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

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.

Bengals Update

While the Reds have been busy winning 10 of their last 12, the Cincinnati Bengals kicked off OTA’s this week. OTA’s are a good opportunity to look at some rookies and get a feel for where the team stands in the health department. It also means the NFL offseason is technically over and we can begin to think about football season again.

A few items of note:

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Adam Jones suffered some sort of injury to his calf muscle on the first day of OTA’s and will be held out for the remainder of practice sessions. Jones seems poised for perhaps his best season in Cincinnati.

He has been of the most underrated Bengals over the past three seasons and has filled in nicely when called upon. Furthermore, he has added a dimension in the return game.

Andre Smith

Andre Smith is once again absent from OTA’s. Resigning Smith played a huge role in allowing the Bengals to draft Giovani Bernard and Margus Hunt in the second round, rather than using one of those picks to replace the right tackle.

Everybody seems pleased with having Smith back in the fold, but he certainly hasn’t been easy since being selected 6th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Hopefully he gets his act together and returns to OTA’s at a respectable weight.

Andy Dalton

This is a big season for Andy Dalton. The third year as a starter is traditionally a good measuring stick for NFL quarterbacks. With the addition of Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert, the Bengals have surrounded Dalton with plenty of fire power. Dalton and AJ Green have been vocal about wanting to improve on the long ball.

Perhaps this play is fueling the fire a bit.

James Harrison

OTA’s give coaches their first look at newly acquired linebacker, James Harrison. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year brings a nastiness and edge to a young defensive unit. It will be interesting to see how Mike Zimmer uses Harrison and how much he will be called upon to defend tight ends across the middle, something he struggled with in years past. Harrison could become the x-factor of a very good defensive unit and possibly help take this team to the next tier.

James Harrison

James Harrison

It’s way too early to determine what this team will look like come September 8 for the season opener in Chicago. However, this team has weapons at nearly every position and there is reason to be optimistic going forward. The Bengals are building something special and it might be time for everyone to start paying attention.