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.

Bengals Return to Hard Knocks

The Cincinnati Bengals return to "Hard Knocks" in August

The Cincinnati Bengals return to “Hard Knocks” in August


For the second time in the last five years, the Cincinnati Bengals will be featured on the HBO series “Hard Knocks.” “Hard Knocks” is a reality sports documentary which provides an in depth look at the training camp of one NFL team each year.

The Bengals were featured on the show in 2009 when big personalities such as Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens stole the spotlight.

Additionally, Carson Palmer was still the quarterback in Cincinnati and things were beginning to head south for him and the rest of the team. Within two years, Carson, Chad, and Terrell Owens were either traded or released by the Bengals and a new wave of talent and youth was on the way in.

The 2013 version of “Hard Knocks” figures to be a much different story. The Bengals are led by quiet superstars on both sides of the ball in A.J. Green and Geno Atkins. The team is a nice blend of experience and youth, a trait which has helped them reach the playoffs three of the past four seasons.

With loads of talent on both sides of the ball, there is no doubt the Bengals are a good choice to be featured on the award winning show. The progression of Andy Dalton and the impact of rookies Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard will be must see TV for fans and pundits alike.

The question is, will “Hard Knocks” help or hurt the Cincinnati Bengals?

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In my opinion, there is a reason organizations like the Patriots and Steelers are never featured on “Hard Knocks.” Strong organizations don’t want the distraction that comes with cameras and film crews following their every move. Obviously, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis feel differently when it comes to this type of distraction.

Marvin Lewis has earned the right to make the decision to appear on “Hard Knocks,” and I will enjoy watching every second of the show. However, it has the potential to become a distraction for a very young and talented team. Andy Dalton has a lot to prove in 2013. The defense is full of young talent. The majority of the playmakers on offense are still in their mid-20’s. How will they respond to the publicity and critique that comes with this show?

For now, I am cautiously optimistic.

What do you think?