NFL Season Preview: Cincinnati Bengals Continue Stockpiling Talent
The Bengals have palpably added key pieces all over the football field over the past three seasons. Most of them have panned out as planned, if not better than planned. However, their two recent playoff exits (both in the Wild Card Round, both at the hands of the Houston Texans) have proven that they have a long way to go before they can become viable contenders.
While the offense has a few nice pieces, such as 3rd year QB Andy Dalton, all-world WR AJ Green, and promising Mohamed Sanu, the Bengals were noticeably bereft of a consistent threat opposite Green, and a consistent running game. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a fine back, but he lacks explosiveness, and is mostly a grinder who fights for extra yardage. Green-Ellis has the ability to make catches out of the backfield, but the Bengals, sensing that they needed an “extra gear” at the position, drafted Giovani Bernard out of North Carolina to bolster the RB position. They also retained Bernard Scott, who is something of a change-of-pace back.
Jermaine Gresham has appeared to be a potential stud at the TE position, while at others – and most glaringly in the playoffs – was a shrinking violet when Dalton needed to dump the ball across the middle, with teams seeking to take away AJ Green. Gresham must step up if the Bengals are going to take the next step. The team also went out and got veteran TE Alex Smith and drafted All-American TE Tyler Eifert out of Notre Dame. Gresham is getting one more shot to prove that he can ply his craft with the Bengals before the team moves on to Eifert.
Defensively, the Bengals’ front four may be the best unit in the NFL. Led by uncanny talent Geno Atkins, along with agile DEs Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers, and the unmovable Domata Peko, you won’t find a deeper defensive line in the league. The Bengals’ glaring weakness defensively appeared to be the lack of speed at the LB level last season; which made the move to acquire James Harrison from the Pittsburgh Steelers flummoxing. Harrison appeared to have lost a step or two in 2012 with the Steelers, and certainly won’t be any quicker at age 35. Rey Maualuga was routinely beaten in pass coverage in 2012, so the acquisitions of journeyman Aaron Maybin and the drafting of Sean Porter (Texas A&M) and Bruce Taylor (Virginia Tech) will be key. For all the ability of the Bengals’ defensive line, their LB corps has been at issue in pass coverage. Versus the run, the Bengals’ front seven figures to be consistently good.
The secondary only has one big time playmaker (Leon Hall), but collectively, they play well as a unit. Safety Reggie Nelson has become a playmaker. CB Adam Jones has had his moments both on the outside, and in the return game. The Bengals are clearly counting on Dre Kirkpatrick and new draftee Shawn Williams (Georgia) to contribute this season.
If the Bengals can shore up their intermediate pass coverage and have a even, consistent season from Gresham, while getting a regular threat opposite AJ Green, the Bengals can be a tough out, despite Dalton’s apparent lack of arm strength.
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