2011 in a Nutshell: 9-7AFC 6th Seed – Lost Wildcard Round
Last year was pegged as a growing year for Cincinnati, a rookie quarterback, rookie wide receiver, new offensive co-ordinator and all of one month to install everything thanks to the lockout. After starting out 1-2, the Bengals went on a 5 game winning streak in October to have them in contention for the AFC North crown before a brutal 1-4 stretch relegated them to the wild card race. After finishing with a 9-7 record the team was able to sneak into the playoffs where they faced the Houston Texans in their first ever home playoff game. Despite an admirable showing from the Bengals there was not a whole lot they could do as they exited the playoffs with a 31-10 defeat in Reliant Stadium.
2012 Season Motto: No Growing Pains Here!
After the deadline day trade of Carson Palmer midseason, the Bengals went into the draft very well stocked with two first round picks. The first of which went to Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to shore up a defensive backfield that lost Jonathan Joseph a year before while the second pick went to Wisconsin guard Kevin Zietler who will compete for a starting job this year and be a long-term protector of Andy Dalton. Day two brought more fruits as they shored up their defensive line with Devon Still and Brandon Thompson who were picked either side of Mohamed Sanu, the Rutgers wide receiver. Overall it looks like a very positive draft for the Bengals, now they just have to produce on the field.
For the last few years the Bengals running game has been carried by Cedric Benson however this year the team appeared to decide that it was time to move on from him letting their workhorse go. To replace him they acquired one of the more underrated free agents available in former New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Lawfirm (as he was known to Pats fans) is a solid, reliable back who will get you three to five yards every time he carries the ball. He won’t break many/any big runs but the trade off for that is he won’t give the ball up either having never fumbled in his NFL career. Clearing the way for Green-Ellis will be former Panthers guard Travelle Wharton, a solid road-grader coming off a 16-game season with the Panthers. Along the defensive line there were some signings that, for the sake of Bengals fans, I hope never actually have to play significant snaps for them with draft busts Derrick Harvey and Jamaal Anderson signing as well.
Key Player for 2012: Andy Dalton – QB
Last year Dalton was thrown into the deep end with his NFL initiation taking place very quickly and Dalton took to it like a fish to water. While there were some growing pains such as the 20:13 TD:INT ratio and four lost fumbles, there were several positives to for Bengals fans to take as his connection with fellow rookie A.J. Green appeared to be in sync right from the start. This year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has opted to expand the playbook to try and broaden what the Bengals will do on offense this year and the success of that will come down to how well Dalton manages to grasp the expanded playbook. With plenty of options to throw it too, Dalton could be in for a big year if he manages to make the most of his opportunities.
Playing in the rough AFC North the Bengals will need a minor miracle to try and reach the top of their division and history has shown that under Marvin Lewis, they have struggled to repeat success in back to back seasons. Injuries have usually been the reason the Bengals have fallen off so perhaps the biggest key to this team succeeding is staying healthy. On offense the team will likely begin to rely on the passing game for more big plays with more responsibility placed on the shoulders of Dalton. Green-Ellis will likely get his 1000 yards on the ground with his 15-20 carries each game so you can count on the offense for production.
On defense the focus will be placed squarely on the defensive line and what sort of pressure they can create. Domata Peko and his hair will be the focus of plenty of blocking schemes as he looks like he’ll be the key man this season. Robert Geathers will be the main force on the outside as he looks to rebound from a down year where he only got 2.5 sacks last year. Losing Keith Rivers via trade will hurt the linebackers but with the acquisitions he should be adequately covered. The defensive backfield looks like a potential weak spot for the Bengals but that should be covered up nicely by the performance of the front seven.
With a week 8 bye, the Bengals look like they could repeat their run of last season and easily be 5-2 going into their week off. They open up on the road in primetime against the Ravens which will be a tough assignment before 5 games where four look like locks for a win before a week 7, Sunday night showdown at home against the Steelers. Early season success is key for the Bengals as things get much tougher at the end of the year especially when they face the Steelers and Ravens in weeks 16 and 17 respectively.
Final: Will they be better or worse off than last year?
Last year was great for the Bengals but it certainly doesn’t look like they will break 8-8 this year so I would have to say they will be worse off as Dalton experiences a sophomore slump.