If you were to take the collective pulse of Bengals fans everywhere, you'd probably get a mix of cautious optimism and the over-the-top "we're going all the way, baby!" type of response. Given the team's performance over the past three weeks, either attitude towards the state of the franchise would be completely understandable. The team is riding high on a dominant three-game winning streak and are poised for a late season playoff push.
Well, Bengals fans are the only ones who seem to think that the Bengals have set themselves up for another playoff appearance this year. KC Joyner at ESPN provides some interesting statistics to back the argument for the Bengals' case (you'll need an ESPN In$ider account).
Cincinnati's current run of success isn't a complete surprise because the Bengals have made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. But given the strength of the AFC and the somewhat daunting schedule on Cincinnati's future docket -- at San Diego, versus Dallas, at Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh and versus Baltimore -- making it three postseason appearances in four years would be a significant achievement for Marvin Lewis' club.
So, can the Bengals do it? The metrics say yes -- in large part because of this team's wide variety of strong suits, including QB Andy Dalton, WR A.J. Green, an effective ground game and a solid defense.
The strongest of those suits would have to be Dalton.
Dalton has posted Total QBR marks of 65.7, 85.6 and 94.8 the past three weeks, and his 7.40 yards per attempt mark ranks 11th in the league and is just slightly lower than the YPA totals posted by Aaron Rodgers (7.49) and Drew Brees (7.54).
The main reason Dalton's overall YPA is so high is that he has tallied double-digit marks in the areas of vertical YPA (VYPA, which measures productivity on passes thrown 11 or more yards downfield) and stretch vertical YPA (SVYPA, a productivity measurement of passes thrown 20 or more yards).
Getting into the low- to mid-double-digit range in each of these metrics is a sign of solid performance, and Dalton's metrics (11.2 VYPA, 12.0 SVYPA) fit that description.
Joyner omits the biggest and most obvious stats that Dalton has put up over the past three victories: namely touchdowns and turnovers. In case you haven't noticed, the Bengals' quarterback has ten touchdowns against zero turnovers. And, in case you haven't noticed this either, the last three games are the only ones of 2012 that Dalton hadn't committed any turnovers. Coincidence? I think not.
Joyner provides some lovely A.J. Green stats, namely the breakdown of his 67 reception/1,022 yard 2012 campaign thus far, which show his worth and accountability for Dalton's success. Oddly enough, the one area that Green appears to "struggle" in is the short-area passing game. As a remedy for that perceived shortcoming, Joyner points to Jermaine Gresham as a security blanket for the second-year quarterback.
While Gresham is a nice secondary target, Joyner did not address the value of Mohamed Sanu--especially during this three-game winning streak. Unfortunately, Sanu suffered what looks to be a season-ending foot injury at practice on Thursday and it's yet to be seen what impact that will have on the Bengals offense. It's now up to Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins to fill the void that Sanu has left. That void is pretty big, as Sanu was Dalton's red zone target, posting four touchdowns in the last three games.
Defensively, Joyner points to Leon Hall and Terence Newman as the major reasons why the defense is working well this year. Newman has been a nice stopgap solution and Hall has played very well, given that he came back so soon from a horrific Achilles injury. Again, Joyner omits two very important players who have been vital to the team's defensive success. The first and most obvious player is Geno Atkins. We covered the many talents of Atkins earlier on Friday morning.
For all of the punchlines that Adam Jones has become over the years, he's been an outstanding cornerback for the Bengals this year. With the NFL becoming a "pass happy league" and so many teams adhering to a three-wide base offensive package, the Bengals often counter with a nickel base package of their own. This means that Jones sees a lot of time on the field as a defender and one could argue that he is having one of his best overall years as an NFL player.
The final, and perhaps most compelling argument that Joyner makes is that the Bengals are and will be the beneficiaries of some unfortunate injuries suffered by the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Black and Yellow are seemingly getting healthier with the potential returns of Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger in the coming weeks, they still have a bit of uncertainty going forward. And, if you were to look at the two teams and how "hot" they are right now, it's easy to point to the Bengals making the playoffs over the Steelers. There's still a lot of football left and Cincinnati has a crucial game this Sunday against San Diego.