Pro Football Focus is never short of detail. Every work that they do is covered with a good load of information. They have been doing a 32 for 32 type of thing, where they preview a new team every day. They outline each team with a top five reasons to be confident, and a top five reasons to be concerned. With the Bengals, the list is not too surprising. Pro Football Focus mentions that expectations are high this season. The tough schedule they face during the second half of the season could make or break them.
"One of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest, for Cincinnati’s success last season was the play of defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, who each ranked in the top five at their position in terms of pass rush grade. Coming off a rookie campaign where he impressed on a limited number of snaps, Atkins upped his game even further in 2011 as he finished the season as our second-highest graded defensive tackle. Registering eight sacks, 15 hits and 26 hurries, he was a common feature in opposing backfields. The challenge now is to maintain that level this season, although we haven’t seen a reason to doubt him yet. Dunlap was 2011’s version of Atkins, albeit from the defensive end position, registering five sacks, 13 hits and 29 hurries despite only being on the field for 448 snaps. If he can do what Atkins did last season, the Bengals will continue to cause problems for opposing offensive lines."
The number two reason to be confident is of course, the amazing A.J. Green:
"It’s obviously very early in his career but it looks like the Bengals landed themselves a superstar when they drafted A.J. Green with the fourth-overall pick in last year’s draft. Averaging 15.8 yards per reception, Green reeled in seven touchdowns while dropping just five of the 123 passes thrown his way. One aspect of his game he has to work on is cutting down on the penalties. He was flagged 10 times in 2011, two more than the next worst wide receiver. Those penalties, however, shouldn’t take away from his work as a receiver. He firmly demonstrated in his rookie campaign that he has all the tools to be a true number one receiver, and the potential to be mentioned among the league’s elite very soon indeed."
The number three reason is left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth not only helps on the field, but his veteran leadership is a huge plus off the field:
"While Green is looking to establish himself among the league’s elite at his position, Andrew Whitworth proved that he’s already a top-five pass blocking left tackle in 2011. His run blocking, he finished the season with a grade of (-7.8), let him down but only Cleveland’s Joe Thomas had a better grade as a pass protector. Allowing Andy Dalton to be knocked down just six times and hurried another 16, Whitworth had just two games where he graded out negatively as a pass blocker. With question marks along some of the rest of the Bengals line, a repeat of last season (with some improved run blocking thrown in) would be perfect for the team as they bid to make the playoffs in back to back seasons."
Reason number four has to do with a cornerback who is coming off a serious injury:
"The best news for Bengals fans at the start of training camp was that cornerback Leon Hall had been fully cleared to take part. The team’s best cornerback, particularly after Jonathan Joseph bolted to Houston last offseason, Hall was placed on injured reserve after going down with a torn Achilles in Week 10. The concern is obviously how he responds on the field after such a serious injury. Hall’s play (he didn’t allow a touchdown from Week Two onwards) and the question marks surrounding the rest of the corners on the roster, make his return huge."
And the final reason to be confident is due to the reliability of a back nicknamed "The Law Firm":
"Adding a player nicknamed "The Law Firm" to a team widely known for players having brushes with the law writes its own jokes, but the addition of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the Bengals offense is much more important. Green-Ellis was our 11th highest graded player at the running back position last year, forcing 20 missed tackles and scoring 12 touchdowns. He’ll replace Cedric Benson’s snaps at the position which is good news due to both his play and because Benson looked to be pretty close to being finished at the end of last season. Green-Ellis is accustomed to a running back-by-committee approach in New England and that is likely to continue in Cincinnati with Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott playing their parts."
The five reasons to be concerned are also legitimate for the most part. Concern number one deals with asking the question," Is Andy Dalton the answer at QB?" The article wonders if Dalton can repeat his success from last season:
"The up-and-down first half of Andy Dalton’s season included enough bright spots to give hope to Bengals fans that they had found a replacement to Carson Palmer right when they needed him. The second half of his season just didn’t include any ups, he graded negatively in every game from Week 10 onwards including having his second worst game of the season in the Wild Card playoff loss to Houston. We’re not harsh enough to say that Dalton definitely isn’t the answer, he’s only had one season in the league after all. Overall, he’ll need to have more games like he had in the first half of the season for us to feel more confident in the Bengals chances with him at the helm. He needs to take a big step forward to be more consistent."
Who starts opposite Hall at corner is another reason to be concerned, according to Pro Football Focus:
"With Leon Hall locked in as the team’s top cornerback, the most intriguing training camp battle is deciding who will start opposite him. Nate Clements play in coverage was enough of a concern that the Bengals added Dre Kirkpatrick in the first-round of this year’s draft, while bringing in Jason Allen and Terence Newman via free agency. The problem is that none of them have shown the ability to start, Kirkpatrick is just a rookie and Newman and Allen via their play on the field. Allen didn’t look too bad in the second half of 2011, however we’ve seen him play well enough for a coach to take a chance on him before, only for it to backfire. Newman, on the other hand, was just flat out poor at the end of last season. He held opposing receivers to under 63 yards just once in the final seven games, before getting torn apart by the New York Giants in Week 17. The best case scenario for the Bengals is that Clements’ play in 2011 was just a blip and not the beginning of the end. The worst case scenario is that nobody steps up and they are left with a gap at the position."
Was Clements really that bad last year? I thought he played about as well as anyone could have expected. The third reason to be concerned is the question of who will step up at receiver:
"The good news for Bengals fans is that Jerome Simpson and his tendency to drop passes, nine in 2011, have upped at left for Minnesota. The bad news is that someone now needs to step up and replace the 758 yards and four touchdowns that left with him. Andrew Hawkins was a safe pair of hands out of the slot but it’s not likely that he could make the jump to become a starting wide receiver while Brandon Tate was little more than a return man last season. They added Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in the draft but right now the reports from the offseason workouts indicate Armon Binns, who has yet to record a catch in his career, looks like the man with the inside track at the starting job."
Reason number four is defensive line depth. I would say that the Bengals have a few guys that can be counted on to rotate in and do a good job, especially with the additions of Devon Still and Brandon Thompson. This article disagrees:
"The Bengals like to rotate their defensive line a lot, with seven players playing at least 400 snaps last year. The problem with this is that some of the players’ performance on the field hasn’t justified staying on the field for that many snaps. Michael Johnson had just five positively graded games in 2011, and will likely find some of his 728 snaps going to Carlos Dunlap this season, while Robert Geathers has struggled every year since we began grading in 2008. They added Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey in free agency, neither of whom were particularly impressive last season. The Bengals will continue to rotate defensive linemen at the same pace this year but unless a few more players can step up it could prove to be more on a hindrance than a help."
The final reason to be concerned is probably the most legitimate reason thus far, the safety position:
"While Reggie Nelson is pencilled in as the team’s starting free safety, he still doesn’t inspire too much confidence. His solid play for most of 2011 was undone by two poor performances in Week 17 and the Wild Card round of the playoffs. However it’s the strong safety position that poses the bigger concern. Competing for the starting job are Taylor Mays, Jeromy Miles and George Iloka. Mays and Miles combined to get on the field for 65 defensive snaps in 2011 while Iloka was viewed as a project coming out of Boise State as a fifth-round draft pick. Mays looks likely to win the job and considering his poor play in coverage in the past, he could quickly become a liability for the Bengals defense."
They go on to say that the Bengals playoff chances likely rest on the shoulders of Andy Dalton. Most seem to agree that Dalton will be a huge X factor this season. Can he adjust to the defense faster than the defense adjusts to him? We shall see soon enough.