The Bengals are currently 4-1, 3-0 early in conference play and the first time in years they are not looking forward to the bye week to recuperate from injuries. The Bengals have managed to stay relatively healthy and have not lost their stride so far this season. They have played tough, smash mouth football and played some of the best red zone defense I have ever seen them play. This Bengals team can compete with any teams in the league.
Before anyone gets giddy about the Bengals' success they should take a step back. I am certain Marvin Lewis will testify to that. The Bengals have played down to their competition all season and have not gotten it done on special teams. This cannot happen for a playoff run. Just ask the Patriots what special teams did for their dynasty when they were perennial Super Bowl contenders. If the Bengals are going to be considered a top team, they need the following.
Increase offensive production
The overtime necessary to secure a win over Cleveland was ridiculous. The Browns should have been pounced on for well over 30 points. Too many mistakes were leading to a tie for the second straight year.
If the Bengals are to be taken serious they need that killer instinct to win games. Right now they have been in survivor mode all season. While that is great to see them win in the clutch, it is unrealistic they can compete in every game like that. They need to take more deep shots and realize they have an exceptional defense that will be made even better by a high-octane offense. The offense is playing like they can’t trust their defense. Their defense is the only thing keeping them alive.
Snap into it
If I am special teams coach Darrin Simmons, I take long snapper Brad St. Louis to the side and have a long talk with him. Then I ask him why he is so nervous about snapping the ball. The Bengals are not losing when he's snapping, usually just the opposite, it's for a lead in the game. St Louis needs to relax and realize he's done a very good job for a very long time.
To St. Louis’ credit he has done it in the clutch in the overtime snap to holder Huber, but he did botch the extra point attempt the previous drive where an game time winning field goal would be unnecessary. The person probably most angry is Shayne Graham—the elite accurate kicker the Bengals need is suffering on the percentage for missed kicks during a contract year for him.
If the Bengals are going to be serious team, they need more from their younger guys.
On the defensive side they need to get DE Michael Johnson in the game more. He's strong, fast, and extremely athletic who needs some more playing time to develop. O-Lines and OCs are catching on to Geathers and Odom tandem, rotate that D-Line more. I was glad to see Frostee Rucker in the game, another USC product getting some action. Morgan Trent made a key stop as well as some special teams tackles. If Leon Hall or Jonathan Joseph go down the Bengals will have to provide more Cover 2 defenses with their safeties and lay off the blitzes. that's bad news for Crocker and Ndukwe who have been rocking running backs and receivers up front.
On the offensive side of ball, points must be scored so first round pick Andre Smith can start to be worked into games without the threat of a rookie mistake costing the game or blown protection for Palmer. I see no other way of him getting playing time.
Sadly I think Henry should be started over Coles next week until Coles figures out how to catch a ball for $7 million dollars a year. If the Bengals were losing, there would be huge calls for the blown Houshmandzadeh deal. As long as Caldwell produces and wins come in, the Bengal nation will be forgiving to Coles. Continue to work in WR Caldwell into the offense. Hes a playmaker, find ways to get him the ball. I won’t be the least bit surprised if he starts running reverses and the Bengals use more spread offenses.
Finally, I am all about this Benson bandwagon, but the Bengals can’t rely on just one back. Brian Leonard has show tremendous promise in the clutch. Bernard Scott is listed at No. 2 on the depth chart for running backs and he's barely getting a couple carries a game. Hes a great mobile back provides a serious change of pace from Benson. Lets use him more in spread formation and run it up the middle with him when there is only one linebacker in coverage. Being able to rotate multiple backs in will be great insurance late in the season. The Benson Bruiser Express can’t be expected to carry 95 percent of the carries all season, yet he has looked incredibly good doing it.
If the Bengals can open up their offensive deep threat, increase their depth, by keeping guys fresh and reel in the bad special teams play. They should dominate the AFC North for the foreseeable future and finally not be written off as a "W" every time the schedules are released.