Babes Breaks Down The AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

Featured, Sports and Bets — August 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm by
by Babes
Sizing Up The Competition: 
The reigning AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals are definitely the stiffest competition for the Ravens as far as winning the division goes.  The Bengals have a highly talented core of players, much like the Ravens, and a solid head coach in Marvin Lewis.  Their problem the last three years is that they can’t win a playoff game.  As a matter of fact, Cincy hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990.
When you step back and look at that last statement, especially in this day and age of, “win big games or get fired”,  it’s sometimes hard to figure out how Marvin Lewis still has a job. But he is an excellent coach who has cultivated a winning team from the depths of years of obscurity.  Unfortunately for the Bengals this season, they were stripped off both coordinators, and  they lost a few key players in free agency.  Hue Jackson will take over as offensive coordinator, and he has assured everyone that the Bengals are going to recommit to running the ball.
At quarterback, Andy Dalton maybe the hardest player in the NFL to peg.  His numbers have improved every year in the league, and he has taken the Bengals to the playoffs all three years.  As mentioned before, he is 0-3 in the playoffs, and all three losses can be placed squarely on his shoulders, as he played like shit in each one.  Cincy is looking for him to take the kind of leap Joe Flacco took in his contract year, and lead them to postseason victories.  They obviously believe Dalton will take that leap as they just signed him to huge, $115 million contract.  The contract isn’t necessarily heavy in guaranteed money, but it’s eye-popping nonetheless.
At running back, the Bengals will start the very special talent, Giovani Bernard.  Bernard had an exceptional year as a number two back last year, and they expect his numbers to ascend this year.  To protect Gio from the constant pounding an NFL back takes, they drafted the bulldozing Jeremy Hill out of LSU.  Hill will most definitely supplant the law-firm, Benjarvis Green-Ellis, as the between the tackles and goal line back. Ellis will most likely be traded or let go by the end of camp.  The combo of Gio and Hill should be able to produce over 2000 yards from scrimmage.
At tight-end, the Bengals have two former first round picks, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.  Gresham has underachieved almost his entire career, and will not be a big part of the passing game.  Eifert, on the other hand, will be asked to produce in a major way in his second year.  Eifert will play the move tight-end role, or “H” back, and he should exceed 100 targets this year.  It will be interesting to monitor his development.
At receiver, AJ Green is one of the five best in the game.  I think at times he is actually held back by Andy Dalton’s limitations.  Green will approach 1500 yards and double digit touchdowns.  On the opposite side, Marvin Jones will be starting.  Jones came on last year, his season being highlighted, of course, by that four touchdown performance against the Jets.  He totaled ten trips to the end zone last year, so the Bengals finally have a decent counterpart for Green.  In the slot, they lost the talented Andrew Hawkins in free agency, so the slot duties look to go to either Mohamed Sanu, Ryan Whalen, or Dane Sanzenbacher.  None those three scare me, and I think this spot will be a significant weakness for Cincy.
The offensive line was shaken up last year with the injury to Clint Boling.  Andrew Whitworth had to kick down to guard and Anthony Collins stepped in at left tackle.  Well, Collins bolted for Tampa Bay, so Whitworth will return to left tackle.  He is a proven vet, but he has declined quite a bit in these last two years.  Boling will return to left guard and pair with fringe pro-bowl candidate Kevin Zeitler at the right guard spot.  Big titties himself, Andre Smith, is still a very good right tackle.  The question mark on this line will be the new center Trevor Robinson who takes over for Kyle Cook, who was cut.  All in all I see this line being slightly better then average.
On the defensive side, the Bengals are going to miss two very important pieces from last year.  Defensive End Michael Johnson, who left for Tampa Bay, and coordinator Mike Zimmer.  Zimmer, who is now the head coach in Minnesota, was a huge part if thus unit’s success.  The Bengals do however, have the fruits of several good drafts in a row to fill in the holes.
The front four is highlighted by all-pro Geno Akins at defensive tackle.  Akins, however, is coming off a knee injury and won’t be back to 100% to start the season.  Domata Peko is the other starting tackle, and quite frankly, I can’t believe they didn’t cut him after a piss poor performance.  They needed him to step up when Atkins went down, and he did the opposite.  At defensive end, the best pass rusher left on the defense is Carlos Dunlap.  Dunlap logged 7.5 sacks last year, but the Bengals are going to need more this year.  The other starting end spot will be a competition in camp between Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, and Will Clarke.  This line needs the constant double teams that Akins demands to flourish.
At linebacker, the Bengals are led by Vontaze Burfict at the Will spot.  Burfict, who made his first pro-bowl last year, is the defense’s best playmaker.  He’s a tackling machine that gets to run free most of the time behind the massive space-eaters.  Ray Maualuga plays the middle, but he peaked in college and is nothing more then an average starter.  The Sam linebacker spot will be a camp battle, with Vincent Rey the most likely candidate to win out.  Rey stepped into the starting lineup last year due to injury and played well.
The secondary was a bit of a liability last year.  Leon Hall was lost for the year and former first rounder Dre Kirkpatrick has disappointed up to this point.  So the Bengals used their first round pick on talented corner Darqueze Dennard.  He will most likely start out as the nickel corner, but I predict he’ll be working outside by mid season.  The Bengals also have vets Adam Jones and Terrance Newman, so depth should not be a problem.  At safety the Bengals return two solid starters in Reggie Nelson and George Iloka.
The defense will once again be solid but not spectacular.  If they can ramp up their pass rush and create takeaways, this will be a productive unit.
I see the Bengals taking a small step backwards this year and finishing second in the division at 9-7.  They didn’t do enough in the offseason to improve as much as the Ravens, and they will relinquish the division crown to the Purple and Black.

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