The Bengals received a much-needed confidence boost on Sunday in the form of a 31-17 rout over the division rival Cleveland Browns. The win combined with losses from the Ravens and Steelers gives the Bengals a huge boost to their playoff chances as well. With the schedule calming down significantly from this point onward, the Bengals are tied for second place in the AFC North with the 3-4 Ravens and only a game behind the 4-3 Steelers. This presents a golden opportunity for the Bengals to build some momentum and turn their season around after a big win like they earned this week.
The gravity of the Bengals’ win was reflected in this week’s round of player grades and analysis from our friends at Pro Football Focus. On the offensive side of the ball, the Bengals looked as good as they have looked in a really long time. They saw excellent grades from Kevin Zeitler (88.8), A.J. Green (88.7), Andrew Whitworth (85.3), Russell Bodine (79.7), and Jeremy Hill (78.0).
The Bengals’ defense didn’t perform nearly as well on the other side of the ball, although it was still enough to get the job done. The unit was led by Dre Kirkpatrick (80.7), Karlos Dansby (78.5), Vincent Rey (77.9), Carlos Dunlap (75.7), and Shawn Williams (72.8). Against a decidedly average offense on their sixth quarterback of the season, you would have liked to see more high-end performances out of the defense, but we’ll take what we can get.
There were a lot of exciting storylines from the Bengals’ offense this week. But, perhaps the most exciting was the resurgence of the Bengals’ running game. Hill, in particular, ended up with his highest grade of the season (78.0) and the fourth highest among running backs in the NFL this week. It wasn’t as good of a game this week from Giovani Bernard (58.8), but it didn’t matter as Hill put together 168 yards and a touchdown on only nine carries.
It was a tale of two running backs as Hill absolutely outplayed Bernard in every aspect. Hill recorded 126 yards after contact, compared to Bernard’s 34. In addition, Bernard recorded a pitiful elusiveness rating (0.0), which was completely upstaged by Hill’s mind blowing score (636.4). No other running back in the NFL even came close to Hill’s elusiveness this week.
Part of the reason the Bengals were able to run so well was the performance of Kevin Zeitler, who graded as the best guard in the NFL this week (88.8). That grade had a lot to do with the second highest run blocking grade of his career (90.5), but it helped that he didn’t allow a single pressure in the passing game either. After an inconsistent start to the 2016 season, Zeitler is beginning to consistently perform well week in and week out.
Zeitler may have recorded the highest grade on the team this week, but A.J. Green came extremely close with a performance for the ages that was marred by an illegal block above the waist early in the game. Had he not committed that penalty, his discipline grade wouldn’t have suffered and he might have rated as the highest wide receiver in the NFL this week.
Still, Green’s 169 yards and a miracle Hail Mary touchdown catch on eight targets and eight receptions were enough to give him the second highest grade among wide receivers this week (88.7), behind only Julio Jones (91.6). He has been so consistent this year that he currently boasts an astounding 2.81 yards per route run. The last time he performed that well consistently, he led the NFL with 2.96 in 2014.
The Bengals defense is studded with stars and talent, but still gave up 17 points to a reeling Browns offense that threw their sixth quarterback of the season, Kevin Hogan, into the fire after Cody Kessler went down with a concussion. Hogan was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but didn’t make it through final cuts and was signed to the Browns’ practice squad.
He has only been on the Browns’ active roster since Week 6, so the fact that the Bengals allowed him to put up 100 yards on 12 completions and 104 yards rushing on seven carries doesn’t bode well.
One of the biggest problems for the defense has been talented players not playing up to their potential. For example, defensive end Carlos Dunlap looked good as a pass rusher this week (three QB hits, four QB hurries, and eight QB pressures), recording an excellent pass rush productivity grade (20.2). But, he recorded an awful grade against the run (33.2) after recording only a single stop and missing a tackle. He has been the fifth highest graded edge defender in the NFL this season, but he was only the 27th highest rated 4-3 defensive end this week.
Another example of a player who is normally good but hurt the Bengals this week was defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He weighed in as the second highest graded interior defender after four weeks this season, but he has been largely absent over the last few weeks. His abysmal overall grade (38.9) was his worst since Week 16 of the 2014 season and came as a result of only recording four QB pressures and three QB hits on the game. That was his entire statline. He didn’t record a single tackle through the game and whiffed multiple times against the run.
The Bengals cornerbacks have been an issue this season. In particular, Dre Kirkpatrick recorded an awful game in New England last week. In his defense, he graded well this week (80.7), due to only allowing four receptions for 21 yards on seven targets. He also graded well against the run (71.8). But, still, he and the majority of the other cornerbacks have underperformed so severely this season that second year cornerback and the 65th highest graded cornerback this year (72.9), Josh Shaw, is leading the unit.