As we do every Monday here at the 33rd Team, here are my key takeaways from this week’s NFL action:
How the Bengals Were Built
After beating the Ravens 41-17 this weekend, the Bengals now sit atop the AFC North and would be the top seed in the conference if the playoffs started today. Getting to this point has happened quickly for Cincinnati; they had the worst record in the NFL in just 2019. Since then, they have done well in hitting on both free agents and draft picks.
In terms of free agency, the Bengals lost DE Carl Lawson, WR A.J. Green, and CB William Jackson this offseason. They also released DT Geno Atkins. To replace these players, Cincinnati made a few key acquisitions. They signed DE Trey Hendrickson, who was coming off a 13.5 sack season, to a 4-year, $60M deal. Hendrickson already has 6.5 sacks this season and is 6th in pressure rate among all defensive linemen (17.6%). In addition to Hendrickson, the Bengals signed cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton. Out of all defenders with at least 100 coverage snaps, Awuzie ranks 5th in the NFL in PFF Coverage Grade (83.0). Cincy also added RT Riley Reiff and DI Larry Ogunjobi on one-year contracts, both of whom filled needs.
In the draft, Cincy’s decision to select WR Ja’Marr Chase over T Penei Sewell was a divisive choice. So far, however, Chase is leading the discussion for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He had 8 receptions for 201 yards on Sunday, and his 82 yard TD was a key turning point as it gave the Bengals a 10 point lead.
What’s Wrong With KC?
Much has been made about Kansas City’s defensive woes, but they have struggled on both sides of the ball. Patrick Mahomes has 11 turnovers (9 INT, 2 fumbles lost) on the season. Aside from Week 1, he has at least one INT in each of the last 6 games. Through the first 7 games in 2018-2020, he had 7 turnovers combined (5 in 2018, 1 in 2019, 1 in 2020). Likewise, LT Orlando Brown Jr. allowed two sacks on Sunday and has allowed a pressure rate of 6.4%; his previous high was 4.7%. He requested a trade from Baltimore because he wanted to switch to LT full-time, but doing so has negatively affected his performance.
Focusing on the defensive side, the Chiefs are 30th in total points allowed and 3rd down conversion rate allowed. Only Miami and Washington are worse in both categories. KC has also been poor in coverage and pass rushing. They are allowing 7.7 yards per coverage snap, which is the 3rd worst of any team. As a team, they only have 9 sacks on the season, tied for 31st with Atlanta. Defensively, not being able to cover, rush the passer, or get off the field on the 3rd down is not a recipe for success.
Team Building Trends — First Round QBs
If the playoffs started today, the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals would be the No. 1 seeds and earn first round byes. Both teams have gone from first overall picks — in 2019 and 2020, respectively — to potential first seeds. Teams have seen mixed results selecting a QB first overall, which makes Arizona and Cincinnati interesting case studies in roster construction. The Bengals specifically are looking to go worst-to-first in one of the best divisions in football, and no team has ever won the Super Bowl two years after selecting first overall.
Even if you don’t hold the first overall pick, the first round is still where teams should look to select a QB. Out of the 14 teams who would currently be in the playoffs, 10 have starting QBs who were first-round picks. Eight of these 10 were selected within the top 10 picks. Derek Carr, Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins, and Dak Prescott were all selected outside of the first round. Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson were first-rounders, but not top 10 picks.
Resurgence of Wentz
Through the first seven weeks in 2020, Carson Wentz had 10 INT, 28 sacks, 6.3 yards per attempt (YPA), and a completion percentage of just 58.6 percent. Through seven games this season, he has improved in every category. He only has 1 INT and his turnover-worthy play percentage of 1.4 percent would be the lowest of his career according to PFF. He has been sacked 15 times, and while this is a middle of the pack number, it still marks a significant improvement from last year.
Wentz is averaging 7.7 yards per attempt this season, which would match his career-high. As for Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE), Wentz ranks 17th this season with a CPOE of +1.5 percent. Last season, Wentz was 39th at -3.9 percent. Though Wentz has not played as well as his 2017 MVP-caliber season, he has clearly improved from 2020 and given the Colts a chance to return to the playoffs.