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6 winners and 4 losers from the Bengals’ 5-3 start

The last three second-round picks for Cincinnati were remarkable for the first eight games of the season.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Bengals sure know how to get out of the bye week on the wrong foot. With their record of 5-3, they’re neck and neck with the 5-2-1 Steelers at the top of the AFC North, but it’s hard to feel confident looking at the rest of the season.

In predictable fashion, the Bengals were inactive at the trade deadline, and shared last-minute halloween costumes while other teams were improving their roster. To top it all off, the news of A.J. Green’s injury revealed the Pro Bowl wide receiver would miss “at least” the team’s next two games, adding on to the numerous other injuries the team is suffering.

But through it all, the Bengals are still in the playoff hunt and have positive aspects to look back on in their first eight games. Here are our winners and losers from the first eight games of the Bengals’ season:


Andy Dalton: Depending on whom you ask, this has been Dalton’s best season of his career. An adjusted yards per attempt of 6.41 and a passer rating of 92.9 aren’t quite close to his 2015 numbers of 8.17 and 106.2, but we’ve seen a Dalton that’s playing loose and making more big-time throws down the field the field than we’ve seen in the past.

Dalton is making accurate throws all over the field, while also not making many mistakes in the process.

A four-interception performance against the Panthers in Week 3 skews things negatively for the Bengals quarterback, but he’s played well enough to win nearly every game the Bengals have had, despite only having tight end Tyler Eifert for just three-and-a-half games. For an eight-year veteran at the position, that’s the expectation, and Dalton is now living up to it in a new offense.

Joe Mixon: This season has been a big stepping stone for the Bengals’ starting running back. After finishing last season with a yards per carry average of just 3.5 and a rush success rate of 40%, he’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and 51% of his rushes have been successful this season. His knee injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Ravens was a minor setback, but he’s looked like the ball carrier the team took a chance on last year when numerous other teams had him off of their draft boards.

The success of the Bengals’ offense has revolved around how effectively they’ve used Mixon and in turn, how effectively they’ve ran the ball. Mixon has seen significantly fewer eight-man boxes and more runs out of the shotgun, both which have benefitted him significantly. As a result, Mixon and his natural ability has been unleashed way more consistently and he’s having a great year because of it.

Tyler Boyd: As well as Mixon has played in comparison to last season, Boyd’s ascension to the upper echelon of slot receivers has been a magnificent viewing experience. The third-year receiver’s sharp route running and hands have seen major leaps in offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s offense, and his immense chemistry with Dalton is undeniable.

Boyd’s 620 yards, five touchdowns and 12.7 yards per reception are already career-highs, and no Bengals receiver playing alongside A.J. Green has played at this level since Marvin Jones Jr. The former second-round pick’s value will be put the test when Green is resting his foot for the foreseeable future, but Boyd has shown he’s capable of stepping up to the occasion when he’s needed.

Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins: If there was any doubt, the Bengals paying their two best defensive players yet again was the smart decision. As per usual, Dunlap and Atkins have carried the Bengals’ pass rush this season and have shown no signs of slowing down in their ninth year playing together.

Dunlap’s seven sacks and Atkins’ six sacks have both of them on pace for their best seasons since 2015. And even for his insane standards, Atkins was on a monster pace through Week 5.

It’s a shame the rest of the Bengals defense has failed to even come close to the standards Dunlap and Atkins have set, because if they have, they probably would be better than 5-3.

Jessie Bates: With that said, one defender in the back seven has especially been playing lights out. Bates would be a winner if he were just a slight improvement over George Iloka, but he’s been that and so much more.

Bates has been the catalyst behind the opportunistic Bengals defense, as he has played like one of the better safeties in the NFL. He was named a midseason All-Pro by Pro Football Focus for his incredible start to his career, which included three interceptions, 60 tackles, and just 59 yards receiving allowed on 16 targets.

For the third consecutive year, the Bengals seemed to have found a gem in the second round of the NFL Draft. Bates looks like a franchise cornerstone in the making that decided to skip the rookie learning curve in the process.


John Ross: The impact Ross has on the offense when he’s healthy should be known by now, but we still need to see production sooner or later. Obviously, injury issues have continued to derail Ross’ exposure in the offense, but even in the games when he’s been healthy, the offense has failed to maximize his skillset. Two touchdowns on just seven receptions is as impressive as it is frustrating because it shows just how effective he can be when he’s given the chance.

Luckily, Ross is back to practicing this week and figures to start the second half of the season on the right foot, but he needs to not only stay on the field, but start making more plays. In an offense without Green, everyone needs to lend a hand in compensating for his absence. These eight games are so very crucial for Ross, and plenty of eyes will be on him.

C.J. Uzomah: This may be more of a stretch, but when nearly the entire tight end room for the Bengals became plagued with injuries, Uzomah was effectively the last man standing. Since losing both Eifert for the season and Tyler Kroft for at least the month of October, Uzomah has put together one decent performance against the Steelers in Week 6 and has been practically a bystander in the other three games — his touchdown against the Chiefs notwithstanding.

Uzomah was prepped to be the team’s starting tight end in the case of injury, and he’s been a capable blocker and intermediate target when given the opportunity. But the Bengals offense needs more from him, and he’ll be put to the test in the coming weeks.

Alex Redmond: The list of starters who need to step up probably begins with Redmond. It’s clear that the coaching staff values his run blocking at a level that excuses him for his consistently putrid pass protection. The bright side of it all is that Redmond isn’t failing for a lack of effort, but there are serious concerns with his technique that haven’t improved.

Regardless, the Bengals are all in on Redmond, and he’ll be given the chance to work his way out of this part of the list by season’s end.

Vontaze Burfict: He’s been suspended, fined and hurt multiple times this season — but he’s Burfict and gets a pass, right?

The truth is that Burfict has been more of nuisance for the Bengals than a blessing, and his leeway for his on-field antics is shrinking the less effective he proves to be.

Hardy Nickerson Jr. could easily be included on this list for his sheer incompetence at the linebacker position, but he shouldn’t even be on the field. Burfict was a major disappointment in relation to the expectations that were bestowed upon him when he returned.

As of now, the Bengals defense can’t expect to be revived when Burfict returns yet again, and that warrants fair criticism for all parties involved.