The Good, Bad and Ugly of the Cincinnati Bengals' First 4 Games of the Season
As with any early-season adjustment period for a young team, there have been a variety of good, bad and ugly factors that have impacted the roster and coaching staff to this point, but can either be corrected or further improved upon as the season wears on toward the postseason.
Cincinnati started the season off in a bad way, losing to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football 44-13.
Cincinnati currently has a wave of momentum that the team could ride for quite some time, but for now let's examine the good, bad and ugly of the Bengals' first four games of the 2012 campaign.
Good: A.J. Green
A.J. Green has had quite the start to his sophomore season. In fact, his first four games went so well that he was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for the month of September, according to ESPN.
Green was the main cog in what is turning out statistically to be one of the better offensive units in the entire NFL. He has hauled in 27 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns so far.
What makes Green so devastating for opposing defenses is his new-found ability to line up at any receiver position on the field and create mismatches. Green has yet to face a defensive back that can effectively shut him down, although the Baltimore Ravens did manage to bottle him up with the rest of the offense in Week 1.
Green is the best player on the Bengals roster, and if the first four games are any indication, he could end up as the top receiver in football by season's end.
Bad: Injury Woes
The beginning of the season has not been kind to the Bengals in the health department. Cincinnati is once again a team plagued with injuries and has a large amount of players already on injured reserve.
While losses such as Travelle Wharton on the offensive line hurt, the most concerning area so far for Cincinnati has been the secondary.
Free-agent acquisition Jason Allen has been unable to get healthy, rookie Dre Kirkpatrick has yet to play a down and veteran Leon Hall has been battling a leg injury that may be a lingering issue from his torn Achilles tendon from last season.
Luckily for the Bengals, all three members of the secondary have returned to at least limited practice in preparation for the Week 5 matchup against the Miami Dolphins.
It has not been a great start for the Bengals when taking health into consideration simply because the issues could linger. Good teams overcome injuries, and so far the Bengals have done just that.
Ugly: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
In four years encompassing 510 carries with the New England Patriots, BenJarvus Green Ellis had fumbled the ball zero times.
In four games with the Cincinnati Bengals, "The Law Firm" has fumbled the ball three times.
The Bengals' front office brought in Green-Ellis to be an upgrade over last year's now departed starter, Cedric Benson. The now Green Bay Packers running back had issues with securing the football, as well as issues with the coaching staff.
Green-Ellis is now having his own issues with taking care of the football, and his numbers thus far are not exactly impressive either. In 82 rushing attempts, he has 286 yards and two touchdowns.
The passing game is the focal point of the offense for Cincinnati, but a more well-rounded attack with Green-Ellis doing what he was supposed to do when the front office brought him in would be great as the season progresses.
Good: Andy Dalton
Before the 2012 season started, there was much debate over whether or not second-year quarterback Andy Dalton would suffer from the proverbial sophomore slump.
That debate is over.
Dalton has looked exceptional through four games, three of those being victories in which he was spectacular. To date Dalton has thrown for 1,111 yards along with eight touchdowns and four interceptions to give him an outstanding 103 rating.
While Dalton is still a bit wobbly and inaccurate on deep throws thanks to a lack of sufficient arm strength, he has done a wonderful job of orchestrating an expanded offense and of getting everyone involved in the passing game.
The season is early, but right now it appears as if Dalton is the man for the job in Cincinnati. He makes great decisions and has the required leadership capabilities for such a young roster.
Bad: Rey Maualuga
Rey Maualuga has been anything but spectacular for the Bengals over the first four games of the season. In fact, at this point it may not be a stretch to call him a weakness for the unit.
Occupying the middle of the field for defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense for the fourth-straight year, it appears as if Maualuga has managed to regress.
Yes, Maualuga has already totaled 33 tackles, putting him on pace for a career high. The tale for Maualuga, however, is not statistically.
Each game so far this season Maualuga has been horribly out of position, unable to shed blocks to halt a running back's progress or simply appears to be playing timid for fear of injury.
For a leader manning the middle of a defense, this type of performance won't cut it. For someone in the final year of a contract with their team, Maualuga sure isn't playing like he wants an extension.
Ugly: Monday Night Football Catastrophe
The aforementioned Monday Night Football beatdown at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens deserves a mention here, because it could be indicative of things to come for the Bengals in 2012.
The Bengals traveled to Baltimore and were thoroughly embarrassed on a national stage 44-13. Quarterback Joe Flacco had his way with the Cincinnati defense, throwing for 299 yards and two scores. Running back Ray Rice added two touchdowns of his own.
Conversely, quarterback Andy Dalton turned in a putrid performance with 221 yards and an interception. The highlight for Cincinnati was running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who managed to total 91 yards and a touchdown, most of those with the game already decided.
The Bengals have managed to bounce back and haven't lost since, but the issue here is big in that once again Cincinnati failed to show up against a superior opponent. The preceding three wins were against teams the Bengals were supposed to beat.
If the Bengals want to seriously take the next step, they are going to have to stop collapsing against great teams. Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in a two weeks would be a nice first step.
Good: Vontaze Burfict
The Bengals took a risk with Vontaze Burfict this past offseason, but that seems like ages ago now that the undrafted free agent has taken over as a starter for the Cincinnati defense.
When starting linebacker Thomas Howard went down with a season ending injury in practice, it was hard to tell what the Bengals coaching staff was thinking and how the lineup would be stirred to put the best possible players on the field.
It turns out the staff believed Burfict was the best man for the job, and they were correct.
So far Burfict has looked strong against the run and has even managed to record a sack. He has not looked overly impressive in pass coverage, but that was to be expected.
Right now Burfict is playing exactly like a rookie should. He has moments where you can tell he is new to this level of competition, but overall he is steadily improving each week.
By season's end, Burfict may be the steal of the 2012 NFL draft.
Bad: The Strong-Safety Position
If you had to pick a positional weak point for the Bengals this early in the season, it would be the strong-safety position.
While the free-safety position is once again being admirably manned by Reggie Nelson, the same cannot be said for those in the secondary next to him.
Taylor Mays began the season as the starter but quickly lost some playing time thanks to horrendous coverage, unnecessary personal-foul penalties and by lowering his helmet for big hits. He has also knocked out his own teammates.
Jeromy Miles, Mays' replacement, has not been much better, although he has managed to avoid making reckless mistakes.
To combat the issues of the two options on the depth chart, the Bengals' coaching staff has began giving cornerback Nate Clements time at the position, and it has worked to this point.
Clements is nothing more than a band-aid for the position at this point. If Cincinnati is lucky, Mays will step up as the season continues. If not, don't be surprised to see the Bengals looking for a Mark Barron in the 2013 NFL draft.
Ugly: Mike Zimmer's Defense
Cincinnati Bengals fans have been spoiled during the Mike Zimmer era.
Zimmer, an man with an uncanny ability to turn a collective scrap heap of players into a top-10 or better defensive unit has had his own share of issues early this season.
The Bengals are currently giving up 28 points a game, ranking them 25 out of 32 so far. Cincinnati cannot stop the pass or defend the run, giving up 235 yards and 130 yards a game respectively in each category.
The low point for the defensive unit came against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 when rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 322 yards and rookie running back Trent Richardson ran for 109.
As of now the Bengals are winning games despite the mediocre play of the defense. For the first time in a long time, the offense is carrying the defense to victory. How long that can continue remains to be seen.