Bengals vs Broncos: Grading AJ McCarron

The life of an NFL quarterback has its ups and downs. Being an untested starter in a pressure situation, will always bring out the boo birds and Monday morning quarterbacks. AJ McCarron made his second start for the Cincinnati Bengals under the national spotlight. His play on Monday Night Football wasn’t the greatest, yet he managed to keep the Bengals in the game. Grading his performance won’t be easy. But being honest about the outcome is a simple task.

McCarron has already taken the blame for the Week 16 loss. Per the Cincinnati Bengals website, he wasn’t happy with what happened.

“I felt like I let my team down,” McCarron explained. “My fault. I told the guys that after the game.”

Leadership (B)

AJ McCarron had big shoes to fill on Monday night. Under the bright lights, he was expected to lead the Bengals to the No. 2 seed and a bye in the AFC playoffs. This was supposed to happen on the road, with the Broncos needing the win to stay alive in the playoff picture. According to stats from ESPN, the Broncos are the top yardage defense in the NFL. If it sounds like a great movie scenario, it must have been even worse for McCarron. To come out and execute the Bengals game plan to perfection, in the first half, was more than expected. He led Cincinnati on two long drives of 80 and 90 yards that had the Denver defense on their heels. Even the Denver defensive players were impressed with his work.

Grading AJ
Decision Making (C)

The Bengals gave McCarron the freedom to audible from a few plays. His decision in the first half to change a play was evident. On third-and-goal, from the Denver 5-yard line, he motioned for A.J. Green to change his route. After reading what the defense was attempting to do, he checked to the play and hit Green with a perfectly placed touchdown rainbow. The second half was a learning experience. The plays that worked were snatched away by the Denver D. McCarron noticed the change and tried to implement what Hue Jackson was dialing up. The result was only three points to close out regulation and overtime. McCarron was limited, with the options he was given. Taking his eyes off of the snap was also a mistake that gift-wrapped the Broncos’ win.

Accuracy (B-)

The deep ball was there for McCarron, in the first half of the game. But after adjustments, the Broncos switched to a zone and started to sag. Either Jackson’s plan was forcing the deep throws or AJ was seeing what wasn’t there, because of the zone coverage. His ability to keep passes away from the Broncos’ secondary was inspiring. When you have players from the NFL’s top ranked defense applauding your play at quarterback, you’ve done something special. McCarron finished the night with a 62.9 percent completion ratio. If not for a few bad routes and timing problems, the results would have been better.

Grading AJ
Mobility and Pocket presence (B-)

Playing in Denver is always a tough task. Each time the quarterback misses his target, the Broncos’ faithful chant “In-com-plete.” It’s cool to hear but probably nerve-wracking for a signal-caller. McCarron was able to limit that chant with his completion ratio. Once again, he was sacked twice. His decisions to take the sacks were part of the reason he was interception free. McCarron showed the nation he isn’t afraid to tuck the ball and run when necessary. Looking at his numbers, McCarron picked up 21 yards on the ground. His 5.3 yards per carry average was better than both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.

McCarron and Jackson will have a huge task, with the upset-minded Baltimore Ravens, in Week 17. Intense preparation should make next week’s grades much better.

[Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images]