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

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: 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?

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 10.01

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?