I’m going to preface this article by first saying this is in no way in defense of Mike Brown. I believe he’s one of, if not the worst, owners in any major sports franchise. However, despite Mike Brown, the following are my four reasons why the Bengals CAN be a lot better than anyone expects this year. Also, I should note, that by “better” I believe this team can go 8-8 or even 9-7, the latter putting them within slight arm’s reach of a wildcard. This, to me, would be a huge success in a “rebuilding year” and would at least keep me occupied until the end of the season.
1. The schedule. Let’s face it, the Bengals play many other “Bungle-like franchises.” ESPN lists the Bengal’s schedule as the 27th hardest in the league. The division games are always going to be tough. However, worst case, I think we’ll find a way to split the Browns games. I also think we split the Ravens series. We are 8-4 against them the last 12 matchups and I don’t think that is because of Carson. It’s because of defense (more on this later). Unfortunately, I think we lose both to Pittsburgh this year. Odds are they could be going back to the super bowl.
2. Defense. Our defense looks rock solid on paper. That means they have the potential to be a top five defense like 2009. Furthermore, if there is one coach on the Bengals’ staff that gets players to perform to, or above, their potential it’s Zimmer. Of course the loss of Joseph hurts, but I think Clements will be more than serviceable in that position. Leon will still be Leon. As much as I like Dhani, the move of Rey to the middle with Lawson and Howard/Johnson (Howard Johnson – good omen) on the weak side is a huge upgrade overall on the linebacker core. Furthermore, with more experience under their belt the D-line will be much better. Dunlap/Johnson/Geathers on the ends with Atkins/Peko/Tank in the middle is a strong combination. I think this unit’s ability to get to the QB could at least somewhat offset the loss of JJ. Safety still sucks, but a healthy Crocker and Nelson is not terrible. If they happen to get Whitner then that’s just huge.
3. Baby Gruden. By far the most frustrating moments were the outrageous play calling of Bob Bratkowski. His asinine play calling with 3rd and 1 or 3rd and 2 situations almost always seemed to end drives. Jay, although completely unproven, I think will be a huge upgrade as an OC. Can he be any worse? In the end, the offense’s success will come down to how well Dalton adjusts. But lets not forget he will have some very big weapons in the likes of AJ Green, Gresham, Simpson, Ced, and Scott, and the always reliable Jordan Shipley. Let’s face it, Carson was terrible last year and I believe Gruden’s creativity will ease the burden on Dalton and help him distribute the ball to the many playmakers we have.
4. Mentality. Remember in 2009 when everyone thought we’d be terrible per usual and then we went in and swept the division??? This year is very similar, but better… It’s better for two reasons: 1) This team is hungry. Although the front office doesn’t seem to want to win, I never doubt the players on the field. These are NFL athletes. They are competitors. They want to win. 2) This team is young. Very young. Most of the players on this team have only been around for a couple years, which means they have not yet been corrupted by the losing culture that is the Cincinnati Bengals. Their naivety toward the utter ineptitude of the franchise is a blessing. Some of these guys are entering the first year of their career. They have no idea they are playing for the worst managed NFL team in history.