There are a lot of similarities between the Bengals that will be taking the field (hopefully) in 2011 and those that took the field in the early '80s.... on paper. Of course the Bengals of the early '80s went to the Super Bowl in 1982 and I am in no way claiming that the 2011 Bengals will do the same. In fact, I would consider an 8-8 season a great success this year.
But, on paper, some similarities, especially on offense do exist.
Let me explain.
Thanks to new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, the Bengals will be running the West Coast Offense, which combines a tough running game with a short to intermediate passing attack. The WCO was popularized by Bill Walsh and was run on the field by Bengals quarterback from 1972-1984, Kenny Anderson.
Anderson, known for his accuracy, was a perfect quarterback for the Bengals' West Coast Offense. He was surrounded by a talented group of running backs to help move the ball down field and a talented cast of receivers at his disposal. When Anderson and the Bengals were most successful, 1981, tight end Dan Ross was in that group of receivers. Anderson found Ross 71 times for 910 yards and five touchdowns that season.
It would make sense for Anderson and Ross to work well together within a West Coast system. In an offense geared towards short and intermediate passes, what better person to throw to than a talented, pass-catching tight end?
Of course 1981 was 30 years ago and Anderson and Ross no longer play football. They have been replaced with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham, who have never actually worked together on an NFL field. While the two of them won't be leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 2011, they could remind us of Anderson and Ross.
Like Anderson, Dalton was known in college for his accuracy and was considered one of the better fits for a team that plans to run the West Coast offense. Former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth even Tweeted that Dalton could be the next Anderson. Dalton is also surrounded by a talented group of receivers to help him make the transition from college quarterback to NFL quarterback, including A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley, Gresham and maybe Chad Ochocinco. He'll also hopefully have Cedric Benson or another capable running back behind him. While all the players I listed will be important for Dalton's progression, one of the most important could be Gresham.
Opposing defenses won't be easy on Dalton. He's a rookie and they'll likely send some extra pressure his way every chance they get. They'll keep doing it until he proves to them that they shouldn't. Until that happens, he'll be looking to get rid of the ball early before the defense gets to him and 6-5, 260 pound Gresham could be the first guy that Dalton looks to. Gresham has a rare combination of size, strength and speed to get open, catch a ball in traffic and turn up field and a tight end like that could be a rookie quarterback's best friend.
Even if Dalton and Gresham hook up quite a bit in 2011, it will likely be a result of Dalton needing to get rid of the ball quickly and Gresham being open on short and intermediate quick routes. But, when defenses start to respect Dalton and stop sending so much pressure and he starts to find Gresham open when he has time to stand in the pocket for more than a couple seconds, Dalton and Gresham, within Gruden's West Coast system, could be the next Anderson-Ross duo and help lead the Bengals back to the post season.
Hopefully Dalton and Gresham get to the point where we can feel more comfortable comparing them to Anderson and Ross. Until that happens, though, we can watch this and remember what once was and hopefully what will be again.