When I think of coaches brainstorming about the upcoming season, I always picture a darkened meeting room-either really late or really early in the morning-where bleary-eyed, middle-aged men groan on about how to fix what went wrong the year before. This may not be the case at all. Perhaps these meetings are mid-day and chipper affairs where the coaches blather on about their solutions to the others with gusto and verve.
Either way, or more likely somewhere in between, what they logically must do in any case is review last year in order to prioritize exactly what needs fixed for the next.
The volumes of Andy Dalton coverage, opinion and analysis have already grown robust after three rollercoaster seasons, so it will be brief here. Andy is a mid-level pro at his position and his strengths and limitations have been rigidly defined. Seemingly, he has already maximized the majority of his potential and his overall career grade is shaping up somewhere in the B- range. Perhaps a different offensive philosophy that removes some focus from Dalton by relying more on the run could help disguise some of his weaknesses, but a Drew Brees-like development for Andy Dalton now appears to be only fantasy.
The targets around him remain the source of intrigue for this offense. It's like a finely crafted armchair, meticulously designed for a great quarterback to kick his feet up, win multiple Super Bowls and recline into the Hall-of-Fame, but somehow went to Dalton instead, whose feet don't touch the ground and seems adolescent when he sits in it.
One of the chair's legs is now Giovani Bernard, who is suddenly relied upon to change games with his rabbit-out-the-hat playmaking ability. He was spectacular in his rookie season, but not dominant. With all the razzle-dazzle he brings, he is not without cracks. Perhaps it isn't his fault that he's hard to complete passes to. The man can't help how short he is, hell, it's part of the reason the Bengals drafted him, but it complicates Andy Dalton's life when he throws to him. I don't know how to fix this without blaming passing accuracy, but Gio dropped a few too, and his focus to look the ball all the way in to his hands may be lacking just enough to need some attention this spring and summer.
Another leg is, of course, the majestic A.J. Green. There is a shared sense that A.J.-despite putting up terrific number in his first three seasons-has yet to reach his ceiling. There are times when he takes over games and his ability to make the difficult plays look routine is breathtaking and innate, yet he could still do more.
This line of thinking has a double edge, though. In order to feed Green more, the others become less involved and some balance is sacrificed. No one wants a chair that's got one fat leg and three skinny ones. And like Bernard, Green too could still tighten his game up some. He is graceful and elegant with terrific body control and fast-twitch muscle fibers, but there are times when his routes look lazy and his hands appear less than automatic. While he doesn't need to be the brute-like receiver of say, Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall, perhaps adding ten pounds of muscle could help when freeing himself at the line of scrimmage, I'm not sure. I don't think we need to see more A.J. Green catches, but I think we should see more efficiency when he is targeted.
The third leg, at least last year, was shared by the tight ends. Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham were used evenly and combined for over 80 catches. With the topic of efficiency in mind, though, Gresham has proven to be a difficult player to rely on. Without knowing the advanced statistics of what each scored on each play of the season, I can tell you that for yet another year, Gresham was called for too many penalties, dropped too many passes and fumbled too many times. He is a physical monster who possesses each quality NFL teams desire, except concentration.
Because of this, and because each are first-round picks, Eifert should garner more focus in the passing game and Gresham should be limited to more of a blocking role at this point in his Bengals career. We saw Eifert's ability to come down with the jump ball during his touchdown catch in Detroit. He did this consistently at Notre Dame and should be given more of these chances. He was drafted for his hands, explosiveness, and intelligence-exactly the qualities that are keeping Gresham from being great (though he can be explosive at times). Eifert should become his own chair leg to this offense in 2014.
The last leg is always the offensive line. This one was not only reliable, it actually strengthened when its best player moved spots. The shift from left tackle to left guard for Andrew Whitworth not only showed his versatility and professionalism, but also reinforced my opinion that he is a better guard than tackle. Whitworth is a top-notch tackle, don't get me wrong, but his ability to be a pulling guard is perfect for his size and foot speed. The future of Anthony Collins with the Bengals is unclear at the moment-he may out-price the team on the free-agent market-so drafting a left tackle early and keeping Whit at guard feels like a Bengals move, and a sensible one at that. I still harbor concerns about Kyle Cook's durability and longevity and would like to see the club address the position's future sooner than later, but the unit remains one of the league's best and is coached by one of the team's mainstays in Paul Alexander.
There are of course others that make up the chair, and outside of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, I was pleased and approved of how often they were used. With Marvin Jones establishing himself as a viable number-two, the receiver pecking order seems to have worked itself out. I am perhaps in the minority, if not alone, in thinking that Green-Ellis should have been leaned on more down the stretch of last season. While he provides little in the way of fireworks, his drought-horse approach works in the winter elements and wears down opposing defenses while stabilizing an otherwise volatile offense.
Perhaps Hue Jackson will perform some alterations to the piece that make Andy Dalton more comfortable in it. Perhaps the soles of Dalton's feet will next year rest squarely on the ground rather than dangle idly as he takes control of his team. Or perhaps the natural patina, worn from use, must first appear on the chair before it is perfect. I haven't sat on anything like it, so I would have no idea, but I will keep a close eye on it, standing outside the window.
Mojokong-crafter of literary furniture.