Bengals' Biggest Concerns Heading into the Regular Season

Matt GrayContributor IAugust 30, 2012

Bengals' Biggest Concerns Heading into the Regular Season

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    The 2012 preseason has proved to be an eventful one for the Cincinnati Bengals, and one that has posed more questions than it has answered.

    Only the Indianapolis Colts now stand between them and a date with the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the Bengals' biggest concerns heading into the regular season.

The Offensive Line

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    It all started when Travelle Wharton went down injured in the first quarter of the very first preseason game.

    Since then, Clint Boling has proved a more than adequate replacement for Wharton, but by doing so has left the Bengals thin at center.

    This wasn't too much of a concern until this week with the news that starting center Kyle Cook has a serious ankle injury.

    The analysis of the injury by Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com is everything but reassuring.

    "[Cook] has one of those ankle injuries that could take eight weeks, or 12, or 16 depending on his progress".

    The Bengals have since added 31-year-old veteran Jeff Faine, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who faces a tough challenge as the teams de facto starter on opening day.

    With a rookie to his right, an untested second-year guy to his left and only one week in which to get on the same page as Andy Dalton, Faine has a lot on his plate.

    Add to that the hit-and-miss preseason performances of Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth and you have an offensive line in need of a bit of luck.

The Running Game

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    With BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott sidelined throughout the preseason, the Bengals' back-ups have seen prolonged action with Andy Dalton and the first unit.

    Green-Ellis is expected to be back in time for the season opener and Bengals fans should not read too much into what we have seen thus far.

    However, there is a legitimate concern that if Green-Ellis sees a recurrence of his injury struggles during the regular season, the backfield will suffer significantly.

    Both Leonard and Cedric Peerman are role players who have struggled with extended playing time. Scott thrived as Cedric Benson's 'change-of-pace' back and would find it tough if the onus were on him to carry the load.

    In 2011, the Bengals were 27th in touchdown efficiency in goal-to-go situations; a stat that will be all the more of a concern if Green-Ellis isn't healthy to pound the ball across the line.

    As Paul Dehner Jr of CBSSports.com notes,

    "Running backs have rushed 67 times for 129 yards in three games. That's a 1.93 average per carry."

    If everyone is healthy, the Bengals running game could thrive in 2012. However, the stats have shown us that behind Green-Ellis, the Bengals backfield is an ongoing concern.

Health

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    Health has been the root cause of the vast majority of Bengals concerns this preseason.

    Of all the league's 32 teams, the Bengals seem to have been bitten the hardest by the injury bug.

    With key players such as Wharton, Cook, Green-Ellis, Rey Maualuga and Carlos Dunlap all missing time with injuries, Cincinnati have struggled in some cases to plug the holes.

    There will also continue to be lingering concerns about the health of No. 1 CB Leon Hall. who is returning from a torn Achilles. He has looked rusty in the early going.

    First-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick continues to sit on the sidelines, well and truly out of the thoughts of DC Mike Zimmer. It could be quite some time before the former national champ contributes meaningfully to a game, maybe even 2013.

    The Bengals defense has a lot more depth than the offense thanks to Zimmer's deep rotation. However, if injuries mount, that rotation in which these guys thrive becomes every down; something they haven't faced in quite some time.

    The offense is more likely to struggle if the injury bug persists. Andy Dalton has had a hard time this preseason.

    Without Green-Ellis or Jermaine Gresham to get the ball to, and with A.J. Green suffocated by defenders, the offense has been somewhat hit and miss.

WR by Committee

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    Not since the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh have the Bengals had a true No. 2 wide receiver.

    The likes of Laveraneus Coles, Chad Ochocinco (in 2010) and Jerome Simpson have filled the gap in the intermittent period, but nobody has thrived.

    A new year brings a new approach, and 2012 sees the Bengals with a plethora of receivers hoping to make the grade.

    Eschewing available free agents such as Braylon Edwards, the Bengals will start the regular season with a Brandon Tate-Armon Binns combination opposite A.J. Green.

    Neither have seen a huge amount of attention this preseason as the Bengals offense has struggled to get much going, entering Week 4 27th in receiving yards.

    Marvin Jones has shown some real talent thus far but as his success has come against second-team defenses, it's hard to tell how he might fare with the first unit.

    Andrew Hawkins had a slow start but looks to be gaining in confidence and should share time with Mo Sanu in the slot. Hawkins provides the Bengals with great hands and agility while Sanu brings size and speed to the table.

    Andy Dalton has looked somewhat lost without a solid running game and Jermaine Gresham to lean on, focusing much of his attention on A.J. Green.

    The Bengals will want to see some progression in Indianapolis, and for Binns or Tate to emerge as credible threats to draw the attention of opposing defenses in the regular season.