NFL 2012 Preseason Preview: The AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals

Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals mounted an unlikely rookie-led resurgence that resulted in a playoff appearance and a return to NFL respectability. Was this an anomaly or a taste of things to come?

Andy Dalton and A.J. Green made it all the way to Hawaii in their rookie seasons. Can the team build on its success or will sophomore slumps mar Rust Belt enthusiasm?

2011 wrap-up:

  1. Talk about succeeding beyond all expectations! While the Cincy D has been building for several years and its strength wasn’t surprising and while A.J. Green certainly came with the price tag and draft status for success—the Red Rifle blew people away as a rookie QB. Dalton may not have made anyone forget Dan Marino or Peyton Manning, but he exuded a confidence beyond both his years and experience and emerged rather quickly as a franchise QB. Carson who?
  2. The team finished the season 9-7 and gave notice that the AFC North is now a three-horse race.
  3. Marvin Lewis is a survivor. While it may be more a function of an owner’s tight wallet than of gridiron genius, he is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL. He’s certainly had his high’s and low’s, but has managed class and dignity throughout. And that has been no small feat considering the drama surrounding him. “If you can remain calm when wide receivers around you have run amok….” Or something like that.

2012 offseason:

  1. You have to feel for Cedric Benson. His heart is clearly strong and he is passionate about the game. But he will be passionate in another city this year (possible Green Bay).
  2. Instead, the New England “law firm” of BenJarvus Green-Ellis has arrived to tote the rock in Cincy. Green-Ellis comes with some lovely numbers, but much of that achievement may well have been a result of playing with a certain future HOF QB. Some have thought that current Cincy rusher Bernard Scott only needs more carries to succeed—but he averaged a mere 3.4 yards per attempt last season when given the chance. Hmmm. And if the team thought that Bernard Leonard were more than a third-string option, would they have hired the former Pats rusher? Methinks not.
  3. Cincinnati made a legitimate effort to upgrade their interior offensive line this offseason. I’m sure that will thrill Dalton’s wife and whoever ends up being the starting RB.
  4. The secondary is a mass of uncertainty. Veteran corner Leon Hall and FS Reggie Nelson will be there, but the other spots are unsecured. The team drafted talented but character-challenged Dre Kirkpatrick—who promptly fractured his knee and will miss significant time. The rest of the DBs have thus far been underwhelming.
  5. Special teams (with apologies to excellent holder Clark Harris) was, shall we say, not a strength. Mike Nugent is a perplexing PK. One minute he’s the most accurate field-goal guy in the league and the next he’s missing four in a row. No wonder Marvin’s hair is turning grey—er.

Storylines:

  1. Can someone please tell Pacman Jones to go do something else with his life? How many chances does one guy get? This man must be the greatest thing since Darrell Green—on the practice field. Otherwise why would anyone put up with the nonsense (and I use that word as a G-Rated substitute)? The latest is that he must pay $11 million in damages resulting from the strip club scandal in 2007. Why would you hire anyone with the phrase “strip club scandal” as part of their resume?
  2. Who will emerge as the No. 2 WR? There are Brandon Tate, Armon Binns, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. All will be vying for Mr. Dalton’s attention. Mr. Dalton will probably always be looking for Green or TE Jermaine Gresham, but at some point you need another WR. Slot man Jordan Shipley is coming back from a torn ACL.
  3. Bruce Gradkowski is the current backup QB, but if Colt McCoy were to become available—just a thought.
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