The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 10-6. Lost in the wild card round to Houston.
What must the team accomplish to consider the season a success?
When you compare his regular-season numbers, it is hard to question Andy Dalton’s worth as a franchise quarterback. He was just the seventh quarterback in history to throw for more than 3,000 yards as a rookie and one of just three to throw for at least 20 touchdowns in their first two seasons. The other two names on that list? Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. But it is Dalton’s postseason play that leaves you scratching your head. In the two aforementioned postseason losses to the Texans, Dalton has zero touchdown passes and four interceptions. Just like Matt Ryan and the Falcons had to do last year, Dalton and the Bengals need to rip the playoff monkey off their backs for this season to be considered a success.
What is the position battle to watch?
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and as seen in the latest version of Hard Knocks, receives a golf cart escort from the team owner to get to practice, but that doesn’t mean he is the surefire starter to open the season. The Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard with the 37th overall pick, making him the first player selected at the position.
With Green-Ellis you pretty much know what you are going to get. He averages 3.9 yards per carry, meaning that he really didn’t have a ton of open-field breakaway runs that would skew that number higher. Quite literally, if you turned around and handed the ball off to Green-Ellis you could safely assume a gain of between three and four yards. On the other hand, even though it is like comparing apples and oranges, Bernard averaged 6.7 yards per carry at North Carolina while adding 47 receptions for 490 receiving yards. He is an explosive player who will eventually eat away at Green-Ellis’ playing time. The only question is when. I consider this to be very similar to how Jacquizz Rodgers eventually made Michael Turner dispensable in Atlanta.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
A.J. Green is obviously this team’s best talent and he could be even better this season. If there is one thing that Dalton consistently struggles with, it is his deep ball accuracy, and that is what makes the following statistic even that much more difficult to digest. Last season, Green caught six passes in which the ball carried 30 or more yards through the air. As a rookie in 2011, he caught nine more of those deep passes for a total of 15 in two seasons. Those 15 deep-ball receptions in the last two years are three more than the next best, Calvin Johnson. Yes, Green has more deep ball receptions than Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson and any other deep threat receiver in the league — even with a quarterback who struggles with deep ball accuracy. Green is the complete package and it’s time to start considering him the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Tyler Eifert was one of the most surprising picks of the first round in April’s NFL Draft, but once it sunk in it made a ton of sense. The two tight end sets have become more and more en vogue in the copycat league of the NFL and with a number of receivers fighting for the spot opposite Green, giving Dalton another athletic option at is very intriguing.
In 2012, after selecting Andrew Luck with their first pick, the Colts followed up by taking two tight ends with their next two picks.
Indianapolis went on to earn a playoff spot in a year that was supposed to be considered a major rebuilding effort. With Jermaine Gresham and Eifert, the Bengals will use multiple two-tight formations and use a variety of pre-snap alignments to set up mismatches in the secondary. Not too many defenses have the personnel to match up with a playmaking tight end, let alone two of them.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
Just until just two years ago, the Bengals were the thugs of the NFL and led the league in arrests during the offseason. Marvin Lewis basically declined to sign an extension unless some major concessions were made so that the franchise valued players who could actually stay out of trouble and value the team more than themselves. Fast-forward a couple years and now the team is almost so straightlaced that they lost their edge a little bit. Enter James Harrison. Harrison, 35, not only had more sacks last season than the entire Bengals linebacking corps as a whole, but he also provides that intense and intimidating mentality to a team that was completely lacking it in 2012. The Bengals had been beat up so much by the Ravens and the Steelers in recent years, that they almost forgot how to play with a certain swagger. Harrison gives them that swagger and that will permeate through the entire locker room.