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 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: 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.