Spotlighting the 5 Things Holding the Cincinnati Bengals Back from Being Elite
The Cincinnati Bengals were a hot commodity this offseason as a candidate for the breakout team of the 2012 NFL season, but the Bengals have simply come out flat and have been a massive disappointment to this point.
The Bengals have sputtered to a 3-4 record, good for just third place in the ultra-competitive AFC North. Even worse, the Bengals are only 1-3 in the division after dropping games to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and the mediocre Cleveland Browns.
Owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis have once again failed to address some major needs on the roster and the Bengals are suffering as a result. Cincinnati is an above-average team when everything is clicking perfectly, but the Bengals are not close to being an elite team.
Let's examine five major points holding the Bengals back from being an elite team in 2012.
5. No Effective Option Across from A.J. Green
A.J. Green is the best receiver in the NFL; there's really no disputing that at this point. In seven games, he has caught 44 passes for 636 yards and seven touchdowns—and that's with him being bottled-up by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7 with only one catch.
For the Bengals passing attack to take the next step, a young receiver needs to step up across from Green. It was a hot topic in the offseason, but no one has emerged as that option.
Armon Binns has shown flashes but only has 18 receptions. Rookies Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones were thought to be potential answers but have a combined six catches with Sanu slowly developing and Jones succumbing to injury.
Andrew Hawkins has emerged as a legitimate slot receiver but appeared to run out of gas after six games of intense usage. Tight end Jermaine Gresham has been an inconsistent option at best but is the team's second-best receiver with 28 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns.
For a team that wants to be a passing team, the Bengals simply don't have the developed weapons around the quarterback yet. Until that happens, Green will be shut down by great teams like the Steelers.
4. Lack of Impact Players on Defense
The Bengals' once-elite defense has faltered in 2012 and is ranked in the bottom half of the league in points (26.7, 25th) and yards (357, 21st) per game allowed.
What the Bengals lack on defense is simple—game-changing players at any position outside of defensive tackle Geno Atkins. At defensive end, a stud has emerged in Michael Johnson, as he has racked up six sacks in seven games. Carlos Dunlap has been a disappointment with only one.
Once Thomas Howard went down for the year with an ACL injury, the best player in the linebacking corps has been undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict. As good as he has been, he shouldn't be the best player on what is supposed to be a contending unit.
In the secondary, Adam Jones and Leon Hall are still great cover corners, and Reggie Nelson is an above-average safety. At strong safety, Nate Clements is getting replaced by a safety from last year whom the Bengals cut—Chris Crocker.
The Bengals defense is a mess. Upgrades are needed at strong safety, middle linebacker and defensive end. Until more talent is infused into the unit, coordinator Mike Zimmer will not be able to work his magic again.
3. Lack of a Running Game
The Cincinnati running game has been an absolute joke in 2012. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been the lead back, and while he is converting short-yardage situations with ease, he is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry, courtesy of 125 attempts 431 yards and two touchdowns.
The last thing the Bengals offense needed was more of the same from the running back position.
Cincinnati's second-leading rusher? Quarterback Andy Dalton, who has rushed 21 times for 61 yards. Bernard Scott is lost for the year, and backups Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman cannot be effective second backs.
The Bengals have neglected the position and are not paying the price. Green-Ellis isn't an effective every-down back in the Cincinnati offense. Until the Bengals grab an explosive back via free agency or the NFL draft, the offense will continue to be mediocre.
2. Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton had a spectacular rookie season with a dumbed-down playbook that was molded to suit his limited talent. The training wheels are off in 2012, and Dalton has struggled.
Dalton has thrown for 1,831 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 64 percent of his passes. The numbers aren't horrendous, but they certainly don't tell the whole story.
The second-year quarterback is having serious issues in the pocket. While some want to blame the offensive line, the Bengals actually have the eighth-best line in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
Dalton is having issues feeling pressure and going through his progressions.
He's been sacked 17 times, but only seven of those are the offensive line's fault. Dalton has games where he holds on to the ball too long and gets sacked multiple times, or he has games where he quick-fires everything, and cornerbacks squat on the short routes making him ineffective.
There's also Dalton's habit of locking on to one receiver for various stretches of games. His lack of arm strength in terms of zip on short and intermediate routes has held him back as well.
Dalton is 0-8 against playoff teams, and while wins are not an amazing way to judge a quarterback, it's becoming a telling sign here. Dalton can be a franchise quarterback, but the coaching staff needs to do a better job of molding him into one.
1. Marvin Lewis and His Coaching Staff
It has to be disheartening for Bengals fans to watch all units severely underperform in a loss and then witness a postgame press conference filled with Marvin Lewis' nonchalant "aw-schucks" attitude.
For example, Lewis' press conference went a little like this a few days after an embarrassing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football (h/t Joe Reedy):
I kind of summed it up to the football team, we’re very, very good at stinking up October. We needed to do a cleanse and the best thing going forward is to be better in November and December. A lot of the positives we had in September, we truly found a way to flush them down the toilet in October.
Lewis has spent 10 years with the Bengals, and in that time-span, has went a measly 72-78 with an 0-3 record in the postseason. His inability to effectively manage a game overshadows his seemingly great personnel decisions.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been a disappointment a year removed from taking a rookie quarterback to the postseason. The Bengals offense has been predictable and average at best. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has, for the first time with the Bengals, failed to turn a rag-tag group of players into an elite unit.
The coaching staff has been a letdown, as a whole, so far in 2012, and one has to think that until a change is made at the top, things will simply stay the same for the Cincinnati Bengals.