Going into the 2013 season, the Cincinnati Bengals have done many things right on offense. The most important question that we’ll have to review is do the Bengals’ positives outweigh the negatives? After our top five most relevant questions, we should have a better understanding about how the Bengals’ offense stacks up against the AFC North that is home to the always impossing Pittsburgh Steelers, and the reigning Super Bowl champions, Baltimore Ravens. Sorry Cleveland, no love for you.
Pick an article, any article in the past six months that mentions Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton, or quarterback and chances are there is something that might say, “the year for Andy Dalton is here,” or ,”Dalton on the hot seat.”
Many people suspect Dalton’s third season to be the one that we find out whether or not he is the quarterback the Bengals hoped he would be. I’d have to argue that he is. Andy Dalton is not Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or John Elway, yet for some reason people always compare him to elite quarterbacks of this era or another. The fact is Andy Dalton is good; not great or exemplary, but if a team puts the necessary tools in place for a quarterback to win, Dalton probably will and this season is a good chance to show that. If the Bengals’ offense flounders throughout the year, finishes 6-10 and Dalton is the common denominator then yes, Dalton may be looking for another job. But the thing is, he is consistant and finds more ways to win than lose. Dalton might not be the 50-yard plus, down-field-needle-in-thread thrower everyone comes to expect these days but he is right above league average.
Everyone knows that the Bengals have Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green taking on the opposing defenses’ best backs and often times double teams. While collecting 97 receptions, 1350 yrds and 11 touchdowns, Green lived up to his first-round draft spot in 2011 (4th overall). Although Green improved in almost every statistical category, the receiving core was lackluster finishing 17th overall with 224 yards per game. The issue was reliable backups to Green last season.
The second best receiver statistically was TE Jermaine Gresham with 64 catches for 737 yards, and while his numbers were good, usually a team wants its secondary reciever pulling those kinds of numbers – hopefully the team improves on that with a healthy Mohamed Sanu as the second receiver.
While Andrew Hawkins did well taking over the second receiver spot with 51 receptions for 531 yrds, his 5’7″ frame doesn’t create a downfield threat so he didn’t take much heat off Green – 46 of his catches were 10 yards or less in the air. Hopefully Sanu can pick up were he left off last season (when healthy) and Hawkins can slide back to the slot where his yards-after-catch can create a tandem that defenses will have to account for.
The Bengals didn’t shock the world when they selected TE Tyler Eifert in the first round of the draft this year, but with incumbent TE Jermaine Gresham coming off a strong season and the need for a second reciever, it wasn’t the obvious choice. However, Eifert’s recieving skills and speed (4.68 40-yard dash) make him a hybrid that can play the slot as well as on the line.Eifert’s skill set and size will make him a primary target opposite Gresham in the red zone that will be hard for defenses to defend. If Eifert plays up to his draft choice and Gresham has another solid season, this duo could easily be the hidden gem that gives the Bengals’ 2013 offense the spark it needs to a obtain a third consecutive playoff birth and, possibly, its first playoff win since ’91.
4. Running Back
There really are no questions with this group, just possibilities. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the offense’s work horse and finished the 2012 season strong with five consecutive games of 100 yards or more from week 11 through week 15. Even though Green-Ellis doesn’t possess break-out speed or quick cut-backs like the Arian Fosters or Adrian Petersons of football, his ball security and power make him a quality back.
In the second round of the 2013 draft, the Bengals picked Giovanni Bernard who is completely opposite, but a perfect complement to Green-Ellis. With quickness and great recieving skills, Bernard is the direction-changing, explosive play back that the Bengals have had the past few years in Bernard Scott, but Scott’s inability to stay healthy and be affective between the tackles have kept him out of regular playing time
It will be interesting to see how the Bengals utilize the Bernard – Grenn-Ellis tandem and who will take majority of the load since both have unique skill sets and can play an entire game.
5. Offensive Line
Last on the list but probably third in importance, the O line has some questions about who starts, but the return of veterans and experienced players will keep the line out of trouble in 2013. Last year the offensive line saw its share of injuries, namely center Kyle Cook for most of the season. That brought undrafted Trevor Robinson to the line earlier than the team liked but he did better than anyone could’ve hoped for and more.
A surprise coming into the 2013 training camp, the Bengals have Robinson listed as first string in the team’s depth charts ahead of Cook, so the center position is still up for grabs and will be good competition to watch throughout the preseason.
Meanwhile, eight-year veteran Andrew Whitworth is at left tackle next to guard Clint Boling who took over the starting spot after taking over for guard Travelle Wharton who suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2012. Since the team has decided to cut ties with Wharton who was released Monday, they show faith in the depth of their o-line by having whomever loses the starting center job, slotted as the backup to left guard as well.
Kevin Zeitler will be starting his second season at right guard for the Bengals and while he did a solid job in 2012, he played better in pass protection even though coming out of Wisconsin he was best known for being a powerful run blocker. His grade of 13.8 ranked best on the line; hopefully with improvement in his run blocking in 2013, he can add to that number.
Andre Smith is the biggest question on the O-line behind the center spot, not because he might not start, but due to the fact he’s been absent from all team activities leading up to training camp. The few reports that came out said he was in football shape, but those who may remember his rookie season hold out in 2009, will remeber his weight issues that cut his season short after a foot injury.
While Smith’s absence may delay his readiness for the 2013 season, he will be returning as a sturdy pass-blocker who ranked 5th best in the NFL at the right tackle position. With the veteran presence on the line this year, and a healthy center position, the O-line has a chance at becoming a top-five unit in 2013 and strength of the team.