The Cincinnati Bengals are the next team that we’ll be touching on in our NFL 32 Team Preview. They also happen to be this year’s HBO Hard Knocks team. The Bengals have made the Playoffs the past 2 years, but have lost in the Wild Card Round to the Houston Texans both times. 2nd longest tenured NFL Head Coach, Marvin Lewis, leads the team. Lewis, hired in 2003, has a record of 79-80-1 in the regular season and is 0-4 in the Playoffs. He’ll be leading one of his strongest teams ever assembled in 2013 and they should be a force to be reckoned with.
Offense: Andy Dalton leads the Bengals Offense. He has had a pretty good first 2 seasons, and if he can tweak his game some in 2013, will be one of the better Quarterbacks in the NFL. Dalton has thrown 47 touchdowns and 29 interceptions in his career and has a good group of Wide Receivers he can throw the ball to. A.J. Green is Dalton’s favorite target. Green is debatably the best Wide Receiver the AFC offers on Sundays. In his 2-year career, Green has 162 catches, 2,407 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 35 plays that went for 20 yards or more. Slot Receiver, Andrew Hawkins, who was the second most targeted receiver on the roster, complements Green. It’s been a long road to the NFL for Hawkins. He’s played in the CFL, as well was on Michael Irvin’s 4th and Long television series, where he tried to earn a spot on the 2009 Dallas Cowboys. Hawkins had 51 catches in 2012 that accounted for 533 yards and 4 touchdowns. Other talented receivers on the roster are names such as Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Brandon Tate. Rookies, Cobi Hamilton and Roy Roundtree, were productive players during their college years, and will be trying to prove their worth at the next level. The Bengals are expected to have one of the better Tight End groups on the field in 2013, starting with Jermaine Gresham. Last season, Gresham had his best season yet with 5 touchdowns and 737 yards, on 64 catches. He’ll be joined by Tyler Eifert, the Bengals 1st Round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Eifert was one of greatest Tight Ends Notre Dame ever had and should be an immediate impact for Cincinnati. Eifert isn’t the only 2011 John Mackey Finalist on the team though. Orson Charles was picked with the 116th choice in the 2012 Draft. Charles won’t see too much time on the field with the other players ahead of him but, in my personal opinion, can be a threat in the goal line offense. In the past Draft, Cincinnati chose Running Back Giovani Bernard. Bernard played 2 seasons for the North Carolina Tar Heels, rushing for over 1,200 yards each year and totaling 92 catches out of the backfield. He’ll be a nice addition to an Offense that brought in BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2012. Green-Ellis didn’t have a stellar year for the Bengals but did manage to rush for 1,094 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. The Bengals Offense will be extremely dangerous this upcoming season; especially if both these backs can improve on the 18th rank in rushing the Bengals had the previous year. The right side of the Bengals Offensive Line is their strongest. Right Tackle, Andre Smith, and Right Guard, Kevin Zeitler, are Pro Bowl caliber talent, and add an excellent level of consistency. Last season was a little rough (but not bad) for Smith allowing 7.5 sacks, but he should bounce back in 2013. Right Tackle, Andrew Whitworth, is pretty consistent as he has started all 16 games for the Bengals the last 4 years and only allowed 4 sacks last season. Left Guard is going to be competed for in Training Camp along with the Center position. The Guard battle will consist of players Clint Boling, Mike Pollak, Tanner Hawkinson and Travelle Wharton. Wharton and Boling are the favorites to win the competition. Center, which used to be guaranteed for Kyle Cook, will be a competition between Cook and Trevor Robinson. Robinson came in last season for an injured Cook and did such a good job that Marvin Lewis said the 2 would be going head-to-head for the job in camp. The Bengals Offense has everything it needs to get Marvin Lewis his first Playoff Win as a Head Coach and the franchise’s first since 1990. With teams worrying about the 2 Tight Ends (Eifert and Gresham) together with the threat of A.J. Green, the production of the Running Backs is going to be the whole key to this Offense in 2013.
Defense: This side of the ball should finish just as well as they did last year, when they were 6th (7th versus the Pass and 12th against the Run) in Total Defense. The Secondary is pretty deep at Cornerback. Leon Hall, Adam “PacMan” Jones, Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick will all be returning in 2013. Hall is Cincinnati’s top Cornerback. Kirkpatrick will be looking to have a solid 2nd season in the NFL after a disappointing rookie year. He fought injuries and didn’t get to play too much at all. Newman and Jones are stellar depth, in case of an injury or poor play by one of the top 2 guys. The Safety positions are pretty solid with talent as well. Reggie Nelson is one of the better, but overlooked, Free Safety’s in the game since joining the league. Nelson has intercepted 9 passes since joining Cincinnati in 2010. Taylor Mays and rookie Shawn Williams will fight for the Strong Safety position. Taylor Mays has been a disappointment since coming out of USC. Mays can lay a big hit but when it comes to blitzing or playing coverage, his game is on the weaker side. Rookie Shawn Williams from Georgia was the 84th selection in the Draft. He’s just as physical as Mays and is a lot more advanced in his pass coverage. Williams should have no problem winning the starting Strong Safety job in Training Camp. The Defensive Backs should see plenty of turnover opportunities with how well the Defensive Line plays. Geno Atkins is really coming into his own and debatably the best Defensive Tackle in the NFL. Atkins puts tons of pressure on the Quarterback (20 sacks in the past 2 years) and splits double teams as good as anyone. Domata Peko and Devon Still will be competing for the other starting Defensive Tackle spot. The Defensive Ends for the Bengals put a lot of stress on the Quarterback. Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson combined for 17.5 sacks in 2012. Robert Geathers and Margus Hunt add exceptional depth to the Defensive Ends. Rookie Margus Hunt was one of the best kick blockers in NCAA history. It might take him some time to adjust his mental and physical capabilities to be an every down player but, Special Teams wise, he should be a play maker blocking Field Goals and Extra Points. Middle Linebacker, Rey Maualuga, heads Cincinnati’s Linebackers. Maualuga had an excellent 2012, combining for 122 total tackles. Rey wasn’t the top tackler on the team though. Un-drafted rookie, Vontaze Burfict, was on a mission to prove everyone wrong who didn’t think he was worth a draft choice in the 2o12 Draft. He did just that combining for team-high 127 tackles and registering a sack. Burfict earned himself the job as one of the starting Outside Linebackers, with the other starting job going to James Harrison. Harrison was brought in via Free Agency. There are a lot of questions from fans wondering if he’ll be as effective in the 4/3 Defense Cincinnati will be running. Harrison had a very effective career in Pittsburgh, but it a lot of his success was mainly coming off the edge in their 3/4 styled Defense. If Harrison struggles, Cincinnati has some good depth behind him in Aaron Maybin, Sean Porter, and Bruce Taylor. Porter was drafted 118th overall but Bruce Taylor is the most intriguing out of those 3 names. Taylor has a good chance of being the next Vontaze Burfict, as he was an extremely solid player at Virginia Tech; it was pretty shocking that he didn’t get selected in the draft. As talented as the Bengals Offense is, their Defense might be the strongest part of this team. They have plenty of players who can be the next man up, so to speak, if there happens to be any injury or disappointing play from a starter.
End Result: I envision that the Bengals will finish along the lines of 9-7 in 2013.