middle of the field, which accounted for 95 yards alone. If he keeps this up, he could wind up in the MVP conversation, and all this talk about the Bengals as Super Bowl dark horse candidates might turn out to be true.
Giovani Bernard averaged a decent 4.8 yards per carry on 13 runs, but was very successful when running between center Russel Bodine and right guard Kevin Zeitler (9.5 yards per carry). He also found the endzone for the first time this season, despite fullback Ryan Hewitt receiving the worst run blocking grade of his career (-3.1). Hewitt's day was actually so bad that PFF ranked him as the worst fullback in the NFL this week, due to allowing three tackles for two yards or less.
Jeremy Hill (+1.7) finally came alive this week, after three games of either playing poorly or hardly playing at all. He recorded more touchdowns this week (three) than he had the rest of the season combined (two). He only carried the ball nine times for 40 yards (4.4 yards per carry), but he made his time in the game count. The Bengals seem fairly comfortable splitting time between Hill and Bernard at running back for now, but if Hill keeps it up he could win the majority of the reps back, though Bernard is performing at a remarkable level.
There wasn't a lot to discuss in terms of offensive line play, other than how well Russell Bodine and Kevin Zeitler were blocking for Bernard. The main take away from the offensive line this week is the fact Andy Dalton was not sacked, hit, or pressured throughout the entire game. Granted, this had a lot to do with Dalton's ability to scramble around and extend the life of plays, but let's not take credit away from the offensive line.
Another important take away from this unit was as a whole, the running game averaged 4.8 yards per carry, despite Ryan Hewitt's awful day (-2.9). Granted, Bernard is known for making something out of nothing, but every individual player who ran the football this week (Bernard, Hill, Dalton, and Marvin Jones), all averaged more than 4 yards per carry. That's something to take note of, and it doesn't happen without some good blocks from the big guys in the trenches.
What would this team do without the defensive line? We saw what happened in a 2014 season that left much to be desired, but Andy Dalton can't do it all himself, despite how well he is playing lately. This week, the defensive line recorded 27 total pressures (QB sacks, hits, and hurries) on 57 Chiefs passing plays. Michael Johnson's 6 pressures (one sack, three QB hits, two hurries) was the best of any Bengals' defender, but Geno Atkins (two sack, one QB hit, two hurries) and Domata Peko (two sacks, two QB hits) made their presence known to Alex Smith as well.
And then there's Carlos Dunlap, who ranks as the fourth most productive pass rusher among 4-3 DEs in the NFL this season. His 17 total pressures (all coming from the left side) ranked as the most of any Bengals' defensive lineman this week.
The rest of the Bengals' defense wasn't as effective. Although Lamur (+2.0) had a good game and Dennard (+1.7) played well in his limited time (30 snaps, four tackles, one pass defensed), there were some pretty significantly bad outings for Bengals' defenders.
Dre Kirkpatrick(-3.4) currently ranks as the second worst cornerback in the NFL (-9.8 cumulative), and it really showed this week. Kirkpatrick was absolutely shredded by Jeremy Maclin on Sunday, allowing seven receptions and 122 yards on 10 targets, five of which went to Maclin for 104 yards (55 yards after the catch). Not once did Kirkpatrick manage to disrupt any of the passes to any receiver he was covering.
Lamur had a good game (+2.0), recording three tackles and a pass defended, with virtually no missed tackles, which have become a huge problem for the undrafted fourth year linebacker. But, that was not echoed among other linebackers. Vincent Rey has been particularly average this year, playing 279 of 282 defensive snaps, yet never scoring above +0.1 or below -0.5 in all four games. This week, he led the team in tackles (15) with one of them resulting in a loss of yards for the Chiefs, but he made little impact otherwise.