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: 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.