How Cincinnati Bengals Can Stay in AFC North Driver's Seat

Josh AronsonCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2013

Oct 20, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals, who have won three straight games, are currently sitting in first place in the AFC North. Since losing to the Browns in Week 4, the Bengals have impressed their critics by beating the Patriots, Bills and Lions.

Cincinnati will look to continue their dominant defensive play and methodical offense to carry them to an AFC North division crown.

The Bengals have one of the most stacked rosters in the NFL with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Andy Dalton is having his best year as a pro through seven games, having thrown for 1,924 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions.

If the Bengals want to stay in the AFC North driver’s seat, they must continue to run the ball effectively, get big plays from wide receiver AJ Green and play outstanding defense. 

The Bengals’ rushing attack is a two-headed monster. Running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard have been great this year. Although they only rank 18th in the NFLaveraging just under 103 yards per gamethe change of pace between the two causes fits for opposing defenses.

Green-Ellis is the downhill back who picks up the tough yards, while Bernard is more of a slasher and a threat coming out of the backfield. The two backs have combined for 583 yards on 166 carries and five touchdowns this year.

They will both continue to be an integral part of the offense going forward. 

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No one has been targeted more in the NFL than AJ Green with 78. He is currently third in the league with 619 yards, only ten behind leader Torrey Smith. Green has had more than 100 yards and at least one touchdown in his last two games and looks to be playing the best football of his career. 

If the Bengals want to make a run deep into the playoffs, they will rely heavily on Green. As one of the best receivers in the league, Green will rarely get left in single coverage and will be expected to make spectacular plays week after week.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals recently lost star cornerback Leon Hall for the season. Hall tore his right Achilles tendon, and he will miss the rest of 2013.

However, the Bengals have plenty of depth at the cornerback position, including Terence Newman, Adam “Pacman” Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick. Teams will test Jones and Kirkpatrick often, but both will be up for the task and the secondary will not miss a beat.

The Bengals have one of the best front sevens in the NFL and are led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Cincinnati is currently ranked 8th in run defense, allowing less than 100 yards per game. Expect the run stopping dominance to continue for the Bengals, forcing teams to become one-dimensional.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has drawn up fantastic game plans this year and will be remembered for ending Tom Brady’s streak of 52 consecutive games with a passing touchdown in Week 3.

Sep 16, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals still have five AFC North games remaining, including the season finale at home against the Ravens. If the Bengals can play as consistent as they have been the past three weeks, look for them to be able to rest starters against Baltimore in Week 17, with the division locked up.