What happened to the Cincinnati Bengals?
It’s tough to stay good, which the Bengals have been in recent seasons. For starters, injuries have plagued the 2013 elite defense. Not just one or two players, but every unit on the D has been hit: D-line, linebackers, and secondary. They can finally exhale, as CB Leon Hall and LB Rey Maualuga are returning to the lineup.The defense is near the bottom against the run, a stat that should pick up the rest of the way as they get healthier. Standout and reckless linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, has been in and out of the lineup. He is expected to miss another game, maybe two.
RB Giovani Bernard is still sidelined, but WR A.J. Green looked healthy last week and RT Andre Smith will get back on the field this week as well. Offensively, Mohamed Sanu has picked up the slack without Green, and Marvin Jones, who is out for the year. Rookie RB Jeremy Hill was used in a 65-35 timeshare with Bernard. He piled up triple digits a couple weeks ago, and ran for over 4 yards last week, but the Bengals trailed early and were forced to pass all game. Nonetheless, the impact of Bernard is bigger than numbers, the guy is a home run threat any time he touches the ball. He can shake defenders and tip-toe the sideline with the best of them, his absence has really taken a toll on QB Andy Dalton. All of a sudden, Dalton has hit a funk and turned the ball over frequently, all while Bernard is dealing with a hip issue.
This staff has been together for awhile. Marvin Lewis keeps his team even keeled with an emphasis on defense. He is an aggressive coach with his players, holding them accountable, and expecting both sides of the ball to be tougher than opponents. Offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, prefers to get the ground game going to open up the play-action for some shots downfield. It’s all about setting the tone in the trenches for the Bengals, something the defense usually carries out every week. Defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, coached the linebackers before getting promoted. Undermanned, the defense has the type of schedule, and health at the right time, to turn things around for a playoff run. They should be in the race for a competitive AFC North, and wildcard picture as well, up to the last week of the season.
From 11-5 to 5-3-1 so far, Cincy would have to win out to reach a dozen wins. This Sunday will be a tall task because they travel to New Orleans for a meeting in the Superdome, a place where the Saints play like an elite team. After that they have some favorable contests against Houston and Tampa Bay. Then they face the rival Steelers before getting a rematch with the Browns. Knowing how good Cincinnati has played over the years, these are all winnable games for them, although they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. They end the season against the Broncos and Steelers. I don’t think they quite reach 10 wins, but they could very well win the AFC North or a wildcard spot with nine wins, eight if the AFC continues to be wild.