Bengals vs Chargers Predictions

For additional predictions and expertise heading into the Bengals vs Chargers game, I exchanged emails with my close personal friend and football expert, Patrick “Kramer” Earley. Kramer boasts a twelve year football career at Our Lady of Visitation and St. Xavier High School before ultimately hanging up the cleats for a life of flag football, competitive kickball, and men’s rec softball at St. Louis University.

In addition, he took home the regular season scoring title and championship in the 2013 Dipset Fantasy League. Point being, the guy knows his stuff.

Let’s jump right in:

RedsBengals513: A little less than 24 hours until the Bengals-Chargers AFC Wild Card game, what is your gut feeling heading into Sunday?

Kramer: Thanks for having me on the show! Great to be here.

Even with the long list of key injuries, I think the Bengals get their first postseason win in twenty-five years. I’ve seen more talented Bengals teams in years past, but I’ve never seen a Marvin Lewis team play with this much toughness and heart. This team seems to want it more than any Bengals team in recent memory. The amount of injuries they’ve faced this season would cause most teams to give up on the year. These guys seem to have gotten better with each back-up that fills in to play. With the weather looking dismal, there’s a strong possibility we’ll have a defensive struggle on our hands. That gives the Bengals a tremendous advantage. The Bengals defense has been absolutely superb this year. They’ll dominate the field position and throw Rivers off his game. It won’t be a pretty one, but my gut tells me the Bengals get the win.

RedsBengals: Yeah I tend to agree. Seems like they’re a much more mature team than the previous years which ended in Houston in round 1 of the playoffs. The defense has overcome numerous injuries and Vontaze Burfict has established himself as a premier linebacker in the NFL. He gives the defense an identity and I think will show up big time on Sunday. In addition, I think the playmaking ability of guys like Giovani Bernard and Marvin jones give this years team a huge boost over years past. I just think this team is finally mature enough to win in the playoffs.

What scares you about the chargers in this game?

Kramer: Two things scare me about the Chargers: Momentum and offensive balance. There’s no denying the impact momentum can have on a team in the playoffs. Teams that can string together a few wins heading into the playoffs can be very dangerous, regardless of their play earlier in the season. With that said, the Chargers won their last four games-including a win in Denver and against Kansas City. Those wins have given them confidence and the mindset that they can beat anybody. They’re going to come into Cincinnati expecting to win. They really seem to be hitting their stride offensively and have averaged 29.25 PPG over that span…which brings me to my next point. While their offense might not jump out at you, it’s very good. They use a balanced attack that can really wear a team down and be difficult to stop. They have two very solid running backs. Ryan Matthews is strong between the tackles and is deceptively fast. Danny Woodhead is lightning quick, and calling him a threat out of the backfield is an understatement. Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal can be dangerous on the outside and Antonio Gates will cause matchup problems for the Bengals linebackers. Tying it all together is Philip Rivers, a very underappreciated quarterback who happened to finish fourth this year in QBR. It’s tough to prepare for a team that can attack you in so many ways. While there is no doubt Zimmer will have the boys prepared, they will most certainly have their hands full.

Aside from the obvious “Dalton needs to play well for us to win”, what are some keys to the game the Bengals?

RedsBengals: Excellent points on the Chargers. It will be key for the Bengals to set a tone early in the game. The first thing the Bengals need to do is pressure Philip Rivers. When these team met in early December, Rivers passed for 252 yards. However, he only threw one touchdown and was intercepted once. The Bengals had five hits on Rivers and sacked him twice. Zimmer needs to continue using his talented defensive front to pressure Rivers and not let him settle into a groove. It looks like Terrance Newman will be OUT on Sunday which means Rivers will most certainly pick on Dre Kirkpatrick. The best way to help a somewhat vulnerable secondary is to pressure Philip Rivers early and often. Ryan Mathews has been playing very well lately, but I would make stopping Rivers the number one priority on Sunday. Offensively, the Bengals need to utilize a balanced attack. Jay Gruden occasionally falls in love with the pass and becomes too predictable. The Chargers defense is porous, and the Bengals offensive line proved they can manhandle the Chargers in the run game. I would like to see a 60-40 split in favor of running the ball on Sunday. Let Giovani Bernard get into space and then bring in the Law Firm to bang out those tough yards towards the end of the game. Long and time consuming drives that end in points will keep Rivers off the field and allow the Bengals to control the game.

Who do you expect to have a big game for the Bengals and why?

Kramer: Defensively I think Vontaze “King Tez” Burfict will have an incredible game. He’s been the heart and soul of the defense all year long and he’ll be dominant on Sunday. He knows how heavily his defense relies on him to perform and he rises to the occasion every game. As long as he doesn’t commit any stupid personal fouls, he’ll have a flawless game. I also think Adam Jones will quietly have a great game, as he’s done all season. He’s had seven passes defensed in the past four games and need to have another stellar performance to keep Rivers and the Chargers’ offense at bay. Offensively, I expect Dalton to have a great game. He’s well aware of all the criticism of his play, especially in big games. He hasn’t forgotten his last two playoff performances. This is his third playoff game and he’ll finally rise to the occasion. The weather won’t be ideal, but he’ll overcome the elements and give Cincinnati fans confidence in his ability to lead a team deep into the playoffs. Finally, I expect the offensive line to play well. Very well. In the last meeting, the Bengals rushed for 164 yards and the line allowed for zero QB hits. Establishing the ground game early will be crucial for the Bengals, and that all starts up front with Whitworth and crew. If the Bengals can successfully run the ball and give Dalton time to throw, the Chargers have no chance to win.

We’ve assessed the game from the Bengals standpoint, but if you’re Mike McCoy, what are you telling your team?

RedsBengals: If I’m Mike McCoy, I’m telling my team to continue battling the way they have over their last five games of the season. The Chargers won 4 of their last 5 with wins on the road in Denver and Kansas City. As 7 point underdogs, the Chargers should be playing like they have nothing to lose. The case could be made that the Bengals are under more pressure than any team in the playoffs. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1990 and need to get the monkey off their back. If I’m Mike McCoy, I’m reminding the Chargers how they made it this far and feeding them reminders of why nobody believes in them. Encourage the Chargers to play loose and assure them the pressure is on the bengals.

You mentioned the stellar play of Vontaze Burfict, if you were starting a team, would you rather have Vontaze burfict or former St. Xavier Bomber Luke Kuechly to build around?

Kramer: Well, I’m obviously biased, but I would take Kuechly. While Tez might have made more tackles this year, Kuechly’s game is more complete. First, his pass coverage is phenomenal, which is evident with his four picks this year. Secondly, he’s a much smarter player. He’s the defensive quarterback for the Panthers, who happened to finish second in total defense this year. While I LOVE Tez’s passion, he has had WAY too many personal fouls this year-which was the primary reason he went undrafted. He has put his defense in tough spots too many times this year because of his undisciplined play. That doesn’t happen with Kuechly, he plays hard until the whistle, then lines up for the next play. In Carolina’s biggest game of the year, week 16 against the Saints, Kuechly recorded 24 tackles and an interception. He’s a franchise linebacker and will be the centerpiece of the Panthers defense for the next ten years. I think Burfict has that potential, but he needs to become more mature and work on some other aspects of his game. Kuechly just does so many things well that’s it’s impossible not to take him.

If the Bengals lose this one and Dalton plays poorly, is that it for the Red Rifle? Or do they stick with him for another season?

RedsBengals: Very interesting question. Dalton has one more year left on his rookie contract, but this postseason will certainly factor into the long term decision making of the Bengals front office. I think they will stick with Dalton for next season regardless of what happens on Sunday. With that being said, if the Bengals get bounced this weekend and Dalton plays poorly, I would suspect the Bengals take a QB in the later rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. Maybe a guy like Zach Mettenberger in rounds 2 or 3, or perhaps someone like Aaron Murray in rounds 4 or 5. Not necessarily a superstar, but somebody who can push Dalton a little bit and potentially develop into a starter. Dalton has proven he can win in the NFL, but at some point he needs to show up in the playoffs. I’m a little more lenient with Dalton than a lot of fans when it comes to his production. It’s very difficult to find a franchise quarterback in the NFL. All you have to do is look at the Cleveland Browns for what happens when you draft a quarterback every other year. Dalton is consistent enough to win games and compete at this level. He certainly has limitations, but the only question should be whether or not the Bengals can win a Superbowl with him under center. I say yes, they can. Only time will tell, but I believe Andy Dalton will be the Bengals quarterback for the next 10+ years and that’s something fans need to get used to.

I really appreciate your time. Before we let you go, give us your final prediction for Sunday.

Kramer: Of all the potential first round opponents the Bengals had, the Chargers were the team I wanted to play the most. We’ve beaten them on their home field already-and on the west coast where we are notoriously bad. I think the Bengals are better offensively and defensively. And as much as the Chargers say they’re comfortable in any weather, they’re not. The cold temperature, snow and rain will be a problem for Philip Rivers, and the Bengals defense will capitalize on it. The Bengals defense dominates and the offense has a steady game. The Bengals will dominate field position and time of possession and move on to play the Patriots after winning 24-13.

Thanks for having me, let’s do it again soon.

RedsBengals: I think this Bengals team is different than years past. They play together and they’re due for a breakout performance in the playoffs. Regardless of the weather, I expect the Bengals to set the tone early and really get after Philip Rivers. I do think the Chargers will pick on Dre Kirkpatrick and a beatable secondary, but the front seven for Cincinnati will be the difference.

Bengals 27, Chargers 17

By Jimmy Coffaro Posted in Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals Playoff Preview

The Cincinnati Bengals are set to take on the San Diego Chargers this Sunday at 1:05PM at Paul Brown Stadium. This marks the third consecutive year the Bengals have reached the postseason, and fourth time in the last five years. Unfortunately, the Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since January 6, 1990. That all changes this weekend.

This has been one of the most interesting and exciting Bengals teams in recent memory. They scored 40 or more points in four consecutive home games. They had three different games come down to game winning kicks. They went to the west coast and won a defensive slugfest in San Diego. They got embarrassed on national TV by the Steelers. They beat Rodgers, Brady, Stafford, and Rivers among others. They had the most electrifying Bengals running back in my lifetime.

They had superstars on both sides of the ball in AJ Green and Vontaze Burfict. They endured the ups and downs of Andy Dalton. The overcame the injuries to two of their best defensive players in Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. They continue to overcome an incompetent owner.

Finally, they went 11-5 and won the AFC North in relatively easy fashion.

Now, it’s time to take the next step. This year feels different than the last two years in Houston. This team is favored to win and expected to make some noise in the playoffs. They have a good combination of veteran leadership and youthful confidence. There is no reason this team can’t compete for the Superbowl.

The AFC playoff bracket is filled with holes. Denver has weaknesses defensively and question marks surrounding Peyton Manning in cold weather. New England is without Rob Gronkowski and two of its best defensive players. The Bengals are inconsistent at the quarterback position. The Colts are limited offensively and have a very mediocre defense.

The point being, there is no clear cut favorite to represent the AFC in Superbowl XLVII. You could make the case for Denver, but I think they’re beatable and under the most pressure to perform. I’m not saying the Bengals will make it to the Superbowl, I’m saying they have a realistic chance. That’s pretty special.

Andy Dalton needs to stay within himself this Sunday

Andy Dalton needs to stay within himself this Sunday

Moving on to this Sunday.

The Bengals win if: Andy Dalton plays within himself. Dalton manages the game and protects the ball. The Bengals defensive front shows up. Giovani Bernard gets more than 15 touches. Vontaze Burfict and company continue to pressure Phillip Rivers.

The Chargers win if: Phillip Rivers goes off. The Bengals become the old Bengals and self implode on national TV. Jay Gruden continues to run Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis outside the tackles. Mike Zimmer accepts the Lions job at halftime.

X Factor: Giovani Bernard. My affection for Gio knows no bounds. He should touch the ball at least 15 times and then the Law Firm can wear it out in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Bengals 27, Chargers 17

Cincinnati Bengals Midseason Report

I realize it’s technically the second half of the NFL season, but this is my first chance to discuss the Bengals to this point.

The Bengals currently sit at 6-3 with a 1.5 game lead over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North. If the season ended today, the Bengals would host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in a first round Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.

Obviously there is a lot of football yet to be played and the playoff picture is sure to change between now and January.

The Good

The good news is the Bengals are in first place and control their own destiny for the remainder of the season. They have beat quality opponents in the likes of the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, and Detroit Lions. They strung together a four game winning streak and played arguably their most complete game of the Marvin Lewis era by dismantling the New York Jets.

Andy Dalton has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the 2013 season. Dalton is the most scrutinized player on the Bengals roster by fans and analyst across the NFL. Many believe (myself included) that this team can go as far as Andy Dalton is physically able to take them. If Andy Dalton can consistently produce the statistics that earned him Offensive Player of the Month honors in October, the Bengals are a Super Bowl contender.

Andy Dalton is finding new weapons in Cincy

Andy Dalton is finding new weapons in Cincy

As expected, the defensive line has been outstanding. The depth at tackle and the end spots have accounted for 17.5 sacks and have proved pivotal against Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford. The unit reminds me of the New York Giants Super Bowl teams of 2008 and 2012.

A good defensive line can mask other issues on the defensive side of the football and force great quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Brady to seem ordinary. The Bengals ability to pressure the quarterback and continually rotate players has made them one of the best units in the NFL.

The emergence of weapons surrounding Andy Dalton has made this offense fun to watch once again. We’ve seen Dalton utilize seven to eight guys on any given drive at times throughout this season. Opposing defenses are being exposed for doubling AJ Green and the Bengals are putting together lengthy and time consuming drives at the right times.

Also, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert have been major contributors in the first season in the NFL. Bernard gave us the highlight of the 2013 season this past week in Miami.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Giovani Bernard be the feature back for the remainder of the season.

The Bad

Every team deals with injuries. They have become commonplace and accounted for the “next man up” mentality heard so many times by head coaches around the league. With that being said, losing Geno Atkins for the year with a torn ACL feels like a potential season altering injury.

The Bengals have lost arguably their two best defensive players in Atkins and Leon Hall for the season. Adam Jones has played good enough in the absence of Hall over the past few weeks, but it will be interesting to see how the defensive line responds to losing its best player and leader in Geno Atkins.

Although Andy Dalton has shown flashes this season, he’s been far too inconsistent to be considered an elite quarterback. It’s clear that Dalton can’t throw the deep ball, but the biggest concern has been his lack of accuracy on short and intermediate routes.

This past week in Miami saw Dalton throw a pick six in the red zone on a 10 yard out to Marvin jones. A ball that should have been thrown to the outside shoulder of Jones was under thrown and allowed the defensive back to make a play. The result was a 90 yard interception return for a touchdown and a dramatic shift in momentum.

It’s mistakes like these which have kept Dalton as a middle tier NFL quarterback and limited the Bengals offensive firepower.

Second Half Predictions

Despite the losses of Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, I think the Bengals still win the AFC North. Cleveland is underrated and will keep the AFC North somewhat competitive, but I think Cincinnati is a better team overall.

I have the Bengals going 5-2 down the stretch with losses at San Diego and Pittsburgh. With an 11-5 record, the Bengals will host a Wild Card game in Cincinnati.

Who Dey

Bengals, Reds, and the City of Cincinnati

Today is Wednesday, September 25 2013.

The Cincinnati Reds have clinched a playoff berth and are fighting to play the one game Wild Card at Great American Ballpark. The Cincinnati Bengals are 2-1 and ranked as the sixth best team in the NFL by ESPN.

Over the past five years, Cincinnati has seen the rebirth of Over-The-Rhine and Fountain Square, the addition of The Banks, and various festivals and music events making annual appearances. The City of Cincinnati has transformed to an exciting and enviable travel destination.

I have spent roughly twenty years of my life in Cincinnati and I have never been prouder to call it home.

The Banks on Opening Day

The Banks on Opening Day

My point is, enjoy the next few weeks and months. Enjoy the Reds fighting to survive the Wild Card game and the Bengals looking like a legitimate contender. Go to The Banks and act like you’re in college again by bouncing from bar to bar, drink special to drink special.

Enjoy the City of Cincinnati and everything it has to offer right now, on September 25, 2013.

Now then, let’s talk sports:

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are all but eliminated from the NL Central race and must focus their attention on securing the top Wild Card spot. They currently trail the Pirates by one game in that category with four games remaining.

This weekend will see the Reds and Pirates go head to head in the final three games of the season to essentially determine where the one games playoff will be held. After watching this past weekend series in Pittsburgh, I want no part of a one game playoff at PNC Park.

The Reds have their starting rotation set to ensure Mat Latos will start the one game playoff. I think Latos deserves the nod for the Wild Card game and definitely has the ability to shut down the opposing team. Regardless, the Reds would prefer to host the Wild Card game at GABP.

I think the Reds will win three of their last four and host the one game playoff at home in what would be the most exciting game in the history of Great American Ballpark.

Cincinnati Bengals

After three weeks, the Bengals find themselves 2-1 and tied for first in the AFC North. The win against Green Bay this past weekend was one of the biggest victories in recent memory.

The Bengals proved they can overcome adversity and showed they can compete with elite teams in the NFL. Many players believe they gave away the game in week one and should be 3-0.

Regardless, the Bengals have put themselves in good shape to contend for the AFC North crown this year. The Steelers and Ravens look vulnerable and the Browns are rebuilding yet again. If the Bengals can remain healthy and continue their strong defensive play, they could be in contention for a top seed in the AFC.

The Bengals head to Cleveland on Sunday to take on a pesky Browns team who always seems to play well at home. I think the Bengals will come out on top, but I think it will be a lot closer than people think.

Prediction: Bengals 24 Browns 17

Who Dey and Go Reds!

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Secondary

The defensive back position might be the most difficult to figure out heading into the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals season. On paper, there is certainly talent in the defensive backfield. However, the unit has struggled to establish an identity over the past few seasons.

The Bengals defense starts up front with a strong defensive line, but the secondary will need to step up for the defense to be considered dominant. Mike Zimmer likes to take chances on defense and often relies on his defensive backs to execute in one on one coverage.

The corners should be a strength for the Bengals in 2013. Veteran Leon Hall is considered one of the top corners in the league and will be asked to defend the opposing teams number one receiver. Hall bounced back nicely last year from a torn achilles and continues to be very effective against the run.

Terence Newman will begin the season as the number two corner. However, at 34 years old Newman could be pushed by the younger and quicker Dre Kirkpatrick. Newman provides strong veteran leadership on the outside and was a solid contributor in 2012. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate those efforts this season or if age has finally caught up to him.

Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones

Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones

Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones will see a lot of action in the nickel package to start the season. Kirkpatrick missed the majority of 2012, but all reports indicate a solid performance throughout training camp.

Adam Jones was an unsung hero throughout the 2012 season. He has become a very reliable player and there is no doubt he will be counted on this season.

With four capable corners, the Bengals should feel good about the talent and depth at the position. Kirkpatrick is the X factor and still has a lot to prove after being selected in the first round of last years NFL Draft. He’s arguably the teams most talented defensive back, but he needs to remain healthy to prove his value.

The safety position is a different story for the 2013 Bengals. The free safety position belongs to Reggie Nelson. Nelson has been extremely productive over his past two seasons in Cincinnati and seems to have found a home in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Nelson tied for the team lead in interceptions last year and ranked third in tackles while missing two games.

While he is very effective against the run and has a knack for making big plays, Nelson occasionally gets beat badly in coverage. If Nelson can became more consistent in coverage, he should garner some Pro Bowl attention in the 2013 season.

Strong safety looks to be an open race nearly two weeks before the season opener. George Iloka appeared to have the inside track before breaking a bone in his hand while punching a fellow teammate in the helmet. It looks like Iloka should be ready for the season opener, but there is no doubt the time off due to injury will cost him some playing time.

Taylor Mays got the start in the second preseason game and looked very average. Mays is a frustrating player for fans and coaches alike. He seems to make great plays followed immediately by very bad plays. He also loves his girlfriend and talking about superpowers.

The other option at strong safety is rookie Shawn Williams. Williams looked very good in the second preseason game and recorded 10 tackles. With that being said, it’s hard to imagine the Bengals handing the starting job to a rookie.

It should be a battle between Mays and Iloka for the starting job throughout the rest of training camp with Williams pushing them to be their best. There is no doubt the Bengals will need consistency from the strong safety position to have a successful season in 2013.

The secondary certainly has the talent to be an elite group. The key component will be consistency. They gave up far too many big plays last season and too often allowed opposing quarterbacks to settle in and pick them apart. The combination of veteran leadership from Leon Hall and Terence Newman should help the unit bounce back from last season and hopefully become a key ingredient for a dominant defense.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Offensive Line

The offensive line is often the most overlooked position group on any NFL team. They typically don’t receive any media attention and they rarely get the glory of the playmakers around them.

Despite this oversight, the offensive line is arguably the most important unit on the field. You can have a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, but it won’t matter if he has no time to throw the ball and gets knocked down every time he drops back.

Luckily, the Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2013 season with one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the NFL.

The O-line is led by 8th year pro Andrew Whitworth at the left tackle position. Whitworth was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2012 and is considered the heart and soul of the offensive line.

Whitworth is the leader on the O-Line

Whitworth is the leader on the O-Line

The other starters alongside Whitworth figure to be Clint Boling, Trevor Robinson, Kevin Zeitler, and Andre Smith. While this is a very solid starting group, the backups make the unit even stronger. Anthony Collins, Dennis Roland, and Kyle Cook all have playoff experience and can step in at a moments notice.

Perhaps the biggest question mark is what to expect from Andre Smith.

Smith has been a conundrum since being drafted sixth overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. He has been hurt, held out of camp, and attempted to sign elsewhere this offseason.

Despite these deficiencies, he’s been a very productive player when he’s on the field.

Smith is considered an average pass blocker, but excels in opening up holes for the running game. Look for the Bengals to utilize a strong right side of Smith and Zeitler to create holes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the speedy Giovani Bernard.

Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, who played 10 years on the Cincinnati offensive line, feels this is the deepest group in the Marvin Lewis era.

They’ve got a little bit of everything. Some experienced backups, there are young guys starting to blossom and guys that have played multiple positions.

Returning the same line from a year ago builds continuity among the offense and allows Andy Dalton to feel more comfortable in the pocket. There is no denying this is the strongest group since Rich Braham was anchoring the middle of the field during the 2005 season.

Another reason to believe this offensive line will be so successful is it is working against arguably the best defensive line in football.

Going against the likes of Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Michael Johnson can only help the offensive line prepare for life in the AFC North.

It is often stated the success of any team hinges on their ability to control the line of scrimmage. The defensive line certainly has that covered heading into the 2013 season. However, the overlooked and often unsung offensive line will be key in leading the Bengals to a third straight playoff appearance.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Linebacker

The fourth installment of Bengals Breakdown will focus on the linebacker position for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.

The linebacking corps is one of the most interesting aspects of the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals. While the defensive line is the strength of the defense, there are still some question marks at the second level.

The addition of James Harrison caught a lot of people by surprise during the offseason. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year brings a lot of experience and veteran leadership to a relatively young defense. He certainly wasn’t the same player during his final season in Pittsburgh, but he won’t be asked to do as much for the Bengals.

The Bengals need more from Rey Maualuga

The Bengals need more from Rey Maualuga

Harrison will be the opening day starter at one of the outside linebacker positions and should have ample opportunities to rush the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how much Harrison has left in the tank. He is 35 years old and coming off an injury prone 2012 season.

With that being said, Mike Zimmer loves to utilize multiple packages and should find plenty of ways to play to the strengths of James Harrison.

Furthermore, Harrison is still considered one of the hardest hitters in the league and undoubtedly brings an intimidation factor with him to Cincinnati.

As of now, Rey Maualuga will be the opening day starter at middle linebacker. Maualuga became a frequent scapegoat for Bengals fans everywhere this past season, and rightfully so. He was downright awful in the loss to Houston during the wild card round last year. In addition to multiple missed tackles, he allowed multiple catches to running backs and tight end across the middle of the field.

Despite these deficiencies, the Bengals believed in him enough to sign him to a two year deal during the offseason. Maualuga remains a key contributor on defense and he will need to improve for the linebacking corps to be taken seriously in 2013.

Expect big things from Vontaze Burfict in 2013

Expect big things from Vontaze Burfict in 2013

After an extremely productive rookie season in 2012, Vontaze Burfict will be the third starting linebacker when the Bengals open the season on September 8th in Chicago. Burfict led the team in tackles with 174 last season and was an instant fan favorite in Cincinnati.

Burfict plays hard and fast. He is the most explosive member of the linbacking corps and should improve coming off his first year in the NFL. There has been speculation he could surpass Maualuga at the middle linebacker position, but he still seems a bit raw to be in command of the defense.

There is no doubt the linebacking corps is talented. They have a nice blend of youth and experience to go with a dominant front line.

The biggest question mark will be the progression of Rey Maualuga and if James Harrison can provide a sense of leadership to Maualuga and Burfict.

Expect another big year from Vontaze Burfict and look for a rejuvenated and angry James Harrison to be a dominant tag team in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Running Back

This week in Bengals Breakdown, we’ll analyze the running backs for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The one thing missing from the offense over the past few years has been a difference maker at the running back position. The Bengals have gotten solid contributions over the last 7-8 years from guys like Rudi Johnson, Cedric Benson, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

The most touchdowns in a season came from Rudi Johnson back in 2006 with 12. While all three of the previously mentioned backs offer something in their own way, none of them possessed breakaway speed to keep opposing defenses honest.

Nowhere was this more evident than in last years wild card game in Houston.

The Law Firm will remain the featured back in 2013

The Law Firm will remain the featured back in 2013

The Bengals managed only 80 yards total on the ground as Green-Ellis struggled to find any space and finished with just 63 yards on 11 carries. Cincinnati was forced into throwing the ball and finished the game with zero offensive touchdowns.

The lack of a running game allowed Houston to sit back and force Andy Dalton to make very difficult throws. Meanwhile, the Texans used 140 yards from Arian Foster to set up the play action and allow Matt Schaub the time and space to pick apart the Bengals secondary.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis certainly didn’t blow anyone away in 2012, but he was somewhat effective.

He carried the ball 278 times for 1,094 yards and six touchdowns. He’s a bruiser who can run between the tackles and pick up a tough yard when needed. There is no denying the Bengals will need another solid year from the Law Firm if they want to take the next step in 2013.

However, at some point every team needs a guy who can keep the defense honest and change the game with his speed. Arian Foster proved the value of a shifty running back who can run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield.

Enter Giovani Bernard.

With the 37th pick, the Bengals made Giovani Bernard the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. Bernard leaves the University of North Carolina after rushing for just under 2,500 yards over the last two seasons in Chapel Hill.

Giovani Bernard brings a spark to the Bengals[/caption]While his 4.53-second time in the 40-yard dash didn’t turn many heads, Bernard is known for his quickness more than straightaway speed. He has been compared to Maurice Jones-Drew in that he is more of a shifty back and eludes tacklers with a variety of moves.

Bernard is also exceptional at catching the ball out of the backfield, something the Bengals haven’t had from the running back position in years. According to Cincinnati.com, the Bengals were the only team in the NFL to not have a running back with a reception over 20 yards this past season.

Much to the chagrin of many fantasy owners, the Bengals could implore a running back by committee in 2013 with Bernard and Green-Ellis splitting the carries. The combination of power and finesse from the Law Firm and Bernard will allow Jay Gruden to be more creative in his offensive schemes and hopefully open up some throwing lanes for Andy Dalton.

Look for the Bengals running game to improve in 2013 and watch out for Giovani Bernard in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Defensive Line

In the second installment of Bengals Breakdown we’ll take a look at the Cincinnati Bengals defensive line. A group which many believe is the best defensive line in the NFL.

Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincinnati in January of 2003 with hopes of creating the type of defense he had helped build in Baltimore. Instead, the Bengals relied on offensive minded teams led by Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. They consistently finished in the bottom half of the league in defensive statistics and often found themselves in shootouts with opposing teams.

Many fans and analysts questioned why the Bengals were so offensive reliant when their head coach was known as a defensive genius. Nobody knows for sure, but it seems fairly obvious there was a turning point between Marvin Lewis and Bengals owner Mike Brown. The last five drafts have proven Marvin Lewis is finally getting the players he so long desired.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the defensive line. The AFC North has the reputation of being a smash-mouth division that is “won in the trenches.” Furthermore, the new rules which protect the quarterback have put a premium on pressuring the QB and disrupting his rhythm.

Beginning in 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals have added big and athletic defensive lineman in every draft.

Pat Sims, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Dontay Moch, Brandon Thompson, Devon Still, and Margus Hunt have all been acquired via the draft over the past five years. Pairing these young players with the experienced Domato Peko and Robert Geathers has created arguably the best defensive line in football.

Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap anchor the Defensive Line

Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap anchor the Defensive Line

The interior line is led by Domato Peko and the sensational Geno Atkins. Atkins led the Bengals in sacks last season with 12.5 and is widely considered the best interior lineman in the NFL. Peko is the leader of the defense and is most effective against the run.

The defensive ends are led by veteran Robert Geathers who recently agreed to a 3 year contract. Michael Johnson accounted for 11.5 sacks in 2012 while Gilberry and Dunlap accounted for 6 each, respectively.

One thing which makes the defensive line so dangerous is their ability to sub players in and out of games. The magnitude of talent allows players to stay fresh and consistently pressure the quarterback.

The biggest question going forward is how can the Bengals possibly keep all of these players in stripes. They used the franchise tag to keep Michael Johnson around this season, but have yet to work out a deal with the 26-year old. On July 16, the Bengals announced they reached an agreement with Carlos Dunlap to keep him in Cincinnati through the 2018 season.

The next step will be extending Geno Atkins before he’s eligible to hit free agency in March. Many are speculating a deal could get done before the start of the 2013 season.

Geno Atkins is the best interior lineman in the NFL

Geno Atkins is the best interior lineman in the NFL

It’s clear the Bengals value what they have along the defensive line and would like to retain as many players as possible. The signing of Carlos Dunlap and rumored extension of Geno Atkins proves the Bengals believe they have the formula to win in the AFC North.

There is no doubt the defensive line is the strongest position group for the Cincinnati Bengals. They have the ability to change every game and allow defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be more aggressive with blitz packages while leaving the cornerbacks in 1 on 1 coverage.

Expectations are unusually high in the Queen City heading into the 2013 season. The Bengals have the opportunity to be a very strong football team in the coming years. The continued production from the defensive line will be key in maintaing a consistent and winning mentality in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Quarterback

We are nearly eight weeks away from the Cincinnati Bengals opening their regular season on the road in Chicago. To put things in perspective, the NFL Draft was just over ten weeks ago. Point being, the first meaningful game of 2013 will be here before you know it.

Over the next eight weeks, I will breakdown a different position group each week. Each week will contain my personal analysis along with tidbits and quotes from various sources around the NFL.

The eight position groups will be: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver/Tight End, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Secondary, and Special Teams.

The first position for this new segment is Quarterback.

Andy Dalton arrived in Cincinnati during a tumultuous time for Bengals nation. Carson Palmer was demanding a trade and causing major distractions off the field. Marvin Lewis signed a new contract to keep him in Cincinnati despite minimal success during his previous eight seasons with the team. Wide receivers Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens were released by the Bengals. Finally, the Bengals fired Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski and replaced him with Jay Gruden.

The odds were heavily stacked against Dalton during his first year in Cincinnati. The 2011 lockout meant no training camp or time to learn a new system and get comfortable with his surrounding cast.

Nationally respected writers such as Peter King from Sports Illustrated and Pete Prisco from CBS Sports predicted the Bengals would finish 3-13 and be in contention for the #1 pick in April of 2012.

Instead, Andy Dalton started all 16 games while throwing for 3,400 yards, 20 touchdowns, and leading the Bengals to a 9-7 record and trip to the playoffs via the wild card. Dalton joined fellow Bengals A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, and Jermaine Gresham on the 2012 Pro Bowl roster.

The time is now for Andy Dalton

The time is now for Andy Dalton

Despite losing convincingly to the Houston Texans in the first round of the playoffs, the 2011 season was considered a huge success and Andy Dalton had solidified himself as a legit NFL quarterback.

2012 was another successful season as Andy Dalton improved in nearly every statistical category. He threw for 3,600 yards, 27 touchdowns and once again led the Bengals to the playoffs via the wild card.

However, for the second consecutive year the Bengals were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Houston Texans. This time around, writers and analysts were critical of Dalton’s performance towards the end of the season and the wild card round.

Despite statistical improvements, there is no doubt Andy Dalton seemed hesitant during the 2012 season. There were too many errant throws and not enough game changing plays. Furthermore, Marvin Lewis challenged Dalton to become a better leader midway through the season.

There is no doubt Andy Dalton is capable of winning in the NFL. He has proven he can be a reliable and consistent quarterback in this league. The question is whether or not he can lead them to the Superbowl. The Cincinnati Bengals have enough talent and experience to be legitimate Superbowl contenders over the next three to four years.

Andy Dalton needs to become a more consistent quarterback and make more plays in the red zone for this team to take the next step. The third year is typically the measuring stick for NFL quarterbacks. Dalton has the experience and knowledge to excel at this level.

For the second year in a row, ESPN guru Ron Jaworski ranked Dalton #19 on his list of starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

“I felt there was a hesitancy to his play in the last half of the 2012 season. There were too many times he didn’t pull the trigger and too many poor reads for a quarterback whose arm strength limitations demand precise execution. This will be a critical year for Dalton. He’s a rock-solid NFL starting quarterback, but there’s too much inconsistency in his overall play.”

The Cincinnati Bengals have surrounded Dalton with even more weapons by adding Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard in the 2013 NFL draft. Expect some new formations and wrinkles in the offense to get the ball out of Dalton’s hands quicker and more effectively.

The majority of Dalton apologists point to the lack of weapons surrounding him over the past two seasons.

Dalton has all world wide receiver A.J. Green, Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham, slippery slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, and now a blend of running backs in Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. Not to mention the return of Mohamed Sanu and addition of big time playmaker Tyler Eifert.

I believe Andy Dalton is good enough to lead the Cincinnati Bengals deep into the playoffs and possibly contend for a Superbowl with the right offensive scheme. I think he has the playmakers and coordinators around him to create that scheme. The only thing left is execution and consistency.

There are no more excuses for Andy Dalton.