At the beginning of last season, there were so many questions for the Cincinnati Bengals. How would they replace Carson Palmer at the quarterback position? Where would their big-play capability be without Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson or Terrell Owens? How would the team be able to make an impact with so many new faces on the field?
There were so many questions that in the preseason ranks, the Bengals were dead last. There were no expectations for them to do anything. With so many new players, a new offensive system and the crippling effect of Mike Brown, the Bengals were expected to be an 0-16 team.
No one could have guessed that the Bengals would make the playoffs for only the third time in 20 years. They certainly couldn’t expect their rookie quarterback and wide receiver to be in the Pro Bowl.
Coming into this season, the Bengals still have not received the recognition they deserved after last year's performance, and they are still projected to finish behind Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the division. They didn’t have the best start to the season after being crushed by the Ravens in Week 1 on Monday Night Football. However, since then, they have been making some noise.
With Andy Dalton having a couple of incredible games, throwing the ball and creating big plays for the season's highlight reels, this team is now 2-1. They are second in the division to only Baltimore, who has the same record.
Against Cleveland, Andy Dalton threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns. This week against Washington, he had 328 yards passing for another three touchdowns. In the last two weeks, the offense has put up a total of 72 points in the span of two games. The Bengals are ranked fourth in the league in passing yards per game.
Another aspect to the offense is its big playmaking ability. AJ Green has proven to be one of the best wideouts in the NFL with 21 catches so far on the year for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Andrew Hawkins has been a difference-maker as well with his bursts of speed out of the slot. He has 12 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns as well.
So how far will this high-powered Bengals offense lead them?
The next three games are against Jacksonville, Miami and Cleveland, all of which are all very beatable opponents, and then they play division rival Pittsburgh. I can foresee this team being 5-2 coming into the bye week. However, the biggest visible problem for this team is the defense.
The Bengals are ranked 22nd in pass defense and 31st in defending the run. The majority of our remaining schedule consists of teams who love to run the ball in order to set up the pass. The defensive line has been playing great, but the linebackers and secondary haven’t been doing their job. After being ranked top 10 in defense last season, this team has to step it up if they have any hopes of making it to the playoffs.
The plus side to our defense so far is the pass rush. The defensive line has been getting after the quarterback; it recorded six sacks against the elusive Robert Griffin III last week. When it comes to crunch time in these games, the key to keeping a lead will be getting to the quarterback when passing is the opposing team’s only option. With Carlos Dunlap coming back from injury, it strongly helps enhance this defense's chances for improving. The secondary needs to get players back healthy and the linebackers need to step it up.
This explosive offense will help the Bengals win a lot of games; however, the defense will determine whether or not we are talking about this team making playoffs come December.