The Bengals were one of the best teams in 2015, but missed their shot at competing for the Super Bowl due to an Andy Dalton injury. In 2016 they fell back to earth and were one of the most inconsistent teams in the NFL. Is there any way they can get back to competing at the highest level again?
The 2016 Bengals entered the year with some fanfare, but also some trepidation. They lost some key pieces of their offense before the season began, and that really showed with the inconsistency on that side of the ball.
The Bengals only won back-to-back games once, a Week 13 solid win over the Eagles and then a Week 14 win against Cleveland, which doesn’t really count.
Their season was typified by losing close games. After sneaking a 23-22 win in Week 1 over the Jets, they managed to tie in London against the Redskins to go 3-4-1, and then proceeded to lose five games by five points or less in November and December.
Problems started with losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in the offseason, and then AJ Green went down toward the end of the season to really put the brakes on the offense. Their defense, especially on the ground, was not as good as expected either, with their weakness at linebacker really showing.
|Kevin Minter, ILB||Andrew Whitworth, OT|
|Andre Smith, G||Kevin Zeitler, G|
|John Ross, WR (Draft)||Domata Peko, DT|
|Rex Burkhead, RB|
|Margus Hunt, DL|
The Bengals were very quiet in the offseason, but that doesn’t mean it was all good. Losing the two best players on their offensive line is a huge blow. Former Bengal Andre Smith was brought back to plug the hole at guard, and they have in-house replacements for Whitworth, but that doesn’t replace the Pro Bowl level of destruction both Whitworth and Zeitler brought to the team.
Elsewhere, the losses were minimal, and the additions even less so, though John Ross brings a lot of excitement to the team.
|1||Vs Baltimore Ravens|
|2||Vs Houston Texans|
|3||@ Green Bay Packers|
|4||@ Cleveland Browns|
|5||Vs Buffalo Bills|
|7||@ Pittsburgh Steelers|
|8||Vs Indianapolis Colts|
|9||@ Jacksonville Jaguars|
|10||@ Tennessee Titans|
|11||@ Denver Broncos|
|12||Vs Cleveland Browns|
|13||Vs Pittsburgh Steelers|
|14||Vs Chicago Bears|
|15||@ Minnesota Vikings|
|16||Vs Detroit Lions|
|17||@ Baltimore Ravens|
The Bengals dovetail their season with the injury-riddled Ravens, and in between they get the AFC South and NFC North, Buffalo, and Denver. It’s a very uncertain schedule, with plenty of potential for AFC South teams to be tough games, or to be easy, we just don’t know right now. The same goes for the Bills under their new regime and the Broncos, with their strong defense but potentially hideous on offense.
Their trickiest stretch could end up being the five games after their bye, when they visit the Steelers, have to match up with Andrew Luck, then have a three-game road trip against a stacked Jags defense, a dangerous Titans team, and the brilliant Broncos D.
Three players to watch: Jake Fisher, offensive tackle
Andrew Whitworth, who manned the left tackle spot for nearly every game in 11 years with the Bengals has moved on, forcing Cincinnati to move last year’s right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi across the line to left, and leaving Fisher to win the right tackle spot.
A second round pick in 2015, Jake Fisher has not developed as desired, in fact neither has Ogbuehi, but this was the plan they put into action in the 2015 Draft, and now it has to pay off.
William Jackson III, cornerback
Much like at tackle, the Bengals have steadily drafted young talent at corner, but it hasn’t really paid off. Neither Dre Kirkpatrick nor Darqueze Dennard have turned into the star corner the Bengals had hoped for, now in Year 2 they need to see more from William Jackson.
Jackson lost his entire rookie season to a torn pectoral muscle, so he has a lot of catching up to do. However, the Bengals need him to be good right away if they are to narrow the gap to the Steelers in the AFC North.
John Ross, wide receiver
The Bengals used the #9 pick on Ross’ incredible 4.22 speed. That simple fact should put fear into teams, knowing that they have to cope with game-breaking speed and AJ Green on the other side. How you give yourself ample coverage on both I’m not sure, and I don’t think defensive coordinators are either at the moment. Big things are expected from Ross, so long as the protection holds up long enough for Dalton to get him the ball…
I think this season has “forgettable” written all over it for the Bengals. They have become worse up front, and that is rarely a recipe for success, no matter how much talent you add at the skill positions.
Defensively they are a little thin and uninspiring outside of Geno Atkins, who will be his usual impressive self.
As I said when discussing their schedule, there is definitely a scenario where it all breaks right and the Bengals can win close games with the AFC South sides, eek out a low-scoring win over the Broncos, take some wins off an under-performing NFC North and they could find themselves in a wild card spot. However, the most likely scenario is that they stumble around .500 for most of the year and are mostly forgettable.
The only way this team will really pop is if John Ross and Joe Mixon take off as rookies, but even that is unlikely due to the offensive line concerns. Sorry Bengals fans, it might be a long 2017.
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