Bengals offense is Jay Gruden's best yet and critical upcoming game against the Ravens

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals offense are on pace to be one of Jay Gruden's best while Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are on pace to do something that's never been done in Cincinnati.

For as much criticism that Cincinnati's offense has received this year, this has to be one of Jay Gruden's greatest successes in only his third season as the team's offensive coordinator. Through nine games, the offense is averaging 380.2 yards per game and if they continue that pace, they'll surpass 6,000 yards this season.

Just how rare is that?

It'll be the first time that they've reached the 6,000 yard milestone since 1989 and the first time that Gruden's offense ranked as high as ninth in the NFL -- the best Cincinnati's offense has finished during Gruden's tenure was 20th in 2011.

Additionally, the offense is converting their third down opportunities at a 43 percent clip, the highest since '07. And while the Bengals scored 391 points in 2012 (most since '05 and more than the current pace of 386), Cincinnati is also on pace to score 41 touchdown on offense, which will be the most since scoring 42 in 2006.

Individually, it's equally as impressive.

If Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton keeps his current pace, he'll crush Carson Palmer's franchise mark of 4,131 yards passing in a season season (2007), one yard shy of 4,600. Wide receiver A.J. Green is on pace to break Chad Johnson's franchise mark of 1,440 yards receiving by nearly 100 yards.

Six players are on pace to generate over 400 yards receiving, including rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert. Mohamed Sanu has already surpassed career-highs in receptions (31) and yards receiving (316) and Marvin Jones has beautifully stepped in as a dependable receiver (especially in the red zone), currently leading the team with seven receiving touchdowns.

The one chink in Cincinnati's armor?

Turnovers.

Only one team has more turnovers than the Bengals (New York Giants) and Cincinnati is on pace to turn it over 30 times; the most since 2007.

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Beyond the Stripes is a weekly online show hosted by the Cincinnati Enquirer that chats Bengals -- it's a mistake if you're not putting it on your weekly do list, as it is a mistake not to watch our own Who Dey Weekly, currently a finalist for the annual PodCast awards (vote here) every Wednesday night at 9 p.m.

Bengals long-snapper Clark Harris was this week's guest and at the end of the show, Harris long-snapped the football to beat writer Joe Reedy -- in a extremely confined place. We had to get the GIF of that.

Reedy_medium

***

Seven games remain heading into Sunday's division game against the Baltimore Ravens. We're not willing to call it a must-win (save for the fact that Cincinnati needs a boost after Thursday's events, losing to a team with the most dysfunctional locker room and Geno Atkins going down for the year).

However, if the Bengals beat Baltimore, they'll have a 3.5-game lead over the Ravens with six games to go.

Additionally, with Cleveland having a bye week this weekend, Cincinnati will go back to having a 2.5-game lead over the entire division with a win.

On the other hand, if Cincinnati loses, they'll only be 1.5 games over the Browns and Ravens with a losing record against division teams.

To me a must-win situation suggests that the playoffs are directly and immediately affected -- or at the very least, in jeopardy. The Bengals won't lose first place even with a loss. However a win is critical -- they need to win a division game and re-capture the momentum that they've lost in Miami.

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One of the major internal storylines (aka, things that only Bengals fans will care about), is how Brandon Thompson will perform stepping into the biggest shoes that he could have imagined. With two-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins out for the year with an ACL, Thompson isn't striving to replicate Atkins - which would be the worst expectation from fans and the team.

What you don't see through the eyes of a television broadcast is the beautiful camaraderie established on this team -- there is no Miami situation in this locker room (Whitworth won't allow it anyway). Geoff Hobson writes:

"Geno and Robert, those are our brothers. We grind with those boys every day," Thompson said. "We spend more time with them than their own families do. So we grow a bond. And seeing those guys go out, it makes us want to work harder and become better for those guys. We’re ready for it."

Thompson heard back from Atkins on Monday.

"He just (texted), 'Thanks man, just keep pushing, just stay in my playbook ... '

" Then a wave of recognition passed over Thompson. "Which I need to go get," he said as he headed back to his locker.

Thompson is projected to get his first NFL start on Sunday.

***

Andrew Whitworth on parity in the NFL; notably the Ravens and Steelers at the bottom of the standings.

"It doesn't surprise me as much as I really believe right now in the NFL, there's an awesome parity across the league," Whitworth said via Bengals.com. "The teams that are 2-5 and 3-4, they're inches away from being as good as the other teams that are 5-2. It's just to me, this is without a doubt across the league the best teams are - every team's got something that makes them a really tough team. I think that's why you've seen a lot of really close games and a lot of nailbiters. And it's hard to predict who is winning every week. I think there's a lot of parity in the league right now."

***

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha officially became a free agent at 4 p.m. (ET) on Tuesday after clearing waivers (which was expected). Had a team placed a claim on the veteran cornerback, they'd have to pick up a portion of his $1.325 million contract, which includes an additional $1.65 million through incentives.

Asomugha has been the toast of the free agency town (at least on Twitter) the moment it was reported that the San Francisco 49ers were placing him on waivers with the return of Eric Wright.

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