Grading Every Cincinnati Bengals Starter's 2013 Regular Season
The Cincinnati Bengals finished off the regular season with a flourish on Sunday, as they were able to defeat the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 34-17. The Bengals now have an 11-5 record, an AFC North title and march into the playoffs as the AFC's No. 3 seed.
The Bengals have had some ups and downs this season. They had some crucial losses due to injury and had to deal with the roller-coaster performances from quarterback Andy Dalton.
Still, the team proved to be one of the deepest in the league and rarely missed a beat along the way.
Let's take a player-by-player look at how each member of the team fared and grade them according to their performances over the 2013 NFL regular season.
It was certainly an up and down year for Andy Dalton. The quarterback started strong, faded slightly, surged briefly midseason, then went into a slump only to finish with a flourish.
Despite his inconsistencies, Dalton was able to break the franchise's single-season passing yards and passing touchdowns records, formerly held by Carson Palmer.
Dalton led the Bengals to a third-consecutive playoff berth—the first time that has happened in Bengals history.
He finished the year completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 4,296 yards, 33 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a passer rating of 88.8.
Dalton finished the season with a plus-4.8 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscribers link).
The rookie running back surpassed all expectations this year. Giovani Bernard was able to produce some stellar runs and contribute in a big way in the passing game. Even though he struggled on the ground late in the season, he still finished with 695 yards for the year on 170 carries, for a 4.1 yards-per-rush average. He also came away with five rushing touchdowns.
As a receiver, Bernard caught 56 passes, good for second on the team, for 514 yards and another three scores. Out of all the Bengals' offensive weapons, only A.J. Green had more total yardage than Bernard.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis struggled for most of the season. His plodding style and indecision in the backfield caused many runs to either go for no gain or a loss. Although he totaled 756 yards on the ground this season, he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.
With the emergence of Bernard, Green-Ellis' days in Cincinnati could be numbered if he cannot find a way to produce in the playoffs.
A.J. Green was as dynamic as ever this season. His highlight-reel catches continue to steal the show each and every week. Green finished the season catching 98 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns. His explosiveness is almost unparalleled at the wide receiver position.
If the Bengals are to advance in this year's playoffs, it will be partly due to the continued stellar play of Green.
Marvin Jones was a delight this season. He generated a great rapport with Dalton and became the Bengals' No. 2 wide receiver. His reliable hands, quick burst and great straight-line speed allowed him to catch 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns.
With Jones complementing Green, this wide receiver duo is one of the most formidable in the NFL.
Mohamed Sanu took on a role as a slot/possession receiver this year, a role that suits him very well, as his big frame and reliable hands make him a perfect candidate for contested throws over the middle. Sanu finished the season with 47 receptions for 455 yards and two scores.
We only got to see the explosiveness of Hawkins for a handful of games, although he clearly hasn't lost a step. Over his limited playing time, Hawkins caught 12 passes for 199 yards with a long reception of 50 yards.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham continues to struggle with consistency. In some contests, he looks like the tight end the Bengals were expecting when they took him in the first round out of Oklahoma. Other times, he simply looks lost and continues to display poor fundamentals.
Gresham finished the regular season with 46 receptions for 461 yards and four touchdowns.
Tyler Eifert had a fantastic rookie season. He was able to come in and contribute immediately, and he possesses stronger fundamentals than Gresham. His presence on the Bengals offense could make Gresham expendable once the postseason is through. Eifert finished the regular season catching 39 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns in a limited role.
Andrew Whitworth continues to be the anchor of the Bengals' offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) he was the cause of four sacks on Dalton, but he finished the year with the highest grade out of any Bengals offensive lineman. Whitworth showed his versatility at the end of the season, as he was able to produce from both the left tackle and left guard positions.
Known for his run-blocking ability, Smith improved in drastic fashion in pass this season. He did allow six sacks on Dalton, but his technique improved, as he looks to be a very solid anchor on the right side of the line for years to come.
The center position continues to be the weakness of the Bengals offensive line. Cook struggled against the pass and the run. He was the only Cincinnati offensive lineman to finish the year with a negative grade from Pro Football Focus. This may be a position the Bengals look to address in the 2014 NFL draft.
Kevin Zeitler may have taken a small step backward this season, however, he was still productive for a second-year player. In limited snaps, he struggled a bit in pass protection, giving up three sacks. However, he continues to excel when run-blocking.
On the other side of the line, Clint Boling is the exact opposite of Zeitler. He excels in pass protection and did not give up a single sack over the regular season. However, he has trouble finding his footing when blocking for the run and gets spun around easily, missing his intended target.
Carlos Dunlap proved worthy of the contract extension he received over the offseason. He was able to remain healthy throughout the season and recorded 39 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Dunlap is a force on the defensive front and will be a staple of Cincinnati's defensive line for years to come.
Michael Johnson played the season under the franchise tag and is likely to find a new home after the season ends. He was still able to produce nicely, recording 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Johnson is not a one-dimensional player; his athleticism allows him to track down running backs and dominate against the run as well.
Domata Peko is simply inconsistent. He shows up to play at times, but he's rendered ineffective at others. Still, he was able to record 24 total tackles and three sacks on the season. Unfortunately, Peko's inconsistency gave him a negative-14.8 grade, according to Pro Football Focus (subscribers link).
Although Geno Atkins was lost midseason, he was off to a stellar start. In nine games of action, Atkins recorded nine total tackles and six sacks. His presence on the interior of the line was missed for the rest of the season.
Brandon Thompson was thrown into the fire after Atkins' injury. He was able to finish the season with 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He played well despite only being in the league for two years. He looks to have a bright future.
Wallace Gilberry continues to prove that he is one of the most underrated players on the Bengals defensive front. Gilberry had another great season in the defensive line's rotation, and he finished with 18 tackles, 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
What more can really be said about Vontaze Burfict? He has quickly become one of the NFL's most dominant linebackers. Burfict led the team in tackles for the second straight season, finishing with 114 total tackles, 57 assisted tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. Pure dominance.
Rey Maualuga had a bit of a down year. He did finish second on the team in tackles, but he was nowhere near his production level of 2012. Maualuga recorded 52 tackles, 23 assists, one sack and one interception on the year. The middle linebacker position remains one of the few weaknesses on Cincinnati's stout defense.
Vincent Rey was a pleasant surprise this season. His athleticism and speed quickly made him a crucial component of the Cincinnati linebacker corps. Over his limited playing time, Rey compiled 36 tackles, 21 assists, four sacks, one forced fumble, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown.
It really wasn't a stellar year for the newly acquired Harrison. He seemed to struggle in a new system and was rendered ineffective on many occasions throughout the season. Harrison finished the year with 16 tackles, 15 assists and two sacks. Not quite the production that was expected of him.
Reggie Nelson has been one of the most solid players in the Bengals secondary for years now. This year was no different. Nelson is a sure tackler and is rarely out of position. He finished third on the team with 49 tackles and also recorded two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble.
George Iloka had a roller-coaster season. He is a hard-hitting safety, but he tends to get out of position, especially on deep throws. Iloka finished the season with 41 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Despite his advanced age, Terence Newman continues to play at a high level. Newman finished fourth on the team with 45 tackles and also recorded two interceptions on the year. Newman generally remains in tight coverage and only accounted for eight missed tackles on the season.
Adam Jones had to shift to the outside after the season-ending injury to Leon Hall. Still, Jones was able to remain productive due to the switch. He was seen in man coverage without much safety help over the top, and he held his own against some of the league's best wide receivers. Jones finished the season with 44 tackles, one forced fumble, three interceptions and one defensive touchdown.
Unfortunately, Hall was lost for the year early on. Up to that point, he seemed to be on pace for a stellar year. A prototypical cover corner, Hall constantly applied tight coverage, allowing very few yards after the catch. He recorded 14 tackles and one interception in that short span.
Kicker Mike Nugent remains solid for the Bengals. Nugent connected on 18 of 22 field goals this season, including 3-of-4 from over 50 yards. Nugent also showed off a big leg on kickoffs, recording 32 touchbacks on 86 kicks this year.
Punter Kevin Huber was off to a fantastic start this season. Unfortunately, he was lost after a suspect hit during a punt return against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. Up to that point, Huber was averaging 44.8 yards per punt with a long of 75 yards and was accurate enough to pin opponents 25 times inside their own 20-yard line while recording only four touchbacks.
Brandon Tate had a great season as the team's punt and kick returner. He averaged 26.1 yards per kick return with a long of 71 yards. As the punt returner, he averaged 9.3 yards per return with a long of 43 yards. Very respectable numbers from the veteran wide receiver and return specialist.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis continues to build a solid core of players in Cincinnati. In the last three seasons, the Bengals have been able to improve by one additional win each year. This franchise is on the verge of being one of the NFL's most dominant, as this team remains one of the deepest and most balanced in the league.
Lewis finally has a strong say in personnel decisions, and it shows.
Over the 2013 regular season, Lewis showed some moxie and gambled frequently on fourth-down conversions. He has been able to finish out games nicely and does not seem as complacent and conservative as he once did.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has had a roller coaster of a season. At times he seemed like a genius. Other times, he did not seem capable of putting the correct players on the field in red-zone situations, which led to some questionable play-calling.
Despite the criticism, Gruden put the Bengals in position to average 27.9 points, 368.4 yards, 258.7 passing yards and 109.7 rush yards per game. The offense finished the season ranked seventh overall in points per game and 10th in yards per game.
Not too shabby.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has had a lot on his plate this season. He lost a plethora of key defensive players early on and had to make adjustments on the fly. His strategy of a defensive rotation at many positions certainly paid off, as his players were able to remain fresh throughout the regular season.
Zimmer's defensive unit finished in the top five of every NFL category. The defense was fifth in points allowed at 19.1, third in total yards allowed (305.5), fifth in passing yards allowed (209.0) and fifth in rush yards allowed (96.5).
Quite an accomplishment for one of the best defensive coordinators in today's NFL.