Despite heckles and gibes, from doubters across the nation, AJ McCarron was able to put a win on the ledger for the Cincinnati Bengals. Not only did the second-year player end the winless streak for Alabama quarterbacks in the NFL, he looked good doing it. McCarron showcased his Bengals and championship pedigree by staying poised on the field. Here’s a look at his performance against the Niners with categories and grades.
His teammates have already committed to McCarron as the unquestioned leader, while Andy Dalton’s thumb is on the mend. But that doesn’t always transfer to play on the field. McCarron’s first start against the Niners was a test of his ability to rally the troops. For the most part, McCarron did a decent job rallying the Men in Black. There was really no cause for him to lose his mind trying to get people into place. There were a couple of instances when he directed players to certain spots to ensure plays went as designed.
McCarron took positive steps in his first test as the starting QB for the Bengals. According to ESPN stats, he was a sparkling 15-of-21 for 192 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. His 115.6 passer rating was comparable to the numbers posted by Dalton. Although he suffered four sacks, most of the blame for those can be attributed to spotty play by the O-line. It’ll take more time under center, in real-game conditions, for McCarron to develop the skills to read NFL defenses. Two of the sacks were due to great coverage by the San Francisco defense. Instead of throwing the ball and creating turnovers, he chose to tuck it and take the sack. McCarron may have had time to read and scramble. But with Dalton being hurt, he made the best choice. His decisions to throw the ball away were also timely.
The ability to throw the deep ball was the big question mark going onto the game. McCarron answered that question twice. At 8:27 of the first quarter, McCarron looked down the right sideline and found A.J. Green for a 37-yard catch. The pass was placed perfectly and in stride for the streaking Green. At the start of the third quarter, McCarron was able to find Marvin Jones for another perfectly placed deep pass. This time the play netted 47 yards. In his two appearances since Dalton has been hurt, McCarron has connected on three passes of 30 or more yards downfield. That’s something Dalton hasn’t done all year. With more time to progress and learn the system, AJ McCarron has the talent and weapons around him to be a serious threat. His intermediate range passes looked nice. He was rushed a few times but made his check-down reads. His 20-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Kroft came from a blitz read.
McCarron isn’t the next Roger Staubach in bloom. He has decent speed but he isn’t going to light up any defenses with his running ability. He was able to get free of the blitz when the Bengals’ O-line broke down and he was forced to either pass before time or run. He wasn’t visibly nervous when the pocket collapsed and he was able to complete 71.4 percent of his passes. Under pressure, he was 5-of-6 for 54 yards and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. On just those numbers, McCarron’s passer rating skyrockets to 143.7 and his completion percentage jumps to 83.3. Not bad for a first day on the job.
Running back Jeremy Hill wasn’t satisfied with the effort of all the players. He mentioned that the Bengals could do much better.
“We didn’t protect him on third down,” Hill explained. “He had a lot of free runners running at him, us not running the ball very well, a lot of third-and-longs. There’s a lot of stuff we did wrong not helping him out, putting him in those situations. We’re not happy, we have to be better and not put AJ in those situations. He played really well, considering the circumstances of the situations we put him in.”
McCarron and the Bengals will have to do much better in their battle with the Denver Broncos. The grading scale will be much harder.
[Feature Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]