However, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson may have come up with the perfect way to alleviate at least some of those expectations.
Jackson made it clear back in January that under him, the Bengals offense would be one that is centered around the ground game.
Via ESPN's Coley Harvey, Jackson stated:
We know we need to run the football. We want to run the football. That's where it starts. In order to win and be a very good offensive football team, you have to be able to run the ball. That's going to be a starting point for us.
An increased focus on the running game would, presumably, result in Dalton shouldering less of the load than he did a season ago.
Despite having hard-running veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie sensation Giovani Bernard on the roster, Cincinnati ranked just 18th in rushing offense (109.7 yards per game). That ranking was earned, in part, because the Bengals were a pass-oriented team (587 pass attempts against 481 rushes during the regular season, according to NFL.com).
Too often, the Bengals decided to move away from the running game when it wasn't getting the desired results.
According to Green-Ellis, that propensity to forgo the ground game played a role in last season's embarrassing 27-10 playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers.
"I don't care if it's a passing league or not, like I've said since the beginning of time, when the playoffs start, championship teams are built off running the football and stopping the run," Green-Ellis said, via ESPN's Coley Harvey.
The Bengals ran the ball just 25 times in the playoff loss to San Diego, despite gaining 164 yards on 38 attempts against the same team during the regular season.
Of course, it isn't entirely difficult to understand why former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wasn't always keen on sticking with the running game. The Bengals averaged just 3.6 yards per carry during the regular season, 27th in the NFL.
Green-Ellis averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
The addition of second-round running back Jeremy Hill—who may actually push Green-Ellis out of a job—should help increase Cincinnati's efficiency when running the ball.
Through the first three games of the preseason, the former LSU standout averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) currently ranks him ninth overall among running backs who have received 60 percent of the snaps this preseason.
The powerful Hill should nicely complement the speedy Bernard, who started at running back in the Bengals' first three preseason games, in Jackson's offense. However, that doesn't mean that the rookie cannot be a force by himself.
During Cincinnati's 35-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason finale, Hill showed what he can do with a heavier workload. Getting the start in place of Bernard, Hill rushed 20 times for 90 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and added 70 yards on six receptions.
While not every run on Thursday night netted a big gain, Hill ran extremely hard between the tackles and showed enough burst to work on the perimeter and against the second level of the defense. He also seemed to get stronger as the game went on.
Pairing the big, physical Hill (6'1", 238 pounds) with Bernard gives Cincinnati the potential to field on of the better backfields in the league in the coming season. It should also give Jackson plenty of reason not to rely too heavily on his quarterback, even when the ground game is struggling.
An added benefit of rolling out the Bernard-Hill combo is the duo's ability to provide an easy outlet when Dalton does drop back to pass. Bernard electrified as a pass-catcher out of the backfield a season ago, racking up 56 receptions for 514 yards and three scores.
Hill averaged an impressive 10.06 yards per reception (18 catches, 181 yards) at LSU in 2013. He has equaled that average this preseason with eight catches for 80 yards. Green-Ellis caught just four passes for 22 yards all of last season.
This, in turn, should result in some lighter lifting for Dalton and perhaps a little less criticism from those who want to place blame for the past three early playoff exits on the TCU product.
If things go according to Jackson's plan, the new rushing attack might even help the Bengals land their first postseason victory in more than two decades.
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