Wasn't the formula for the Bengals' success in 2012 supposed to be similar to that of 2011? A top-ten defensive unit to carry the squad, with a top-16-or-so offense to make just enough plays to eke out victories, right? Through the first three games of the season, it's been the exact opposite.
Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense are coming off of two impressive showings in back-to-back weeks against the Browns and Redskins, respectfully. The cynic would point to the fact that those aren't very strong teams, especially defensively, but you still have to show up and play. Furthermore, if you are a good offensive unit, you should be putting up the type of numbers that the Bengals have over the past two weeks. The unit and its coordinator are getting high praise for their work by the national media.
ESPN's John Clayton is one who has been impressed with the progress this season. If you remember, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's name was thrown around during the early portion of the 2012 offseason as a head coaching candidate, but ended up signing a three-year extension with the Bengals to remain their offensive coordinator. Of Gruden's work once again this year, Clayton said:
In reality, the credit should go to Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who called an incredible game. For what he has done developing Dalton and a young receiving corps in Cincinnati, Congress should launch an investigation if Gruden doesn't get a head-coaching job next year. The guy is brilliant. Gruden's unit put up 478 yards and 38 points. Overall, the Bengals had seven plays of 22 yards or more Sunday. In the past two weeks, the Bengals have had five touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Dalton proved he was special last season in helping the Bengals make the playoffs as a wild-card team, but he wasn't known for having a particularly strong arm. This year, he's averaging 9.1 yards an attempt and 13.3 yards a completion.
He's not just "Jon's little brother" anymore. For those who were hoping/predicting a sophomore slump from Andy Dalton, it just isn't going to happen on Gruden's watch. What's masterful about the situation, is that it has come with a number of personnel decisions that seemed questionable at the time. You could file electing to go with Kevin Zeitler over David DeCastro, Andrew Hawkins over Jordan Shipley as the slot receiver and not investing heavy money in an outside free agent wide receiver to pair with A.J. Green as eyebrow-raisers.
Look at how all of those have played out though. Dalton has been the most sacked quarterback in the league in the early stages, but he's still getting things done and there have been opportunities for BenJarvus Green-Ellis to make a few plays. The wide receiver decisions have worked out marvelously. Hawkins has been a major factor in all three games and both Brandon Tate and Armon Binns are making plays.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Gruden's playbook this year is the creativity. We had heard that the team was using a very limited playbook last season because of the lockout and having a completely new offensive system and new personnel. Gruden, Dalton and company all have more confidence in running more complex plays. The Mohamed Sanu wildcat pass and multiple sweeps and reverses were things that we didn't see much of last season, nor did we see them in the Bob Bratkowski days.
So, while it's concerning to think about the prospect of Gruden leaving for a head coaching gig in 2013, Bengals fans should be grinning that they have a hot commodity in the NFL in their possession for at least the 2012 season.