Cincinnati Bengals Who Will Play Crucial Roles Down the Season's Home Stretch
Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense built upon a solid performance last week against the Giants by burying the Chiefs with four touchdowns.
The dominant storyline of the day was just how bad the Chiefs are right now rather than the Bengals' prowess.
Cincinnati has a long way to go if it wants to make the playoffs, and these are the players who will be key to its run from here on out.
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Adam Jones needed a big 2012 after embodying the Bengals' secondary woes in their Wild Card loss in Houston last year.
He's starting to do just that. He's put together two stellar performances in a row and is playing with real enthusiasm and aggressiveness.
His corner blitz, as displayed yesterday, is quickly becoming a must-see.
Jones provides a spark for the Bengals defense as well as their return game and his contribution can be game-changing.
However, Jones can also be the weak link. His own biggest enemy is himself, and Jones often struggles to shake off on-the-field mistakes.
If he can continue his recent form, Jones will remain an exciting and integral member of the Bengals roster.
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A.J. Green extended his TD streak to nine games in a row on Sunday, breaking records and closing in on others.
Calvin Johnson is in the midst of a strange and somewhat disappointing year, by his standards at least, and Green is laying claim to his title.
It's obvious just how much Green means to this team, and to a large extent, its playoff hopes live or die based on his playmaking abilities.
If A.J. can continue to be money in the end zone on Sunday afternoons, the Bengals still have a fighting chance of completing this turnaround.
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Andy Dalton has had a mixed bag of a sophomore season.
Jay Gruden has installed a number of plays (namely, throw the ball to A.J.) that have allowed Dalton to rack up 300-plus passing yards on a number of occasions.
However, with this high-flying offense has come a number of mistakes, as expected. When you consider how limited the passing game was in 2011, Dalton has been asked to do a lot this time around.
He's starting to iron out the creases and his poise is serving him well.
The offensive line has done a better job of keeping him upright in recent weeks. However, and somewhat surprisingly, Andrew Whitworth has looked like the weak link.
Andy Dalton is on the path to moving from game manager to field general. Hopefully, we will see that transition fulfilled by season's end.
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Geno Atkins had a resurgent game on Sunday.
He totaled six solo tackles and one sack for the day.
The Pro Bowl tackle has quickly become a talisman for the Bengals defense and his name is finally gaining resonance outside of the AFC North.
The likes of Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap play better when Geno Atkins is all fired up, and that will be the key going forward.
If the Bengals' star sack machine can get things going, particularly next week against Carson Palmer, we could begin to see the Bengals defense we've been hoping for.
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Vontaze Burfict has been one of the brightest additions to the Bengals roster this year. Pretty unbelievable considering he was an undrafted free agent.
Burfict has been the spark on defense that we had hoped to find in Dre Kirkpatrick.
He may be a little raw and take himself out of plays sometimes, but the positives outweigh the negatives.
Burfict has great anticipation, and more often than not, he guesses correctly. It's a sharp contrast to Rey Maualuga, who is the antithesis of a gambler, reacting to plays—sometimes way too late.
It'll be interesting to see how inspired Burfict plays once he's been paid, but right now, he's looking like a lock to remain a solid starter heading forward.
Burfict is doing everything right at the moment and has made some heads-up plays, like his fumble recovery on Sunday.
It's easy to have faith in Burfict to make the key play when the time comes.
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We discovered on Sunday that Jermaine Gresham plays best when he's pissed off.
We've been waiting for Gresham to emerge for almost three years now, and he's finally making strides.
His immense size and strength were on full display on Sunday when he bulldozed through three Chiefs defenders to come up a whisker short of a TD.
If Gresham can bring the kind of intensity that he brought to Sunday's encounter every week, he could be a difference-maker on offense.
However, he's not just a scoring threat. His blocking saw some improvement this weak and he provided relief for the offensive line.
On one occasion, he knocked a defender to the ground before getting open to make a reception. It left Andrew Whitworth standing around with little to do.
It's this kind of aggression that Gresh needs to bring each and every Sunday.
If he does that, he can be the monster he was supposed to be.