With the 2012 season being in the books in Cincinnati, it is time for fans and management alike to start looking ahead to 2013. Changes are going to be needed if the Bengals wish to jump to the next level.
There were certainly a lot of bright points as the season went along, but as with any team, there were flaws. The good news in the Queen City is that the flaws shouldn't be too difficult to fix. It became obvious throughout the year who was expendable.
That being said, what changes should be coming in Cincinnati?
This is nothing against either guy here, as both of them performed admirably in Cincinnati in 2012. Mike Nugent was the kicker for most of the season until he went down to injury—enter Josh Brown.
Nugent has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons anyway, so it may be better to simply part with him. Brown has been a very accurate kicker for his entire career, spent mostly in Seattle and St. Louis.
He nailed 11-of-12 attempts in orange and black this season, so he may be the guy we see stick around. Still, the best option for Cincinnati is getting a young guy from the draft, preferably Dustin Hopkins out of Florida State. He has a big leg and was accurate for his entire college career.
This past season saw three rookie kickers—Justin Tucker, Greg Zuerlein and Blair Walsh—perform very well for their teams. Cincinnati should follow suit.
In Cincinnati over the past two seasons, however, things have been different for the 12-year veteran. He isn't able to hang in coverage anymore, particularly in man coverage as a cornerback. He was moved to safety this season because of injury issues, but he wasn't much better playing a zone.
His ability to defend the pass and make tackles has significantly diminished, and at 33 years old, there's no shame in that. It is time for Cincinnati to cut ties with him and get a young, fresh safety to cover in the secondary.
Clint Boling was tossed into the starting role in Cincinnati after Travelle Wharton was hurt in the preseason. While there were certain glimpses of hope for the young man from Georgia, he was largely ineffective next to Pro Bowl left tackle, Andrew Whitworth.
At only 311 lbs. (never thought I'd say "only" before that number), Boling found himself overmatched quite often. His inability to effectively guard was significantly evident against Houston in the postseason, as Connor Barwin bowled his way through Boling for the entire game.
Cincinnati needs to add a bigger man on the blindside of Andy Dalton, preferably one who is also mobile. It is unclear what the plan for Wharton is going forward, but it may be in the Bengals' best interest to obtain a guard in the draft to develop.
Like Nate Clements, Terence Newman's best years are probably behind him. Newman collected over 70 tackles over the course of the 2012 season, one of the highest totals in his career.
The problem is, he couldn't keep up with any receivers he covered for most of the season. He had only two interceptions all year, and they both came in the same game. Cornerbacks need to make more of an impact than that—safeties are there more for the tackles, while corners should be attacking the ball and breaking up passes.
Newman isn't quite doing it anymore. At 34 years old, he can't keep up with the likes of Anquan Boldin or even Josh Gordon.
Even if Newman is back in 2013, I anticipate he'll lose his starting role to Dre Kirkpatrick.
Houston did an incredible job watching game film before the playoff showdown earlier this month against Cincinnati—they spent that entire game exploiting Rey Maualuga across the middle. He was covering Texans' tight end Owen Daniels, who caught nine balls for almost 100 yards and was wide open on every play.
Maualuga has been dreadful against the pass for almost his entire career and has never been a great tackler either.
After his performance in the playoffs, it is no secret that Cincinnati is in need of an upgrade. They need a guy who can drop back into coverage and blitz the quarterback—it's surprising how much of an impact a linebacker like that can make (see James Harrison and/or Ray Lewis).
Perhaps Cincy drafts Alec Ogletree or Manti Te'o?