The Bengals finished off the 2016 season with a convincing win over the Ravens. The final result feels like a bit too little, way too late. But, it’s good to end the season on a high note with momentum heading into the next season. Can the Bengals return to playoff form in 2017 after showing plenty of moxie at the end of 2016? We’ll see.
Regardless, this week saw the Bengals, as a team, put together one of their best performances of the season. The Bengals’ offense finally found their footing in this week’s round of grades from Pro Football Focus. The unit was led by Andrew Whitworth (82.2), Kevin Zeitler (78.9), Cody Core (78.1), Brandon LaFell (77.6), and C.J. Uzomah (76.7). After last week’s pathetic outing against the Texans, those grades look absolutely remarkable! Of note also is that Whitworth, Zeitler and LaFell will be free agents in March.
On defense, the unit was led in PFF grading by Dre Kirkpatrick (84.2), Carlos Dunlap (84.1), and Vincent Rey (80.5). Geno Atkins (79.9) and Karlos Dansby (79.9) rounded out the top five grades by being as close as you can get to ‘above average’ without actually hitting that mark. Both Kirkpatrick and Dansby will be free agents in March. So per PFF’s account, five of the best players in Week 17 for the Bengals are not under contract with the team next season.
The Bengals are looking at an offseason similar to 2016 in that multiple important players will be up for contract extensions. Rex Burkhead is also up for extension and, while he didn’t have a ‘top five’ day, he absolutely shattered any expectations heading into his first start against the NFL’s No. 2 rushing defense.
Giovani Bernard has been out with an ACL injury since Week 11. In his stead, Jeremy Hill has vastly underperformed and didn’t even play this week due to a knee injury of his own. As a result, Rex Burkhead received the first start of his career and put up 27 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns as well as two catches for 25 yards (29 yards after the catch). Due to forcing two missed tackles and gaining 65 of his 119 yards after first contact, he finished with a solid overall grade (75.9). It wasn’t enough to rank as one of the Bengals’ top five offensive players, but it was enough to grade as the fourth best running back this week.
The Bengals’ running game was easily the Bengals’ biggest asset this week, but we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the passing game. Andy Dalton capped off what was yet another very good season, albeit without much payoff in the endzone, with a game that seemed to fit with this season perfectly.
His 226 yards and a touchdown with a 64 percent completion rating were good enough for a 101.2 quarterback rating. But, he didn’t complete a single pass over 20 yards and recorded a rough quarterback rating when under pressure (56.3). He was remarkable against the blitz (124.0 quarterback rating), but it wasn’t enough to avoid a below average grade (67.6). His overall grade on the season (80.4) ranks 16th among all quarterbacks, despite very few interceptions (eight) and plenty of passing yards (4,206).
Joe Flacco was absolutely tormented by Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins all day, the two combining for 1.5 sacks, two QB hits, and a whopping nine QB hurries. Atkins finished with a higher pass rush grade (81.3) than Dunlap (80.9), but Dunlap ended up with the higher overall grade due to performing better against the run. Dunlap’s run defense grade (80.5) came as a result of two stops and no missed tackles, while Atkins’ (47.2) came as a result of making only one stop and missing a tackle.
As good as Dunlap and Atkins played this week, Dunlap’s counterpart on the right, Michael Johnson, left quite a bit to be desired (as usual). He recorded two QB hurries and one tackle for an awful overall grade (46.4). He has ranked as the fifth worst edge defender this year, making us all wonder where the guy who put up 35 tackles, 11.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, two pass deflections, and an interception in 2012 went.
In the secondary, things were interesting. Kirkpatrick recorded a fantastic overall grade this week (84.2) and only 11 other cornerbacks in the NFL this week graded higher. Furthermore, Bengals rookie, KeiVarae Russell, burned out hard in the preseason with the Chiefs after being selected by Kansas City in the third round of the draft. But, he spent the majority of the season on the Bengals’ bench and finally got onto the field for one defensive NFL snap this week.
He used the opportunity to record an interception. It’s going to be hard for him to live up to his 1:1 interception to snap ratio going forward, but it was a great way to announce his presence as a Bengals cornerback to watch.