Cincinnati Bengals: 7 Things the Bengals Can Do to Make the Playoffs in 2011

Zachary Kondratenko@@ZakKondratenkoContributor IIIJuly 10, 2011

Cincinnati Bengals: 7 Things the Bengals Can Do to Make the Playoffs in 2011

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    2010 was a terrible year for the Cincinnati Bengals.  After finishing 4-12 the NFL Lockout could not have hit the Bengals at a worse time.

    They have key free agents to re-sign (most notably Jonathan Joseph and Cedric Benson), important rookies to develop (most likely their starting QB and No. 1 WR), and have to decide what they're going to do with high-paid players  (Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco).

    The Bengals have plenty of talent but need to play more consistently.  Whether it's scheme changes, roster moves, or depth chart re-ordering there are a lot of things the Bengals can do to improve in 2011.

7. Keep Chad Ochocinco in a Bengals Uniform for One More Year

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    When people talk about the Bengals problems Ochocinco and his off the field gimmicks are often the first thing to come up.  But I'm going to pose a question.  Have any of Chad's antics every actually hurt the Bengals?

    The answer is no.  He doesn't bad mouth his teammates and always shows up to training camp in shape.  It's just Chad's personality and when things go well in Cincy everyone talks about what a great influence he is.  But when things go bad he take the majority of the blame.

    He's under contract for one more year and the Bengals should keep him.  Just because he has only had one 1,000 yard season in the last three doesn't mean he still can't play.  He was hurt those two years.  He's still a very effective weapon when healthy.

    While the Bengals have a lot of young talent at WR it might be good for them to keep Chad as a teacher.  He has a really high Football I.Q. and is an incredible route runner, something young receivers usually struggle with.

    He could also give Andy Dalton a reliable target right away so he can gain confidence early in his career.

    Keep Chad, he's not the problem.

6. Finally Make the Move and Start Rey Maualuga at MLB

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    I know Dhani Jones had a good year last year but I think it's time for the Bengals to make the change they've been planning to for a while now.  Maualuga has had success early in his career on the outside but he is a natural MLB and that's where he played when he dominated at USC.

    Moving Rey to the middle would allow the Bengals to use a bunch of different packages on defense and give more playing time to pass-rushing threats like Michael Johnson and 3rd round pick Dontay Moch.  Both have pass-rushing ability but won't get a lot of time if Dhani Jones is starting because Rey will be on one side with Keith Rivers on the other.

    Dhani Jones had been a solid player since coming to the Bengals but the future of this team is in other guys hands and it's time for the Bengals to go younger.

5. Mix Up the Play-Calling and Formations on Defense

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    Mike Zimmer has been a great Defensive Coordinator for the Bengals but he should take some pages out of the Ravens and Steelers books and mix things up.

    If Maualuga moves to the middle he'll have most of the personnel necessary to do it.  He's got three good DT's in Geno Atkins, Pat Sims, and Domata Peko.  Carlos Dunlap emerged as a pass-rushing threat on one end and a combination of Geathers, Odom, Fanene and even Michael Johnson could add pass-rushing and run-stuffing on the other.

    If Michael Johnson or Dontay Moch ends up starting Zimmer will have a guy he can blitz almost like a 3-4 OLB.  

    But what makes all of this work is the corners.  The Bengals can bring as many guys on the blitz as they want to because Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall are both lockdown corners.  I don't know why the Bengals haven't taken advantage of this yet.

    In terms of personnel, the only weakness is safety.  Reggie Nelson will now be more used to the Bengals system and Robert Sands is a very talented (but unpolished) rookie.

    Zimmer should mix it up.  Blitz linebackers more and use the nickel package a lot.  Pacman Jones is a great nickel back.

4. Trade Carson Palmer While His Value Is High

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    It's pretty much set in stone that Carson Palmer will never take another snap as a Bengal.

    Mike Brown needs to take his pride out of the equation and trade Palmer while he still can.  The Bengals good either get a good player or a 2nd round pick for him.

    It makes absolutely no sense not to trade him because he presents no value to the Bengals but high value to other teams.

3. Run the Ball Less

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    Jay Gruden West Coast system is a good sign because the Bengals have the personnel for the short passes and they really struggled running the ball last year.

    The Bengals stayed committed to the ground game and wanted to be a power football team but they just don't have the offensive lineman to play that type of football.  They have very good pass blocking but the run blocking terrible.

    Cedric Benson ran just as hard as he did in 2009 yet only averaged 3.5 YPC.

    They shouldn't completely abandon the run, Benson it too good of a player to do so.  But utilizing quick passes early should make their running game more effective in the 2nd half.  I don't want to see Benson get any more than 250 carriers.

    Doing this will also preserve Ced so he can have a longer career.  Because he struggles early he's a very young 28.

2. Spread out the Offense

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    Not only does Andy Dalton have experience in the spread and posses the tools to be a very dangerous passer in a shotgun formation, the Bengals have the personnel to spread teams out and create multiple mismatches on the same play.

    If the Bengals bring Chad back (which they should) him and A.J. Green alone will open things up.  Both receivers demand attention and it'll be very dangerous for defenses to leave them in single coverage.  The Bengals can go with a lot of four WR sets because they are deep at the position so players won't get tired.  On top of Green and hopefully Ochocinco, they'll have Jordan Shipley, Jerome Simpson, and Andre Cadlwell.

    Don't forget about Jarmaine Gresham either.  Imagine this formation: Dalton and Benson, Bernard Scott, or Brian Leonard in the backfield (depending on the situation), Ocho and Green out wide, with Shipley in a slot and Gresham lined up in the other slot close to the tackle.  

    Simpson and Caldwell could come in to give guys rest and mix things up.  That would be a lot of receiving weapons on the field at once and what are the weaknesses of both the Steelers and Ravens defenses?  You guessed it, man to man coverage.

    The Bengals are all of a sudden pretty deep at the skill positions, they need to take advantage of that.

1. Acquire an Impact Safety or Pass Rusher

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    The Bengals have solid linebackers.  They have good interior lineman and they have excellent cornerbacks.

    But too many times last year this defense suffered due to safety play and the lack of a pass rusher.  Carlos Dunlap emerged as a pass-rushing threat, but the Bengals are going to need to add another.  Michael Johnson and Dontay Moch are interesting prospects, but I don't know if either is ready to step up yet.

    And if they can't get a better pass rush to keep pressure off the safeties then they'll have to acquire a solid coverage safety.  Chris Crocker is a good tackler but doesn't have good athleticism and one bad step from him can lead to a big play for the offense because he doesn't have the speed to make up for it.

    Reggie Nelson and Chinedum Ndukwe have great athleticism, range and speed, but lack all the mental tools and often find themselves getting beat either because they're out of position or go for a big play and miss badly.

    All three of these safeties deserve playing time but not one is a solid coverage safety.  If the Bengals can get a good pass rush it won't really matter but if not they need to improve the safety position.