After the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2013 minicamp, there are a lot of new additions to the team via the draft that look to be major contributors for the team’s third consecutive playoff run in 2013.
Today, we will take a look at the Bengals offense which was subject to a lot of discussion following the early exit in the 2012 playoff. Is this the year where they finally put it all together to win their first playoff game since ’91? Is the offense enough to complement a stout defense, or will it need to be carried again like in 2012?
Those who recall last year’s disappointing loss to Houston in the first game of the AFC division playoffs, may remember it as the game that could’ve shed the awful Bengal reputation as one of the worst franchises in football. However, the pass from quarterback Andy Dalton to pro bowl receiver A.J. Green in the end zone, with the Bengals down 10-16 and less than three minutes in the fourth quarter, consummated the team’s misfortune in becoming a winner.
We all remember an outstretched A.J. Green and the football a few feet ahead, careening off the turf in Texas. It was a necessary failure. A play that demonstrated how winners win and that the Bengal’s were so close, yet not quite ready.
That is until this year.
Coming off of another winning season and another winning draft, the Bengals look to dominate the AFC North in convincing fashion. The team expanded their offensive weaponry for third-year quarterback Andy Dalton and also filled in some key holes in their O-line to give him ample support to place the ball in the end zone and into the playoffs. Let’s get to it.
There is no place for Dalton to hide this year. Not that he ever ran from criticism or called out others for the teams faults (he takes accountability for a lot), but he could’ve leaned on the team’s very average receiving corps that was short of any real down field attack save A.J. Green. Last season, the Bengals ranked 17th overall in receiving yards at 223.6 per game. They look to ramp up that number this year with the added depth at receiver from the draft. The team picked up TE Tyler Eifert in a somewhat surprise choice in the first round. The 6’ 5”, 250lb hybrid receiver out of Notre Dame represents another huge target for Dalton alongside incumbent TE Jermaine Gresham. Eifert not only brings another big TE to the table, but he has enough speed and experience in the slot at Notre Dame that he can be used as another wide out to get good one-on-one matchups. From minicamp practices, the team looks to run Eifert and Gresham in a double TE set, a formation that you may recall has worked out okay for another AFC team – the New England Patriots.
While both players represent big targets with soft hands for Dalton, they will also present a nightmare for defensive coordinators. Think Green, Eifert, Gresham, and second-year receiver Mohamed Sanu on the line and hopefully second-round pick Giovani Bernard, who is considered an exceptional receiving back, in the backfield. That would be a contortionist nightmare for defensive coordinators in the red zone.
Speaking of the rookie Bernard out of UNC, the quick and agile back looks to be the complement to the work horse BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a one-two punch duo that many NFL teams are adopting to keep opposing defenses off balance. With the very capable Cedric Peerman slotted as the third back, the Bengals once again have a legitimate ground game that was lackluster last year, gaining roughly 109 yards a game (18th in the NFL), and should help open up the air game.
While the Bengals certainly upped the ante at receiver and running back, they still have a shaky offensive line. OT Andre Smith was absent from minicamp, as well as the teams mandatory OTA’s. Not something you want to see from a player who just got rewarded with a 3-year, 18$-million contract a few months ago. Hopefully for the Bengals and Smith, this isn’t déjà vu with Smith’s health and weight issues after his hold out before his 2009 rookie season.
Besides Smith, the Bengals are relying on center Kyle Cook and eight-year veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth to keep the Bengals’ offense in top gear. While Whitworth has been the offensive line’s most dependable corner stone, Cook missed a lot of the 2012 season with injuries. Coming off an exceptional rookie season, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler adds youth and a consistent pass blocker (only four sacks during the season) for Andy Dalton. With an influx of tackles Tanner Hawkinson and Reid Fragel out of the late rounds in the draft, look for the Bengals to have one of the top offensive lines in the league.
With improvements to the receiving corps, a truly dynamic backfield, and an offensive line that can keep his jersey clean, Andy Dalton’s year to prove his critics wrong and that he is a capable top-tier NFL quarterback is in his hands. The AFC North’s powerhouse teams Baltimore and Pittsburgh are aging and porous, which gives Dalton an opportune time to seek some revenge and rewrite Bengal’s history. If he can run away with this offense, look for the Bengals to run away with the division.