It was a heart-pounding, stressful start to the 2016 NFL season for the Cincinnati Bengals. The team pulled things together for a second half comeback and an opening week victory over what looks to be a strong New York Jets squad.
Given the rough start to the game and the sheer fact that the Bengals’ offensive line gave up seven sacks, it shows just how impressive the best players were. Pulling out a win under those circumstances is a testament to the hard work put in by some of the best performers, quantified by some excellent grades from Pro Football Focus this week. On offense, we saw standout performances from A.J. Green (93.0), Clint Boling (81.0), Andrew Whitworth (79.3), Brandon LaFell (77.6), and C.J. Uzomah (77.0). On defense, the unit was led by Josh Shaw (84.8), followed by Geno Atkins (82.7), Carlos Dunlap (77.2), George Iloka (76.9), and Adam Jones (76.6). Who would have thought that Uzomah and Shaw would be among the Bengals’ best players in Week 1?
A.J. Green proved why he is considered to be one of the best pass catchers in the NFL with a dominating performance over the legendary Darrelle Revis. He received the highest grade among all receivers in the NFL, partially due to an astounding average of five yards per route run. He also averaged an incredible 15.0 yards per catch and 13.8 yards per target.
In fact, of his 12 catches, he caught eight directly against Revis. His biggest catch of the game, which went for 54 yards and a touchdown, also came against Revis, although, Green was double-teamed by Revis and Jets safety Marcus Gilchrist on the play.
As incredible of a day as Green had against the Jets, he wasn’t the only Bengals receiver to look great. Brandon LaFell looked great in his debut, albeit in the shadow of Green’s monster 180-yard, one touchdown day. LaFell nearly broke the 100-yard mark on the day with 91 yards on four targets, all four of which he caught. 43 of those 90 yards came after the catch, which is an average of 10.8 yards after each catch. If he can continue to put up numbers like that, the Bengals’ wide receiver corps will look scary.
Interestingly enough, the Bengals actually didn’t have many issues at the tight end position, despite missing Tyler Eifert. Backup tight end C.J. Uzomah was forced into action due to the injury to Eifert and ended up being the sixth highest graded player at his position in the NFL in Week 1. Tyler Kroft did return, but was not targeted once in the passing game. Uzomah made up for it by recording 59 yards on two separate catches, receiving a good grade from PFF (68.6). He also graded well as a run blocker (81.8). As a pass blocker, he graded well (71.5) and achieved an impressive feat of not allowing a single pressure, despite how well the Jets’ defensive line played.
Despite the atrocious play of certain offensive linemen not named Boling or Whitworth, Andy Dalton finished the game with a pretty good grade from PFF (75.0). The sheer number of passing options who performed well helped, although he put up a much better passer rating when not facing pressure (134.6) than when he did (47.7).
Don’t let anyone tell you that Dalton can’t throw the deep ball, because he was nearly perfect on throws longer than 20 yards in the air. He did throw an interception on a downfield attempt. But, he connected on all four of his other throws longer than 20 yards in the air for an astounding 189 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, it was Josh Shaw’s solid coverage throughout the game and his game-sealing interception on Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that allowed him to lead the defensive pack. In addition to that interception, Shaw only allowed a single catch while he was in coverage, although he didn’t allow the receiver to gain any yards on the play. But, don’t let his clutch play overshadow the consistent production of guys like Geno Atkins and Margus Hunt.
Atkins, in particular, was probably the most consistently dominant defensive player on the team this week. His high grade (82.7) came as a result of four tackles, three tackles for a loss, two quarterback pressures, one which resulted in a sack, and a stop in the run game. With a bit better overall productivity against the run (6.3 percent), his performance would have probably ranked higher than Shaw’s due to his consistent disruption in the backfield.
Hunt didn’t end up ranking among the top five Bengals defenders, but, he did receive a very impressive grade (74.6) that ranked as the very best of his entire career. In addition to blocking a kick and interfering with a PAT that was the difference in the game, he recorded a pressure, batted down two passes, and recorded a tackle for a loss against the Jets’ running game.