The Bengals' win against the struggling 49ers secured the team a fifth playoff berth in as many years. It also put the team within one win or one Steelers loss from clinching the AFC North. Although there were a few particularly bad individual performances from players in the second half of the game, there were a lot of particularly good performances that helped the team to build a lead that they never lost. Some of the best performances this week were from Geno Atkins (+5.1), Vontaze Burfict (+4.7), AJ McCarron (+2.6), Andrew Whitworth (+2.0), and Reggie Nelson (+1.9). Atkins is the highest graded Bengal almost every week, if you haven't noticed yet.
As well as Andrew Whitworth and AJ McCarron played, the only other offensive player to receive a positive grade this week was Marvin Jones (+0.2). A.J. Green's early 37 yard catch was exciting and looked to be setting the stage for a high tempo offensive attack. Unfortunately, it was the only catch he made on the day. He was virtually shut down for the rest of the game, being targeted by McCarron only once on the way to a negative overall grade on the day. He didn't play for most of the second half due to being sat as precaution due to falling in practice and hurting his back on Saturday.
It was a really bad day for the Bengals' offensive line when blocking for the run. Overall, the unit recorded a particularly awful grade in run blocking (-25.8), and the only lineman to record a positive grade was Andrew Whitworth (+1.5). As a result, they only recorded 68 yards rushing on 36 carries (1.9 yards per run). This was particularly problematic in the later stages of the game when the team had a sizable lead and needed to chew clock as the 49ers attempted a comeback that brought them within 10 points.
It wasn't all about the problems in the run game, though. The offensive line's problems pass blocking were in full display as McCarron was sacked four times. This was largely due to Russel Bodine's terrible game (-5.2), but it has been a problem all season for him. His -23.3 season grade is the fifth lowest of 40 qualifying NFL centers.
However, in spite of the Bengals' issues with the offensive line, it appears that McCarron works best when under pressure. He was blitzed on eight of his 27 dropbacks this week, which resulted in five completions on six attempts for 54 yards and a touchdown. That's good for a quarterback rating of 143.8 and a PFF grade of +1.3 on those eight plays alone.
For the most part, the most prominent defensive players for the Bengals played really well this week. Vontaze Burfict, in particular, recorded his fourth straight game without a negative grade in pass coverage (+2.3). He was targeted nine times, but only allowed four catches for 40 yards while also recording an interception. It was his highest graded game in pass coverage since Week 11 of the 2013 season.
Geno Atkins continued to perform extremely well in a season that has been a very strong rebound for the Pro Bowl defensive tackle. He had two sacks, two QB hurries, and three stops against the run on top of four total tackles. It was good for a +5.1 overall grade which was the fourth highest among interior defensive linemen this week. Things didn't go quite as well for Michael Johnson in the pass rush (-3.7), but his grade in run defense (+2.8) contributed strongly to a defensive line unit that generally had a good game.
Reggie Nelson is putting together a career season in a contract year, and it was on full display this week as he only allowed one catch for two yards on six targets. He also recorded a pass defensed. He was PFF's sixth highest graded safety in coverage this week as a result.
The Bengals' punt and kick coverage performed well this week. Although they did allow one 17 yard punt return from Bruce Ellington and a pair of 30+ yard kick returns, they rarely let any runs go too far. Rex Burkhead (+2.0) and Troy Hill (+1.5) both had very good days on special teams. Hill recording three special teams tackles and Rex Burkhead had an assisted tackle too.
As frustrating as certain members of the Bengals' offensive line can seem this season, the unit as a whole has performed fairly well so far. Through 15 weeks, they have allowed 119 total QB pressures on 500 snaps. That's the third lowest number of pressures in the NFL, which compliments the fourth highest pass blocking efficiency in the NFL (81.6 percent). Bengals quarterbacks are recording some of the fastest release times in the NFL, but it's a system that works for the team's offense.