Are you sure you want to strap in for another Cincinnati Bengals season? You do? Seriously? Wow. Your dedication is enviable. Not by me, of course, but by some.
If you know me well, you know that I gave up on my Bengal fandom about six years ago (right around the end of the Chad Johnson/Ochocinco ridiculousness and the Carson Palmer pussness). After paying a steep price many, many excruciating Sundays with this team, I had reached my breaking point. For my sanity, there was no other recourse than to jump off the train.
Now, if you don’t know me personally, or haven’t read me much, you can tie your horse to a couple of things with regard to this season preview:
1) I’m completely objective. Since I’m no longer a live-and-die-and-die-and-die-some-more Bengals fan, you can rest assured that I am no homer. I call it as I see it.
2) I do not judge you for continuing to show up Sunday after Sunday with your alcohol and your face paint and your Jason Buck #99 jersey to watch the Cincinnati Bengals. Just because I’d rather watch six straight episodes of the TV show “Roseanne” translated into Japanese than sit through an entire Bengals football game doesn’t mean I’m gonna perch atop my high horse and rag on your parade.
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get to this 2014-15 professional football season.
The Missing Ingredient
We’ll start with something simple that will ramp up your confidence. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill out of LSU.
Despite reaching the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, the Bengal offense had a major issue: Short yardage situations were more difficult to convert than a Muslim to Judaism.
You know exactly what I’m talking about: Andy Dalton zips a pass over the middle to Marvin Jones on 2nd and 10 for a gain of 9. Shit, you automatically say, he didn’t get that first down? Damn it.
You were skittish because you damn well knew it would be pulling teeth to get that one yard.
We’d probably see the straight hand-off up the exact center of the obvious-ass middle to Benjarvus Green-Ellis—-you know, really catch the opposing defensive coordinator off guard. Or perhaps we’d see former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden elect to send Dalton back for a pass. Oftentimes, after the play concluded, you’d slam your fist down on a table and spew twelve expletives…or you’d be so numb to the failure that you had no reaction at all other than to sigh, take another swig of your Mich Ultra and wait impatiently through four minutes of very terrible commercials until the game came back on.
Enter Jeremy Hill. He’s 6 foot 2, he’s 236 pounds. He has nary a notion of sidestepping contact. When the football is in his hands, he wants to split your sternum in half.
If this dude can consistently move the chains on those short yardage downs, your Cincinnati Bengals will benefit in a few ways:
1) Keeping drives alive builds momentum and allows your workhorse defense extra rest; it also gives you field position advantage
2) It will open up the “play action pass” (when the quarterback fakes the hand-off, draws the defense in, and then throws the ball over top to a streaking wide receiver)
3) More touchdowns, fewer field goals
Bottom line: Your Bengals gained the 10th-most yards in the NFL last season while scoring 27 points per game. You’ve got weapons all over the joint with pimps like A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu (my favorite Bengal, for the record), Giovanni Bernard and the rest of the crew.
But trying to roll with Benjarvus Green-Ellis as your short yardage back…yeah, uh, that ain’t scarin’ nobody. Remove Green-Ellis (they did) and insert a gigantic bowling ball that runs a 4.6 40-yard-dash—–now you’re talkin’.
Even a non-Bengal fan such as myself knows that Cincinnati’s defense has been a f**king brick wall the past few seasons. In 2013, the Bengals allowed the 3rd fewest yards in all of football. How’d they manage to be that stingy? A stout “Front 7″.
You show me a good football defense, and I’ll point to a disruptive defensive line. One of the many, many, MANY frustrating things about Bengals football for years had been a soft, geriatric-slow pass rush. If I had a nickel for every Bengals game I’ve watched when the opposing quarterback never had a single daggum finger laid on him, I could buy South Dakota. (And I would buy South Dakota. Then I’d change the name to Reverse Dunkota.)
But fortunately, the days of those invisible defensive lines are in the past. Now, Cincinnati’s Front 4 is stacked, even with the departure of Michael Johnson. You’ve got runstoppers (Domato Peko, Geno Atkins), you’ve got guys who make QB’s brown their jockstraps (Margus Hunt and Wallace “Don’t Call Me Willis” Gilberry); you’ve even got athletic freaks like ‘Los Dunlap who can drop back into coverage and eff with opposing offensive coordinators’ heads.
On your linebacking core, you’ve got Vontaze Burfict patrolling the field like a crazyperson. The guy’s in on every tackle like his name was Lawrence Taylor. Rey Maualuga is deceptively decent (how ’bout THAT compliment?) in the middle. It’ll be a rotation of fellas you may not have heard of for the final linebacker slot. On paper, your linebackers aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop, but within Cincinnati’s scheme and when combined with that swashbuckling defensive line, you’ll get the required production.
**The Elephant in the Room** Although Mike Zimmer is no longer the Bengals’ defensive coordinator, his fingerprints remain all over this swarming defense. I don’t see why there would be any drop off in beastdom this season on that side of the ball.
The Burning Question: Is Andy Dalton Good Enough?
Cincinnati recently announced a 6-year, $115 million contract extension with QB Andy Dalton which drew considerable uproar on the Internet. (Iron Sheik continued with his Cheetos/genitals fascination, of course.) Did Dalton deserve that type of cash? It’s debatable. On one hand, the guy’s quarterbacked three straight playoff teams. On the other, he’s come up small in all three playoff games. The dude is polarizing, there’s no doubt about that. His numbers are big, but his reactions to pressure in the pocket are not instilling confidence in anybody.
Here’s what I’m thinking: Maybe Dalton doesn’t have to be as good as you think he has to be. You see, if Cincinnati can improve upon its ground game (18th in rushing yards per game in 2013), game results won’t hang solely on the shoulders of Cheeto–I mean “The Red Rifle.” And I don’t follow the team as closely as you likely do, but from what I’ve heard, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson intends to run the ball more this season…and it’ll have a good chance of success with the tandem of Gio Bernard and J-Hill.
So the answer to that burning question really doesn’t have anything to do with Andy Dalton. Run the football more consistently and explosively, move the chains, rest your defense and score more 6-pointers than 3-pointers.
If Cincinnati can establish that formula, in combination with its stable of menacing weapons in the passing game, I don’t see why this football team won’t win most of its football games.
12-4 record in the regular season. Advance to AFC Championship game, but drop a heartbreaker to either Tom Brady or some other douchebag quarterback that you’ll hate until the end of time.
Enjoy your Sundays!