Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals have a lot to be vexed about after the first quarter of the 2013 year has passed with an upsetting 17-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy stadium last Sunday.
After four games and a 2-2 record with a 1-1 split in the AFC North, there are certain intangibles that seem to be missing from the ’13 squad compared to the 2012 team that dominated the division. One constant theme that has been hindering this year’s Bengals from achieving greatness is inconsistency.
Good teams will play great for a few weeks before losing a game here and there; great teams are consistently good. The Bengals are the former, and at this point that is being generous.
In order to be AFC North Champions in 2013 and make it past the first-round of the playoffs since 1990, some key things need to change.
1. Andy Dalton
As the first quarter of the season came to a close, the target on Andy Dalton’s back is getting bigger and bigger. Overall, Dalton has completed 94 of 148, for 1,003 yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions and a quarterback rating of 83.2 which is just shy of his career rating of 83.8.
Compare those stats with Tom Brady who is working with a young group of receivers who are still adapting to New Englands’ offense and quarterback and Dalton is looking very average.
Brady is 93 of 158, for 1,014 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 87.4.
Before some people say, “Well it’s Tom Brady,” think about Brady’s receiving corps; fifth-year receiver Julian Edleman and rookie Aaron Dobson are his primary targets. Both players have a combined 437 yards on 45 catches with three touchdowns – a majority of which are Edleman (319 yards, 34 catches, two tds).
Brady doesn’t have an A.J Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. He does have Rob Gronkowski – oh wait, he has yet to play a single snap this season – and Dalton has both veteran Jermaine Gresham and the highly-praised rookie Tyler Eifert who was virtually unused in the loss to the Browns.So to say it isn’t a fair comparison is ignoring the situation, but Brady is a bona-fide, accomplished NFL quarterback. He is what Dalton isn’t, but who he needs to be.
All the tools are there, and the only other complaint could be Jay Gruden’s offensive scheme that’s turning Bob Bratkowski predictable. However, Dalton has playmakers and he needs to get the ball into their hands more frequently instead of the opposing defense’s.
While the beat up secondary has been doing a fine job, and has limited the opposing offenses to 235 passing yards which ranks 13th in the NFL, the defensive line needs to get better.
The Bengals’ defensive line is good right now, but in order to get to the playoffs it needs to be great. Geno Atkins hasn’t been the imposing, bull-rushing tackle he was a year ago. While he is generating some pressure and making offenses aware of his presence, he isn’t feared at the moment.
The surprise of the 2013 defense is the linebacking corps that hasn’t received much credit. Vontaze Burfict leads the Bengals in tackles with 42 and has an interception. Rey Maualuga is right behind him with 34 tackles, and, although he is still a liability in pass coverage, Maualuga has improved drastically this season.
The only disappointment is the limited use of James Harrison. The Bengals have been using its nickel package a lot which negates Harrison, but the guy is a playmaker and should be used to rush the edge more.
3. Is there a running game?
The Bengals rank a measly 22nd in rushing yards per game at 83.8. A majority of those are BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has 142 yards on 52 carries, two touchdowns and a whopping 2.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Giovani Bernard also has two touchdowns with 147 yards on 32 carries which means he is generating 4.6 yards per carry. And I won’t forget to metion that catches the ball out of the backfield which has given him a receivng touchdown as well.
The team was pretty high on the addition to the backfield this year and how they have a one-two punch, yet they seem to have gone away from it. I know the NFL is a passing sport now, but the more Dalton throws, the more he gives it away. The Bengals have to keep the other team’s defense modest and on its toes by passing first down every once in a while but also going with the playmakers in the backfield.
The Bengals are currently rushing 40 percent of the time, and the offense isn’t hitting a stride so far in the passing game. The days of a 50/50 rushing-to-passing offense are over, and if this team is going to go with a 60/40 pass-to-run ratio then at least give the ball to Bernard more often.
There are multiple areas where the Bengals need to improve, and the good thing about it is that they can with the personnel they have. The defense is going to get better than the current 10th ranking (which isn’t bad) but the offense is really going to have to step it up and it all starts with the quarterback.
Will Andy Dalton break out after a quarter through his third season? It’s true that only time will tell but the Bengals are running out of it.