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: 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.

Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Linebacker

The fourth installment of Bengals Breakdown will focus on the linebacker position for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.

The linebacking corps is one of the most interesting aspects of the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals. While the defensive line is the strength of the defense, there are still some question marks at the second level.

The addition of James Harrison caught a lot of people by surprise during the offseason. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year brings a lot of experience and veteran leadership to a relatively young defense. He certainly wasn’t the same player during his final season in Pittsburgh, but he won’t be asked to do as much for the Bengals.

The Bengals need more from Rey Maualuga

The Bengals need more from Rey Maualuga

Harrison will be the opening day starter at one of the outside linebacker positions and should have ample opportunities to rush the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how much Harrison has left in the tank. He is 35 years old and coming off an injury prone 2012 season.

With that being said, Mike Zimmer loves to utilize multiple packages and should find plenty of ways to play to the strengths of James Harrison.

Furthermore, Harrison is still considered one of the hardest hitters in the league and undoubtedly brings an intimidation factor with him to Cincinnati.

As of now, Rey Maualuga will be the opening day starter at middle linebacker. Maualuga became a frequent scapegoat for Bengals fans everywhere this past season, and rightfully so. He was downright awful in the loss to Houston during the wild card round last year. In addition to multiple missed tackles, he allowed multiple catches to running backs and tight end across the middle of the field.

Despite these deficiencies, the Bengals believed in him enough to sign him to a two year deal during the offseason. Maualuga remains a key contributor on defense and he will need to improve for the linebacking corps to be taken seriously in 2013.

Expect big things from Vontaze Burfict in 2013

Expect big things from Vontaze Burfict in 2013

After an extremely productive rookie season in 2012, Vontaze Burfict will be the third starting linebacker when the Bengals open the season on September 8th in Chicago. Burfict led the team in tackles with 174 last season and was an instant fan favorite in Cincinnati.

Burfict plays hard and fast. He is the most explosive member of the linbacking corps and should improve coming off his first year in the NFL. There has been speculation he could surpass Maualuga at the middle linebacker position, but he still seems a bit raw to be in command of the defense.

There is no doubt the linebacking corps is talented. They have a nice blend of youth and experience to go with a dominant front line.

The biggest question mark will be the progression of Rey Maualuga and if James Harrison can provide a sense of leadership to Maualuga and Burfict.

Expect another big year from Vontaze Burfict and look for a rejuvenated and angry James Harrison to be a dominant tag team in the AFC North.

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.