If the Bengals plan on making a deep run into the playoffs and contending for a World Championship, they must continue to get better as a team each week. The following factors are areas of concern for some and in some cases have been bright spots throughout the year. How do they factor into the playoffs you might wonder? Let’s take a look.
1. Andy Dalton
It is no secret that Andy Dalton has struggled at times during the regular season. Along the way, Andy Dalton has also put up some unreal numbers. Many people, have screamed their displeasure with him but, he is “the man” right now and for the fore-seeable future. Let me take you back a few weeks to a radio conversation I listened to around Thanksgiving.
While traveling back into Ohio for Thanksgiving, I tuned into 700WLW and listened as they discussed the topic of Dalton’s struggles. The point was made that Dalton is not elite passer, especially down field and has struggled greatly this season with consistency. Then the point was brought to light that he is probably a mid-tier level quarterback in the NFL and can the Bengals win a National Championship with at QB. Surprisingly, the answer was, “Yes.” Trent Dilfer won a championship with the Ravens and Brad Johnson won a championship with the Buccaneers and they are said to be on par with where Andy Dalton is as a quarterback.
Now to the present, lets look at what we are dealing with. Dalton is just the fifth quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, but to this point he has not demonstrated any ability to spark his team to a higher level in January. Cincinnati was eliminated the last two seasons in first-round openers at Houston, with Dalton combining for four picks and zero TDs.
Yet playing in his first home playoff game should make a difference – at least for the opening round. In going 8-0 at home this season, Cincinnati averaged 34.4 points and posted an average margin of victory of 17.6 points per game.
Still, it has been such an up-and-down season for Dalton. He ranked third in the NFL with 33 TD passes, but no quarterback in the playoffs threw as many interceptions (20). Dalton needs to be crisp, eliminating major mistakes such as interceptions. His timing must be in tune with the wide outs or the game could become a very long one for the running backs. He can not focus on AJ Green or Marvin Jones the whole game. He must use every player in the arsenal.
2. Offensive Line
The fight in the “trenches” will set the bar for how the game will go for the Bengals. The veteran group of offensive lineman must win the battle up front if the Bengals are to be successful.
They have struggled at times this year not able to complete simple tasks such pass blocking effectively and gaining first downs in short yardage situations. The line must set the tone in those situations! The line must be ready to go from the first snap to allow Green-Ellis and Bernard to effective. If the running game is not effective to set up the passing attack, I see a very frustrating afternoon in Paul Brown Stadium. In some games, teams have blitzed and lineman have failed to pass a man off to make sure all rushers are accounted for. This can not happen and communication must take place. They must also get “push” in short yardage situations. I believe the Bengals were only 4 of 10 on 3rd downs when these two teams met in San Diego a few week ago. We must convert and that starts up front.
The defense has been the bread and butter all year long. The old saying goes, “Offense wins games but defense wins championships”, which brings me back to the 700 WLW broadcast I listened too. As I wrapped my mind around the discussion on the radio, my mind drifted to those two teams mentioned, the Ravens and Buccaneers, and I thought to myself, “They had great defenses!” We have a GREAT defense!!!! My only fear is getting banged up during the game and our depth in certain positions, especially at corner. Our run defense will be key in this game as I foresee the Chargers trying to establish a ground game. The Chargers currently have the second longest win streak in the NFL and those wins have been set up Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead taking the load off Phillip Rivers. Our defense must stay healthy and get 3 and outs. If we control the line of scrimmage and shut down the Chargers running game, that puts the game in Rivers hands which in turn plays to our favor.
4. Special Teams
Special teams are sometimes an after thought and that can get your beat very quickly this time of year. Weather conditions will play a role in snaps and holds so extra focus must given in each of those areas. One area that the Bengals must be disciplined with is coverage lanes. Huber being out is a bi-product of not doing what you are coached to do. The kicker or punter should never have to get involved if the other 10 guys do their job. Their job is to stay in their lane and contain the football from breaking outside. In the case of Huber getting his head knocked off, the Bengals were stacked behind each other leaving huge gaps for the return team. This spelled disaster in more than one way for the Bengals. We can not take these plays off or overlook them. The mood of the game can swing very quickly by something that happens on special teams.
5. Win Outside the Jungle
The Bengals at home are a completely different team than the one they take on the road. In their 5 losses this year, the Bengals offense is averaging a dismal 16.8 points a game compared to giving up 22.6 to opposing teams. While those numbers are close and within one score, you must compare that to what they do while playing in the jungle. Again, they average scoring 34.4 points a game and defeating their opponent by an average of 17.6 points. The defense is steady and not much changes for them during away games but the offense drops nearly 18 points. If the Bengals expect to get past this first game, the offense better figure it out.
Latest posts by Michael Farley (see all)
- Buckeyes & Bearcats Preview - September 25, 2014
- Buckeyes Out Manned by the Hokies - September 7, 2014
- 5 Defensive Positions that will “Make or Break” the Buckeyes in 2014 - July 22, 2014