For the first time in team history, the Cincinnati Bengals are 7-0! It wasn't the easiest or cleanest victory, but it was a victory nonetheless and it resulted in certain players being graded very highly by our friends at Pro Football Focus. Although there was plenty of variation across the players, some of the best were: Kevin Zeitler (+3.9), Leon Hall (+2.8), Reggie Nelson (+2.6), Adam Jones (+2.4), and Carlos Dunlap (+2.2).
For the first time this season, Andy Dalton received a negative grade for his efforts in the Bengals' excursion to Pittsburgh (-2.9). You could argue whether or not this grading is fair, due to his efforts to put together a scoring drive at the end of the game and pass the ball to A.J. Green for the go-ahead touchdown. But, he only completed three of his eight passes over 10 yards for a total of 81 yards. It was a rough day for Dalton, but his efforts were enough to lead the team to victory and get the win.
However, we would be remiss if we ignored the help that Dalton received to make that scoring drive happen. A.J. Green (+1.9) had a very good day overall, putting up 118 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. The biggest play of the entire day came on a go route that picked up 38 yards and helped the Bengals to maintain enough momentum to keep the game tilted toward a Bengals victory in the end. He was a ball hawk in short yardage situations and kept the offense on-point, capping it off with the game winner with 2:57 left to go.
Despite Jeremy Hill's inability to shake his slow start off his shoulder, there hasn't been much difference between him and Giovani Bernard this season - in terms of impact on the offense. Through eight weeks, Bernard (+2.8) and Hill (+2.9) have earned similar grades, and that has to do with overall impact. Purely as a rusher, I think we can all agree Bernard is having the better year (+6.0 for Bernard, +2.3 for Hill). That didn't show this week as Hill rushed for 60 yards, five times Bernard's 12. Though, Hill had 15 attempts and Bernard had only one. But, as a pass blocker, Hill has generally kept the pressure off Dalton (+0.7), whereas Bernard has been routinely beat (-2.6).
The running game was virtually non-existent against the Steelers. Giovani Bernard only carried the ball once, although he did manage to bust out a 12 yard run on that particular play. Jeremy Hill was useful when handed the ball (4.0 yards per carry), but he wasn't handed the ball often. The majority of this game relied on Dalton's ability to throw the ball, which Bernard and Hill helped with, recording 30 yards receiving between the duo.
It's starting to become unfair to lump the whole offensive line together in terms of impact and performance. This is because certain members of the offensive line have been doing absolutely fantastic this year. Kevin Zeitler (+9.2) and Clint Boling (+8.5) are the 12th and 14th highest graded guards in the NFL respectively and had good games against the Steelers to boot. Both Boling (+6.6) and Zeitler (+4.9) have graded very well in run blocking, and they haven't been bad in pass blocking either (Boling +0.7 Zeitler +4.1).
However, there are still certain members of the offensive line that have dragged down the unit's performance as a whole, particularly Russell Bodine. Bodine graded poorly when blocking for the run (-0.5) but he was particularly bad as a pass blocker, giving up 2 QB hurries, and wound up with a very negative grade on the day (-2.3). Tyler Eifert also did poorly as a pass blocker, giving up a QB hurry, but he performed very well as a run blocker (+1.1).
Strangely enough, it was the Bengals' secondary, not the defensive line, that carried the defense this week. Leon Hall (+2.8) gave up a two yard touchdown pass, but he only allowed three of his other five targets to be caught for 28 yards. All of the passes in his direction were on the money, so the two that didn't connect were defensed directly by him. Reggie Nelson had the unfortunate assignment of covering Antonio Brown more than any other player, but grabbed two interceptions out of the three times he was targeted.
Speaking of the defensive line, Geno Atkins was oddly pedestrian this week. Anyone who watched the game will read that and think "But he ate Ben Roethlisberger at a critical time! How is that pedestrian?!" Well, he received a pedestrian grade for his efforts from Pro Football Focus (+0.2). Yes, he came alive at the perfect time for the Bengals, but, he only recorded a single sack and a single QB hurry in 44 pass rush snaps. In the NFL, you need to play for 60 minutes, and Atkins only performed at his level for about three. Carlos Dunlap had a good game on the defensive line, though. He didn't record a sack, but he did hurry the QB three times and stop two running plays on his way to a positive overall grade (+2.2).
Finally, how can we talk about the defense without talking about the first game back for Vontaze Burfict? It wasn't perfect, but it was close to exactly what the Bengals need to see out of their linebackers. For starters, he didn't have a single missed tackle. He gathered a low run defense grade (-0.7) due to only five tackles and two stops on 37 snaps, but whenever he got to the ball carrier he took them down. That is a lesson the Bengals' linebackers have seemed completely in the dark on all season.