The Bengals returned back to Cincinnati this week for their home opener and escaped with a 24-19 win over the San Diego Chargers. It wasn't always pretty, but they got the job done! This victory came about as a result of generally good efforts from every player, but consistently great performances from the offensive line.
Not everyone performed great for the Bengals this week. For example, Mike Nugent's terrible 36 yard field goal miss and inability to record more than two touchbacks on five kickoffs resulted in him being graded as the worst kicker in the NFL this week (-1.8). However, Geno Atkins (+5.1), Russell Bodine, (+4.8), Andre Smith (+4.6), Clint Boling (+4.4), Andrew Whitworth (+3.6) all recorded very good games and were the Bengals' top five rated players this week.
Following up a very good game in Oakland, Andy Dalton came out against the Chargers to record an outstanding stat line of 214 yards passing and three touchdowns on 16 completions for a quarterback rating of 126.1. Dalton's numbers were boosted by the stellar play from his offensive line, as well as a generally good performance from his arsenal of weapons. Dalton's three touchdown passes were caught by three separate receivers (A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Marvin Jones). That's also including a strange but, ultimately, exciting pass play to rookie offensive tackle Jake Fisher that went for 31 yards.
Dalton's five starting offensive linemen combined for a stellar overall pass blocking grade (+20.8). With that kind of pass blocking, it's no wonder Dalton is looking good to start the season. If they can maintain this level of pass protection, the Bengals' offense could be one of the best in the NFL.
Jeremy Hill played very badly in the first half of the Bengals' game against the Chargers, totaling only 3.9 yards per carry. He had two key fumbles, and barely made any impact on the passing game in the process. As a result, he was benched in the second half in favor of Giovani Bernard who completely went off for 123 yards on 20 carries. He never managed to find the end zone, but it was enough for a very favorable rushing grade (+1.6), although he wasn't very effective in the passing game (+0.2).
If you read the Bengals-Chargers PFF preview from Sunday, you'll remember that one of the keys to the game was to dominate the trenches. The Bengals stifled Keenan Allen and ran the rock pretty well (Jeremy Hill's awful game notwithstanding), but where the team REALLY played at their best was dominating the trenches - particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
After struggling mightily against the Raiders in Week 1 (-1.2 pass blocking; -3.2 run blocking), Andre Smith was graded extremely well against the Chargers' defense this week (+4.6). In fact, he and Andrew Whitworth (+3.6) ranked as the first and third highest graded linemen in the NFL this week, respectively.
On that note, Russell Bodine (+4.8) finally broke his run of bad form to be rated as the highest graded center in the NFL. Clint Boling (+4.4) continued a great start to his season, being rated as PFF's third highest rated guard alongside Kevin Zeitler (+3.5) who was rated as PFF's fifth highest rated guard. As a whole, the Bengals' offensive line currently leads the NFL in pass blocking efficiency, allowing only six hurries in 62 snaps. On top of that, Jake Fisher is now catching passes. If they can continue to play this well, Andy Dalton will see very little pressure throughout the season, which as PFF points out, "can only be a good thing."
On the flip side of the Bengals' dominance in the trenches, most of the Bengals' defensive line absolutely manhandled the weakened San Diego offensive line. Geno Atkins (+5.1) recorded another fantastic performance this week, racking up three tackles, two hurries, three QB hits, and a sack. Wallace Gillberry (+2.8) only made an appearance on 19 pass rushes, but on those plays he recorded two stops, a sack, a QB hit, and a hurry.
The only Bengals' pass rusher to truly struggle was Michael Johnson (-1.2 rushing the pass). Johnson's only significant stat in the pass rush was a single QB hurry, although he was instrumental in stopping the run, recording three tackles (two solo) and a tackle for a loss.
Reggie Nelson and Rey Maualuga combined for five missed tackles on the day, but the Bengals' linebackers combined for a total of three turnovers on the Chargers. Chris Carter and Emmanuel Lamur both recovered fumbles at key times, while Vincent Rey recorded the game-sealing interception. According to PFF, the Bengals currently have the sixth best defense in the NFL.