2013 NFL season Preview: Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals are now the class of the AFC North. The Bengals are young and full of talent. They have a fierce front 4 on defense and a dynamic quarterback-wide receiver combination.

Perhaps finally winning a playoff game is finally going to happen for the Bengals in 2013. Cincinnati drafted extremely well this April. They just continue to get better and better.

Quarterback:

We did see Andy Dalton have somewhat of a sophomore slump last year. Dalton’s numbers improved in 2012, but his decision making wasn’t always great. He loves to force the ball into double coverage way too often. His completion percentage could be a lot higher if it wasn’t for some of his careless mistakes. He needs to look through all his reads more often. If you go back and watch some of his games from last season, you’ll see him look to A.J. Green and then tuck and run if Green was not open. Dalton seemed to only trust Green many of times. That is something that needs to be fixed going into the 2013 season.

Dalton did improve his accuracy on throwing deep passes. He’s also noticeable become the leader of the Bengals offense. Dalton even led 3 game winning drives last season. He’s got all the fixings to be a good QB in this league, even good enough to lead a team to a Super Bowl somewhere down the road.

The Bengals added John Skelton as a backup. Josh Johnson, another backup, brings an interesting skill-set to the position. The depth behind Dalton is much better going into this season.

Grade: B

Running Backs:

BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard are likely going to share many of this team’s carries. Green-Ellis did eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark last season, but he’s still not exactly a special back. Green-Ellis is strictly an in between the tackles runner. He’s not very great when running in space. Green-Ellis doesn’t have breakaway speed, nor is he a power back.

The Bengals are likely hoping that Bernard can become their true starter. Cincinnati selected him in the second round. Bernard was the first running back taken off the board in the 2013 draft.

Bernard does have breakaway speed and a bit of power to him. He accelerates through holes very quickly. We’re also likely going to see Bernard used as a pass catcher out of the backfield a good bit this season. He’s a very good receiving running back.

The Bengals also have Bernard Scott and Cedric Peerman on the roster. Scott has had injury problems, and Peerman is strictly a speed back.

Grade: C+

Receivers:

A.J. Green has already taken the NFL world by storm in just two full years in the league. Green was voted to the Pro Bowl in both of his two years in the NFL. He also eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark in both of his first two seasons.

Green has an amazing ability to pluck balls out of the air while fending off a defensive back. There isn’t a better route runner in the league than A.J. Green. He throws off defenders with his fantastic footwork and breaks. Green is easily a top 5 receiver already.

After Green, things get a bit messy on the depth chart. There isn’t a clearcut no.2 wide receiver on this team.

Andrew Hawkins is a good slot receiver. Hawkins stands only 5 foot, 7 inches tall. When you get the ball in his hands he can make explosive plays. Of course, his size gives him a big disadvantage. Hawkins has a hard time separating from defenders.

Mohamed Sanu became a presence in the red zone later on in the 2012 season. Sanu caught 4 TDs last season. Keep your eye on Sanu this season, he could potentially have a breakout year.

Marvin Jones definitely looks like an outside receiver, but his participation was limited with the team last season. Brandon Tate is more of special teams player than anything else.

It’s very odd that Jermaine Gresham has been to 2 straight Pro Bowls. Gresham is not living up to his potential. His athleticism leads many to believe that he can be a top receiving tight end in the league. Yet, he still continues to struggle. He had immense issues hauling in passes last season.

The Bengals drafted tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round this year. We’re going to see the Bengals using a lot more of two tight end sets. Eifert will be a huge receiving threat as a tight end. In fact, he’s very much like Gresham. Gresham and Eifert together could be a very dangerous tandem.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line:

Andrew Whitworth is one of the league’s best left tackles. Whitworth is a fantastic pass protector. He only allowed 5 sacks and 11 QB hurries in 2012. He seals off the edge very nicely. Whitworth displays good balance and power. He’s not as successful in run blocking, but he does a solid job.

The Bengals have a fantastic right tackle as well. Andre Smith is in the top tier of right tackles. Smith is a good pass blocker, but he is not elite in that category. Speedy and skilled pass rushers give Smith a hard time. Run blocking is where Smith truly shines. He drives the defender back instantaneously off the snap. Smith is a very physical force.

Left guard Clint Boling was penalized only once last season. Boling had a very surprisingly good season as a rookie in 2012. He was very good in pass blocking situations. He needs to improve in the run blocking aspect of his game. I do believe that he can become even better in his second season in the league.

Kevin Zeitler really went above and beyond the standard in his 2012 rookie year. Zeitler was great at pass blocking. He took on bull rushers with ease, and showed off the ability to use hands effectively. Like Boling, Zeitler needs to improve in the run blocking department. Zeitler for the most part, was downright awesome in his rookie year.

The center position is the only question mark on this offensive line. Kyle Cook missed most of the 2012 season due to an ankle injury. Trevor Robinson took over the starting job halfway through the season. There will be a battle for this starting job.

Grade: A-

Defensive Line:

Make sure you know who Geno Atkins is, if you don’t know by now. Atkins has already cemented his place as the game’s best defensive tackle. Atkins racked up 16 sacks last season; this is far more than any other defensive tackle in the league. He also made many plays in the run game. He’s quite athletic, and makes a lot of plays in the backfield. His explosiveness off the ball is uncanny.

The Bengals other starting defensive tackle Domata Peko is a very solid run stopper. Devon Still and Brandon Thompson are expected to have an increased role this season.

Defensive end Michael Johnson is due to be the Bengals’ highest paid player in 2013. Johnson recorded 11.5 sacks in 2012. Johnson has become quite the every down player. He can stop the run and rush the pass. Johnson is a speedy pass rusher, and he has a great shoulder dip.

The starter on the other end has yet to be officially determined. Carlos Dunlap was expected to be the starter last season, but Robert Geathers ended up starting all 16 games. Dunlap compliments Michael Johnson much more than Geathers. I’m definitely leaning towards Dunlap getting the starting job.

Grade: A

Linebackers:

The Bengals’ biggest offseason addition on defense is OLB James Harrison. Harrison, formerly of the Steelers, gets his chance to play with a former rival. Harrison has played his entire career in a 3-4 defense. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the transition to a 4-3 scheme. Harrison also has to face the question: Does he still have something left in the tank? Harrison just turned 35 in May.

Vontaze Burfict was moved to the weak side last season, and ended up leading the team in tackles. Burfict is a very solid defender. He doesn’t rush the pass very well, but he’s good against the run and in coverage.

Rey Maualuga has not been particularly good as a middle linebacker, but it looks like the Bengals will still put him there in 2013.

Grade: C

Secondary:

Cornerback Terrence Newman continues to play the cornerback position at a high level, even though he’s at the age of 34. Newman only let 56% of the passes thrown his way be completed in 2012. He doesn’t give up a ton of big plays either. Newman is also great in run support.

Leon Hall came back from his Achilles injury in a big way last season. He was a bit shaky early on in the season, but he returned to form by the halfway point. Hall did give up a good amount of completions but he limited big plays. Hall put together a very nice 2012 season.

The Bengals also have good depth behind Hall and Newman. Adam Jones played extremely well in 2012. They also have Dre Kirkpatrick.

Reggie Nelson is the only solid safety the Bengals currently have. Nelson does have the ability to play free or strong safety. He’s very good in coverage, but isn’t a great run defender. Nelson was fantastic in zone coverage last year.

Third round draft pick Shawn Williams and Taylor Mays are expected to fight for the strong safety slot. Mays was not very good at all in 2012. Williams has a very good shot at becoming the starter.

Grade: B

Special Teams:

Punter Kevin Huber averaged 46.6 yards per punt last season. Kicker Mike Nugent converted 19 of 23 field goals in 2012, but still continues to be nagged by injuries. “Pacman” Jones continues to be a force in the punt return game; he averaged 11.6 yards per attempt.

Grade: B

Final Thoughts:

The Bengals are easily the best team in the AFC North. They are only a few steps from becoming Super Bowl contenders. If the Bengals get production from draft picks Bernard and Eifert, their offense could become superb.

Overall Grade: B+

Projected Finish in Division: 1st

Projected Record: 12-4

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