Cincinnati Bengals: Why Cincy Will Boast AFC's Most Dangerous Offense in 2012
New England and Houston had two of the best offenses in the AFC a season ago, but Cincinnati will challenge them for the conference's top offense in 2012. That may sound crazy to many NFL fans, but the Bengals had three offensive players make the Pro Bowl last season. That means they have the talent to put up some big numbers, and they didn't lose any major pieces of their offense.
The Bengals have several reasons to be optimistic about their offense, which could be much more explosive next season.
After last offseason's Carson Palmer fiasco, the Bengals decided to draft Andy Dalton in the second round to take over at quarterback. In the first round of the draft, they took A.J. Green fourth overall, and had a young core to build around.
Last offseason was difficult for the rookies because of the lockout. The team hired Jay Gruden to be their offensive coordinator, so nobody on offense was familiar with the playbook. The lockout kept the players and coaches from communicating, which hurt young players like Dalton.
It took a few games for Dalton to stop turning the ball over and create chemistry with his receivers. In the team's final six games, he threw only one interception. He also had nine games in his rookie season in which he did not throw an interception. Once he got on the same page as his receivers, the Bengals started moving the ball more and putting up points.
Cincinnati needs their young players to improve after a full offseason, and they have the potential to be great. They put up solid numbers, despite last year's shortened offseason.
Even after letting running back Cedric Benson go, the Bengals should have a balanced offensive attack in 2012.
When Benson complained about sharing carries with the other running backs, Cincinnati decided to look for an unselfish back to share the load. New running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will bring more of a team-first attitude, and he will be used as a power back.
Speedy Bernard Scott will team with rookie Dan Herron to spell Green-Ellis with a change-of-pace back and on third downs. Both players can come out of the backfield and catch passes, which will help Dalton when his protection breaks down. Brian Leonard has also proved to be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, especially on third down.
The passing game will be much improved, and the returning players will play a major role in the offense. Green is the best young receiver in football, and he will look to improve his numbers in his second season. In a season in which he made the Pro Bowl, he had over 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, despite missing some time with an injury.
Tight end Jermaine Gresham also returns on offense, and he also made the Pro Bowl last season. Gresham has turned into a good all-around tight end, but he has yet to put up huge offensive numbers. With Dalton looking to improve his completion percentage (58 percent last season), Gresham will be more involved in the offense by running shorter routes this season. In the red zone, Green and Gresham are about as sure-handed as they come in the league.
Jordan Shipley will return this year after tearing his ACL early last season, and he will fill the slot receiver position. He has good hands and is not afraid to take a hit.
The Bengals addressed their offense in the draft by selecting Herron, receiver Mohamed Sanu, tight end Orson Charles and receiver Marvin Jones. Each of Dalton's new targets is known for having great hands, and Charles is a good blocker as well. The rookie receivers will compete with Brandon Tate to play opposite of Green, while Charles is almost a lock to be the second tight end.
With Green and Gresham as big-time playmakers, Cincinnati hopes their draft picks will be good role players and provide Dalton with reliable receivers. Last season, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell killed drives by dropping passes. The Bengals hope their young receivers live up to their reputations and catch everything thrown their way.
During this offseason, Dalton's arm strength has been questioned. The simplest solution is to come up with simple plays where he throws short passes to his receivers.
Will Andy Dalton make the Pro Bowl this season?
Gruden is not worried about Dalton's arm strength, and he will call plays to move the chains, rather than going for a big play. His West Coast offense emphasizes short routes and relies heavily on timing. With the new targets having great hands, Dalton's completion percentage will rise and his numbers will be even better this season.
When he needs to throw the deep ball to Green, Dalton's arm strength is not a factor. Green will go up and get any ball thrown near him, even in double coverage.
Another season in Gruden's offense will help Dalton develop into a better passer.
The Bengals hope their young Pro Bowl players will continue to improve, so other teams need to prepare to stop an offense on the rise. After a slow start last season, their offense pulled it together. In clutch situations, the Bengals were able to put games away.
With new additions to both the running game and the passing game, this team has the potential to be one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.
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