2014 CINCINNATI BENGALS FOOTBALL PREVIEW
August 2, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
2014 CINCINNATI BENGALS FOOTBALL PREVIEW
HEAD COACH: MARVIN LEWIS
RECORD WITH TEAM: 90 – 85 – 1
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: HUE JACKSON
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: PAUL GUENTHER
POINTS PER GAIN: 26.9
TOTAL OFFENSE: 368.2
DEFENSE POINTS PER GAME: 19.1
TOTAL DEFENSE: 305.5
TURNOVER MARGIN: +1
NFL scouts feel the Bengals have one of the most balanced rosters in the National Football League. Head coach Marvin Lewis provide stability, their scouting staff does their homework and they pick good players in the draft every year. There really is no question that Cincinnati will win again this year but will they finally take it to the next step and make it to a Super Bowl?
Cincinnati has made the playoffs in for the last five seasons producing nothing more than disappointment by coming up short in their bid to win and NFL championship. Last year the Bengals loss to San Diego at home 27-10, after winning the AFC North title. Despite all the success, Cincinnati hasn’t won a post-season game in 23 years.
This could be the season that Cincinnati takes that next step with the core of this team back for another season including quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton has played well enough in the regular-season but hasn’t played well in the playoffs. Hugh Jackson is the new OC replacing Jay Gruden who will take over as Washington’s head coach. Jackson must get more out of Dalton by asking him to do less. Dalton put solid numbers on the board last year including a franchise record 4,296 yards passing and 33 touchdowns. The knock on Dalton in 2013 was his career-high 20 interceptions. Those 20 interceptions included one in at least 12 of 17 games, the playoffs and more than one interception in six games. Cincinnati signed a veteran Jason Campbell as the backup to Dalton and drafted Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in the fifth round.
In order for Dalton to be better, Cincinnati must have a better running attack. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the feature back in 2013 rushing for 756 yards and seven scores, but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. He is likely to be replaced in the starting lineup by Giovani Bernard, who is younger and more explosive. Bernard ran for 695 yards and five touchdowns in limited action last year and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Rookie Jeremy Hill was drafted in the second round out of LSU and is expected to play sooner than later. Hill has excellent size at 6’1” and 233 pounds.
In order for the running game to be better the line must improve its ability to push against the D-line. Andrew Whitworth will return to left tackle after Anthony Collins signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent. Cincinnati Released C Kyle Cook, so it appears Mike Pollak will be the starter early but will be pushed by fourth-round pick Russell Bodine. Left guard Clint Boling is recovering from a torn ACL, so Pollak may take over at center while Bodine will slide in at left guard. Andre Smith will be the starter at right tackle. The biggest concern is the lack of depth so if Whitworth or Smith go down with an injury, the Bengals are in trouble.
Dalton will have some excellent receivers to throw to including AJ Green and Marvin Jones. Green draws all the attention from opposing defenses and is hoping to be better in 2014 after hitting the weight room and gaining 10 pounds of muscle in his upper body. Green caught 98 passes for 1426 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. Jones caught 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 scores. The knock on Green is his lack of production in the playoffs and the amount of drop passes he is had in the last two years (21) after dropping only five in 2011. Cincinnati will be solid it tight end with Jermaine Gresham as the starter and Tyler Eifert as his backup. Between them, they caught 85 passes for over 900 yards and six touchdowns.
Cincinnati’s defense ranked third in the NFL overall, fifth against the rush, fifth against the pass and tied for fifth in scoring defense giving up only 19.1 points per game. The Bengals were tied for fifth in interceptions with 20 and 10th overall in the NFL with 43 sacks. There is no doubt that the defensive line is what drives everything Cincinnati does on defense. Paul Guenther will be the new DC taking over for Mike Zimmer who is now the head coach at Minnesota. That doesn’t mean anything will change in their philosophy and the schemes will stay the same as well. For Cincinnati it is very simple, stop the run and get to the quarterback with as much pressure as possible without blitzing.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict led the NFL in tackles last year and will be joined in the front seven by Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Wallace Gilberry and Geno Atkins. Atkins is returning from a torn ACL and is a former All-Pro defensive tackle and is the biggest upgrade on this defense from a year ago. Cincinnati’s defense put up solid numbers even without Atkins in the lineup for the last two months of the year. Dunlap has tremendous size and speed and has become an every down player because of his consistency and energy. Second-year player Margus Hunt will see increased playing time in 2014 after Cincinnati lost Michael Johnson as a free agent to Tampa Bay. Robert Geathers is back after suffering lost time because of injuries.
Joining Burfict at linebacker will be Vinnie Ray at SLB and Rey Maualuga at MLB. Burfict has gone to the Pro Bowl for the last two years because he gets to the ball quickly and is one of the best tacklers in the NFL. Rey had a solid 2013 season and shows he belongs on the field after stepping in for the injured Maualuga. Emmanuel Lamur missed last year with a shoulder injury but returns to provide depth and will be used in nickel packages. Sean Porter and JK Schaffer will provide depth on the weak side and in the middle.
The secondary got better after drafting Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard. Dennard may get a chance to play immediately with Leon Hall coming back from his second Achilles tear into years. Hall will turn 30 in December and there’s so much concern about his ability to stay healthy. Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson will get a look at corner and free safety while Terence Newman will start at one corner and George Lloka is penciled in at strong safety. Jones, Nelson and Newman are all starting to show their age. Dre Kirkpatrick was Cincinnati’s number one pick in 2012, but so far has been too inconsistent to get more playing time.
Cincinnati should win the division again this year but at some point this team must play better in January. There is more than enough talent on this football team to make a deep run in the postseason but if Dalton and Green don’t produce, 2014 could be another sweet and sour season. Staying healthy will be another key after losing 10 players to injured reserve last season including eight on defense. Cincinnati lost a total of 58 games not including the postseason to key players like Hall, Atkins, Geathers and Lamur.
2014 DRAFT: cincyjungle.com
If we're forced to define the 2014 NFL draft for the Cincinnati Bengals in a single-word, our ideal one-word descriptions would include words like physical and toughness. Jeremy Hill, a tough down-hill runner who will make tacklers miss. Center Russell Bodine, a man that dominated the bench press at The Combine, is a powerful center that Cincinnati has needed for ages in a division with big nose tackles. First-rounder Darqueze Dennard is physical for a cornerback, a capable tackler that doesn't shy away from contact that plays well in man-coverage.
The Rookie of the Year
RB Jeremy Hill (2nd Round, Pick 55): Of the rookies drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2014 NFL draft, we could easily see Hill dominating this discussion. If, and we're prognosticating Cincinnati's intentions, the Bengals release BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Hill thus becomes the short-yardage back and touchdown producer. Hill is also a better runner, who can break tackles and launch into significant gains. Cincinnati's apparent philosophy this year was more about toughness and physicality than it was explosiveness.
OC Russell Bodine (4th Round, Pick 111): Trevor Robinson, T.J. Johnson, and Mike Pollak. Those are the players standing in Bodine's way to becoming the team's starting center. Truth is that the Bengals not only used a fourth-round pick to acquire Bodine; they used a sixth-round pick to put themselves in position to draft him. They will give Bodine every opportunity to secure the starting gig but it may take some time. According to some predraft reports, Bodine has questionable lower-body strength and tends to rely on his upper body. Additionally he'll need to refine his technique... but he's a fourth-round rookie. You expect these things.
CB Darqueze Dennard (1st Round, Pick 24): This is a case where we keep first-year expectations small, but in reality Dennard is a foundation-level player. Before long he'll be a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals and he will become one of their best defensive backs. However, save for injuries, Dennard will have a hard time surpassing Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman. What I really like -- and hope for -- is that Cincinnati has established their future at cornerback with Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick (provided he develops more and more).
DE Will Clarke (3rd Round, Pick 88): He could just as easily become a contributor -- look we're making a predication on a season while only being aware that this player will be with the Bengals for less than a day. Clarke has the long-body that Cincinnati loves, usually a draft template that brought in Michael Jonson, Carlos Dunlap, and Margus Hunt. Johnson and Dunlap needed time to develop into the players that they'd become and Hunt is facing that transition now. Clark has the size that Cincinnati loves but we're not expecting him to hit the ground running.
QB A.J. McCarron (5th Round, Pick 164): McCarron has two paths laid out for him. He'll either fight-to-the-death to supplant Jason Campbell or he'll head to the practice squad. I'm not sure if replacing Campbell will be easy -- the Bengals want a veteran backup quarterback and Hue Jackson has history with Campbell. If they decide to place him on the team's practice squad, then we should expect Cincinnati to protect him somewhat -- not exposing him in preseason games (aka, reducing the amount of information about him so another team doesn't show interest).
The Long Shots
LB Marquis Flowers (6th Round, Pick 212): Flowers doesn't appeal to me as a long-term player; rather a late-round selection that will be used to develop competition at the bottom of Cincinnati's linebacker roster. That's not to say that he couldn't develop and become a contributor. At best, he'll play special teams this year and maybe, he'll develop upward.
WR James Wright (7th Round, Pick 239): Feels like a wasted pick but has enough athleticism that piques Cincinnati's interest... enough so that they'll try to find a role for him (kind of like Onterio McCalebb). However, we see more Bennie Brazell (former LSU wide receiver that the Bengals drafted in the seventh round in '06) than special teams. Camp body.