Even though the Bengals will be signing a free agent quarterback once the lockout comes to an end, it's very possible that the team will be starting a rookie quarterback in game one of the NFL season for the first time since they started Greg Cook in 1969. That combined with a new offensive system that needs to be installed in a short period of time, thanks to the lockout, the possibility of needing to sign a new running back thanks to Cedric Benson's latest off-field issues and an extremely young core of receivers, especially if the Bengals release Chad Ochocinco, will likely mean that the offense will struggle at least in the beginning of the season until things begin to come together.
The offense will take some time to get in gear and until they do they'll probably rely heavily on a running game. For the team to have anything resembling a successful season, the defense will need to carry the team throughout the 2011 season.
Therefore, expect Cincinnati to rely heavily on its veteran defense to carry this team early in the season. The Bengals' defense took a major step back in 2010, but is looking to get back to is 2009 form, when it was ranked No. 4 in the NFL.
Because the team won't be able to rely on its offense to outscore opponents, at least in the beginning of the season, there will be no room for error for the defense if the team wants to be successful and get off to a good start. Luckily for the team, the defense has a nice blend of youth and experience. If the team can re-sign Johnathan Joseph and Brandon Johnson, find some help at safety and find a defensive end that can produce opposite of Carlos Dunlap, whether that be Michael Johnson, Antwan Odom, Robert Geathers or somebody else, the defense should be in good shape. Even if the Bengals decide not to bring back Dhani Jones and move Rey Maualuga to the middle linebacker position, the defense could be just as successful.
What they can't do, though, is have a defense capable of being in the top-five but underachieves and sits in the middle of the pack like they did in 2010. They'll need to stay healthy and they'll need to find a way to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. If they can do that, the offense won't need to be spectacular in the beginning of the season.
If the team is to be successful in 2011, especially in the beginning of the season, the defense can't be mediocre or even good, they need to be elite.