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Know Your Enemy: Cincinnati Bengals

As the Cincinnati Bengals continue to surround quarterback Andy Dalton with talent, it will be incumbent upon the young quarterback to prove he can make the most of it.

As the Cincinnati Bengals continue to surround Andy Dalton with talent, it will be incumbent upon the young quarterback to prove he can make the most of it.

The NFL season is a long, arduous journey. Although offseason discussions seem to be dominated by comparisons of teams and individuals players within a division, divisional matches only represent six of a team’s 16 regular-season games. There are plenty of other enemies out there of whom fans need to be aware. With the kind help of our friends at ProFootballFocus (PFF), let’s dissect some of the non-divisional opponents our favorite NFC North teams will be facing in 2013.

In our last installment, we examined the Pittsburgh Steelers. Today we shine our headlamp on the Cincinnati Bengals.

Not your usual Bungles

The Bengals have made the playoffs the last two years in a row, both times as wild cards, and three out of the past four seasons. Marvin Lewis returns as head coach for his 11th season with the club, respected offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is in his third season, and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is in his sixth.

The offense, lead by third-year quarterback Andy “Ginger” Dalton, was average in 2012: 17th in passing yards (223 yards per game) and 18th in rushing yardage (109 ypg). They struggled to hold on to the ball, committing 26 turnovers (16 picks and 10 lost fumbles) and allowing 46 sacks. With the aid of three defensive touchdowns and one special teams return, the team scored 24.4 points a game.

The defense was very strong, though, allowing 212 ypg through the air (7th) and 107 ypg on the ground (12th). They forced 14 picks and 16 fumbles for an impressive total of 30 turnovers, recovering all 16 of those fumbles for a 100-percent recovery rate.

Strategic Threats

Weaponry

Slowly but surely, general manager Mike Brown is surrounding quarterback Andy Dalton with some good weapons. A.J. Green is a stud No. 1 wide receiver coming off a 97-catch 1,350-yard, 11-touchdown campaign. Tight end Jermaine Gresham finally stayed healthy enough to accumulate 737 yards and five touchdowns. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins emerged with 533 yards and four touchdowns to support Green and Gresham.

Former second-round pick, wide receiver Mohammed Sanu, returns after missing seven games due to injury his rookie year, while speedy Brandon Tate also provides some firepower.

Talented tight end Tyler Eifert was drafted in in Round 1 and running back Giovanni Bernard in Round 2 of the 2013 NFL Draft. Bernard and BenJarvis Green-Ellis (3.9 ypc) should provide a decent combo in the backfield.

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham seems to be coming into his own.

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham seems to be coming into his own.

Tackles

Although the line as a whole gave up up 46 sacks, the tackles were very strong. Left tackle Andre Whitworth allowed dive sacks, zero hits, and 11 hurries, which earned him a +27.2 pass blocking grade per ProFootballFocus (PFF). His run blocking was inconsistent (-2.0). Recently re-signed right tackle Andre Smith made up for Whitworth’s deficiencies, earning a +10.6 grade in run blocking. He allowed seven sacks, two hits, and 24 hurries on the season for a +11.7 pass-blocking grade.

Defensive line

The  4-3 defensive line is loaded with talent, and it all starts with Geno Atkins, by far the best defensive tackle in the game. Atkins had 12.5 sacks, 13 hits, and 49 hurries last year — amazing for a player at his position — to earned  a whopping +52.1 pass-rush grade. Atkins is also a beast in run defense (+10.7).

Defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are tall, lanky men who can both play the run and rush the passer. Johnson had a breakout year with 11.5 sacks, eight hits, and 34 hurries (+10.7 in run defense). Dunlap registered six sacks, 13 hits, and 32 hurries (+5.6 in run defense). Backup Wallace Gilberry added six sacks.

Physical freak Margus Hunt was drafted as a defensive end in the second round this year. Michael Johnson was slapped with a franchise tag and should play hard for a contract.

Cornerback

The fact that this team can go four deep at cornerback is a great thing for them.

Leon Hall earned a +4.9 grade in coverage facing No. 1 wide receivers. Pacman Jones is a good nickel corner in coverage (+10.6) and return man. The No. 2 cornerback spot remains open, with the leading candidates being veteran Terence Newman (+4.8 in coverage), formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, and last year’s first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick, who only played 43 snaps. Kirkpatrick should take over here.

Uncertainties

Quarterback

Andy Dalton has done everything asked of him, leading the Bengals to the playoffs in both of his first two seasons and progressing from game manager to solid quarterback. Last year he completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns to 16 interceptions (CQBR of 65.65). Now that he has Eifert, Bernard, and Sanu at his disposal, he must take that next step into the upper echelon if he wants to avoid stalling on Wild Card Weekend.

Interior offensive line line

Center Kyle Cook returns from injury after playing only 162 snaps in 2013 and must stay healthy in 2013. Rookie first-round pick Kevin Zeitler did well, allowing four sacks, one hit, and 10 hurries and earning a +1.0 run blocking grade. Thrown into the fire after Cook’s injury, Clint Boling did a solid job, allowing only six sacks, two hits, and 12 hurries and grading out at-1.0 in run blocking. Jeff Faine is gone after putting up a a -11.0 run-blocking grade performance at center. Cook should be the upgrade to put them over the top and Travelle Wharton is a solid backup at guard.

The Cincinnati Bengals will look to center Kyle Cook to help the offense progress past Wild Card Weekend in 2013.

The Cincinnati Bengals will look to center Kyle Cook to help the offense progress past Wild Card Weekend in 2013.

Soft Spots

Linebacker

Seventh-round pick Vontaze Burfict managed to stay out of trouble and had a surprising year; he was average in coverage and earned +4.5 run-defense marks. However, second round pick Rey Maualuga struggled against the run (-6.2 run) and in coverage (-17.2). Teams know they will have success passing if they throw at Maualuga.

James Harrison arrives fresh off the boat from Pittsburgh. He was a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Steelers and must transition to the 4-3 alignment but should provide a run-defense and pass-rush boost.

Dontay Moch is a speedy second-round linebacker who is developing.

This unit can be beat in coverage but they have the talent to stop the run. Maualuga must show significant progress; so far he has turned out to be a disappointment.

Safety

After struggling in Jacksonville, Reggie Nelson resurrected his career in Cincinnati, earned a +12.1 grade in coverage and +1.2 against the run.

Strong safety Shawn Williams was drafted in Round 3 to battle former second-round pick Taylor Mays.

Readiness Evaluation

The Bengals don’t have many soft spots. They are a legitimate playoff contender and will be a tough opponent for all four NFC North teams.

They finished 10-6 last year and were road warriors, going 6-2 on the road and 4-4 at home. They open the season on the road at Chicago and will represent a huge test for the Bears. Week 3 Cincinnati host Green Bay in what will prove to be an important early home game for the Packers. Week 7 Cincinnati travels to Ford Field to face the Detroit Lions. Week 16 the Bengals will host the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bengals aren’t a team that will impress you with gaudy talent but they are a complete and tough team lead by a hard-nosed head coach. Things won’t be easy for the NFC North against the AFC North in 2013.

2016 comments
Tearloch - All About the Bass, No Treble!
Tearloch - All About the Bass, No Treble!

I was just reading the "Exploring Matthew Stafford" series.  I read the first line and new it was an LKP piece.  Nobody else makes such a point of listing injuries and "true record".....

Amazingly, I didn't see a single mention of injuries on the opponents' rosters...

Fiddy We be one game out of first HAHAHAHAHAHA
Fiddy We be one game out of first HAHAHAHAHAHA

So who is everyones Super Bowl picks and it can't be your team, well except for Falcons cause we all know they are going :)

OK OK!! Rules are rules!  As of Right now I say Denver vs ????

Tearloch - All About the Bass, No Treble!
Tearloch - All About the Bass, No Treble!

@50caliberfalcon I was so hoping that the Bears would have found a way to draft Kuechly last year.  If only they had lost that last game in 2011, they would have been in a much better position to move up to get him....  Dude is a monster, and would have looked great replacing Urlacher.

 ✔ESPN OUTsider
✔ESPN OUTsider

@50caliberfalcon  This takes into account expected margin (by Vegas) which gets rid of how a teams' schedule confuses things.  It ain't perfect but it's better than raw wins.

Tearloch - All About the Bass, No Treble!
Tearloch - All About the Bass, No Treble!

@jwoude23 Bear Down @Tearloch Russ went the wrong way about doing it?  That never happens.  I like some of the stuff he writes, as long as he lays off the extraneous excuse making and this ficticious "true record" concept.  You can't really parse out a few plays and say they would have changed the entire outcome of a game, since the score effects how the opponent plays the game as well.

falconsriseup19
falconsriseup19

@curtisfryer_p Baltimore will probably be the new Pitt. (a little better). Overrated QBs that had Defenses get them to playoffs/wins(mostly). Now they will not be relevant when it comes to SB contenders.

falconsriseup19
falconsriseup19

@50caliberfalcon i think he'll be good enough. Foster (if he doesnt break) Andre and Hopkins seems to be a solid no.2 from what Ive been hearing...and that defense is nasty too.