In the 20 some years that I've been watching and following the Bengals this is the most hyped I can remember a Bengals team entering the season. While I wrote an article about why the Bengals should embrace the spotlight, I still have a few areas of great concern. They are as follows:
1. The offensive line. I know many consider this to be a great strength of ours, but it still worries me quite a bit. They looked great last year at some points, and pretty bad at others. There were some games they couldn't open up a running hole to safe their lives, and others where they couldn't keep the pressure off Andy Dalton. We all know that Dalton's pocket presence is a big area of concern going into the season. He has a tendency to take off before he needs to, and not go through his progressions. If this team only goes as far as Andy will take them, Andy will only go as far as the offensive line gives him time to. It's essential we give Andy time and open up holes for Gio and BJGE. I have added concern for Clint Boiling who got bull rushed quite a bit last season, and Kyle Cook who has looked extremely rusty to start the preseason. I also need to see that Whitworth is back to his old self, and healthy enough to make it through the season at a high level. I remain optimistic, but concerned.
2. Our 4-3 Defense against the pass. There's been a lot of talk about us getting away from the 4-3 and spending more time in the Nickel defense, especially in obvious passing situations. I have not, however, seen it actually come to life yet. I am not sold that Rey M. has turned a corner yet. I'm not sure that Harrison will be much better in pass coverage. It's only preseason, but the loss to the Texans in 2012 is still fresh in my mind. I have nightmares about tight Ends running past our linebackers.
3. Andy Dalton. I know we have beaten the subject to death here at CincyJungle over the summer, but I'm going to hit it one more time. As I stated before, this team will only go as far as Dalton takes it. He has all the weapons he needs, and has been reported saying that there's no more excuses this year. While I don't think he's in a make-or-break year as far as his job is concerned, I will say that if he can't make a run this year, I may lose faith that he is capable of taking us to a Super Bowl. We have great receiving targets this year that have all shown the ability to get yards after the catch. The announcers were gushing against the Titans about how hard it was to bring our receivers down. If Andy can find and hit open receivers in stride like he did on Saturday, I could see this as going from a concern of mine, to a top 10 offense.
4. The SS position. A truly elite defense can't have any holes. Last year SS was a hole. While I'd say that Iloka and Williams have come on strong this year, I'm still going to need to see proof of it in the regular season before I'm a believer. I was not high on drafting Williams in the third round this year. I would have liked to see Rambo or another pick earlier. I truly hope that one or both of them step up and make a believer out of me this year.
5. Our coaching staff. Great players can only take you so far without great coaching. Before I begin, let's go ahead and leave Mike Zimmer out of this discussion. He has put together great defenses with mediocre talent at Cincinnati for years. With all his added talent now, I have no doubts we will be a top 5 defense this season. I am, however, a little worried about Gruden and Marvin Lewis. The offense took a complete nose dive last season when Sanu went down. We lost to the same team in the wild-card round of the playoffs after not targeting our best player for the entire first half. Marvin got completely out coached in several games. Do I need to remind you of week 16 against the Steelers? A Reggie Nelson pick, and a diving AJ Green bailed out some terrible calls by Marvin...to which he admitted after the game. I'm not saying either of them are bad coaches. I'm not saying they aren't GOOD coaches. What I'm saying is that neither of them have proven to me that they are GREAT coaches, and capable of having what it takes to coach a Super Bowl team.
5.B Back up quarter back. I couldn't leave them off the list. Both Quarterbacks have impressed me at times, but I am still extremely worried about both of them. Skelton has shown good poise in the pocket and fairly good accuracy thus far. We learned at halftime against the Titans that the job is Josh Johnson's to lose. There's no denying his ability to run the ball, and he has had some nice passes in the preseason, but there are continued reports from camp that he is struggling with accuracy. There's also the fumbles. He fumbled a snap and on the ensuing possession (I believe) lost the ball trying to spin into the end zone at the 3 yard line. That kind of move will get you pushed down the depth chart. I expect game 3 to speak volumes about who our back up QB is this season.
The beauty of all of these issues is that while I'm concerned, I am optimistic that we will succeed in most, if not all, of these areas this season. It's a great year to be a Bengals fan. I honestly think that the Bengals and the Texans are the best two teams in the AFC this year. I think Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England will all be good teams, but a step down from the other two. On a side note, I'll be attending practice at Springboro High school today, taking pictures, taking video (if i manage to catch anything good), and I'll be writing up my findings later tonight. If you will be in attendance feel free to come over and shoot the shit with me. Hopefully you recognize me by my picture, and the Black AJ Green jersey I'll be wearing. WHO DEY!