Each year Bengals fans find themselves clinging to the last remnants of hope that next year will be better.
We drafted Carson Palmer, then sat him the whole season. Maybe next year. Then we made it to the playoffs and had home-field advantage, but Palmer tore his knee against the Steelers. Maybe next year. We sign T.O. He's a bust. Maybe next year.
Then we drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. I hate to say the cycle is broken already—that would surely jinx the fragile luck of Cincinnati sports—but it's encouraging that Dalton and Green comprised the first rookie QB and WR duo to make the Pro Bowl. Thus far, A.J. Green is having a career-worthy season and Dalton has maintained a QBR above 90 for the past two games.
It just so happens that, in those same two games, the Bengals defense has held Eli Manning, Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel to a combined 403 passing yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. Having the added comfort of a sound defense seems to be helping Dalton better settle into the pocket and avoid making rushed decisions.
Dalton and Green have been great, but the most encouraging facet of the Bengals offense is its talent-in-waiting. At the receiver position, A.J. Green gets the majority of the attention. However, Andrew Hawkins, Brandon Tate and Mohamed Sanu have big playmaking ability as well.
Hawkins is averaging 11.6 yards per catch and has three touchdowns on the year. He ranks sixth in the NFL among second-year players in receiving. A.J. Green is first.
Brandon Tate has produced some big plays in the special teams game for the Bengals and shows promise when given open-field opportunities. He averages 25.8 yards per kick return.
Mohamed Sanu started the season with a passing touchdown and, since, has caught a touchdown in the last two games.
I don't know what Marvin Lewis said to these guys after the Broncos loss, but whatever it was seems to be working. A.J. Green has continued to amaze. Dalton seems far more comfortable in the pocket and is making better decisions. Role players like Jermaine Gresham, Mohamed Sanu, Orson Charles and Cedric Peerman have gotten more involved. The pass defense hasn't given up a touchdown and has eight sacks.
Everything looks good heading into a very winnable four-game stretch against the Raiders, Chargers, Cowboys and Eagles before finishing out the schedule with AFC North opponents Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The fact that Dalton is getting his second, third and sometimes fourth options the ball shows that he is going through his progression, his offensive line is giving him time to do so and he's understanding the offense better.
The latter is not only a testament to Dalton, but also to offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
While I was sad to see Jordan Shipley leave at the beginning of the preseason, I'm very encouraged by the play of Hawkins and Sanu the last few weeks. With Green attracting so much attention on the outside, it's necessary that the Bengals continue to develop that slot receiver position.
I don't see the Bengals focusing on too many offensive positions except for running back and maybe a young, promising lineman in the draft. It's still very early, but I would love to see the Bengals pick up injured South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in the fifth or sixth round. If he recovers to full or even 85 percent strength, his versatility out of the backfield could put the Bengals into Super Bowl contention.
Regardless of any transactions, I see only bright things in the future for the young Bengals offense. Add in the fact that Jermaine Gresham can't be brought down with less than a four-man army and "The Law Firm," BenJarvus Green-Ellis—as well as Brian Leonard—can catch the ball out of the backfield, I'm excited to see the scoreboards continue to light up in Cincinnati.