Cincinnati Bengals 2012: 5 Improvements the Team Must Make

Jordan Grabow@jordanimalContributor IFebruary 3, 2012

Cincinnati Bengals 2012: 5 Improvements the Team Must Make

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    The 2011 NFL season was a banner year for the Cincinnati Bengals. They drafted two future stars in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green and also made the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

    Bengals GM Mike Brown was consistently praised throughout the season—most notably after Carson Palmer was traded to the Oakland Raiders.

    The success of this fresh, young Bengals team has many fans believing it is a turning point in the franchise's less than stellar history, and head coach Marvin Lewis will enter the 2012 season looking to lead Cincinnati to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1975-76.

    Fans saw a lot of things to be optimistic about going into to 2012. Yes, the Bengals made mistakes week-to-week and probably lost games they should not have lost, but that is where the offseason comes in. 

    Here are five improvements the Bengals must make in 2012. Be sure to share your ideas with a comment!

Compliment A.J. Green

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    There is no doubt Andy Dalton had a fantastic rookie season throwing the ball around to A.J. Green.

    Jerome Simpson had a fine year, but his season will be remembered by fans as inconsistent and his future in Cincinnati is uncertain.

    Jordan Shipley suffered a knee injury that ended his season early on and Andre Caldwell showed speed, but was never a consistent option downfield.

    Jermaine Gresham will be entering his third NFL season, and he has improved throughout his first two years as the Bengals tight end. If he continues to make plays and get open downfield, he will only make the Bengals better.

    The Bengals have their man in Green and now fans want to know who is going to be the solid second option down the field for Dalton.

    It is possible the Bengals will grab a young receiver in the draft or possibly look to free agency, and with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden staying in Cincinnati, this offense can only get better. 

Improve the Running Game

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    When Cedric Benson came to Cincinnati in 2008, no one expected him to rush for 1,000+ yards in three straight seasons. He became the workhorse for the Bengals at running back and has been a solid option for the past three seasons.

    His success in Cincinnati, however, seems to be coming to a close. Benson lost carries to Bernard Scott in 2011 and his attitude was often questioned. Benson still ran for 1,067 yards, but with his contract expired it seems that the Bengals will pursue other options.

    Scott, who has been with Cincinnati since 2009, has developed very slowly in three seasons. This year's draft is full of young talent at running back, so it seems his chances of being the premier back in Cincinnati are all but over.

    Third-down option Brian Leonard has lots of potential to become a Peyton Hillis-type back, but all indications point to him continuing to be the Bengals conversion specialist.

    For Cincinnati, this all comes down to the 2012 NFL draft. The Bengals must draft a running back in the first round. They have plenty of options with a draft class that is full of great talent at the position. They could seek out a free agent, but with the Bengals recent success in the draft, they can not pass up the opportunity.

Return the Secondary to Its Former Greatness

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    2011 was a tough year for the Cincinnati Bengals secondary. They lost Jonathan Joseph to the Houston Texans via free agency, but signed veteran Nate Clements to fill the vacancy. 

    Clements proved to be a solid pickup as he and Leon Hall were great for Cincinnati until Hall was put on the injured reserve in Week 13 due to an Achilles injury.

    Adam Jones started the remainder of the season for the Bengals with offseason free agency pickup Kelly Jennings getting playing time also. Both corners filled the position just fine, but neither one stood out.

    At the safety positions, the Bengals started Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker. Nelson had his moments last season for the Bengals, but Crocker was often times lost—Bengals fans will remember him for the missed interception against Houston in the playoffs.

    The secondary problem is another one that can be answered in the upcoming 2012 NFL draft. Fans and analysts alike believe the Bengals will look towards the secondary with one of their two first-round picks.

    If the Bengals can start 2012 with a healthy Hall, Clements and a top-draft pick in the secondary, this defense will be a force to be reckoned with—especially with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer staying in Cincinnati.

Beat Division Rivals

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    In 2009, the Cincinnati Bengals swept the AFC North division on their way to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.

    This division dominance was not the case, however, for the the 2011 Bengals.

    Cincinnati went 2-4 in AFC North play and was swept by both Pittsburgh and Baltimore along the way. These division struggles ultimately lead to the Bengals barely grabbing the second wild-card spot in the AFC.

    The Bengals must improve against their biggest rivals in 2012 if they want the respect they are looking for. Winning division games is important for any football team looking to be consistent in playoffs—especially for Cincinnati, playing in the hard-nosed AFC North.

Win a Playoff Game

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs three times since 2005, but they have yet to win a playoff game.

    In the Bengals 2005 playoff appearance, they lost a heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers after Carson Palmer suffered a devastating knee injury on the opening drive of the game.

    The 2009 playoffs ended for the Bengals before they even began as they lost to the New York Jets 37-0 in Week 17 and were handed a 24-14 playoff loss by the same Jets in the first round.

    2011 was similar for Cincinnati as they got crushed by the Houston Texans 31-10 in the first round.

    The problem for the Bengals is that the team seems to have problems in their final four games of the season when they make the playoffs.

    Cincinnati has not had a winning record in their final four games of the season in each of the last three years they have made the playoffs.

    Momentum is an important thing for any football team, and the Bengals have not been able the carry any momentum in the the playoffs in any playoff visit since 2005.

    Winning a playoff game is the final step in the list of improvements the Bengals must make—not only if they want to become a better football team, but also to be respected in the NFL.

    The Cincinnati Bengals proved in 2011 that they are one of the NFL's most improved and up-and-coming teams.

    2012 is a year for them to prove they are here to stay.