There are two sides to football.
The fan satisfies the neurological need for blood sport in football. It's visceral, it's strategic, we drink it down by the gallon. Behind the bar, serving this madness, is the media monster of football, directing the fans' interests like a riverbed directs water. It all equates to Johnny Manziel snootin' blow in a Vegas bathroom and the Jets maybe winning the Super Bowl every year.
On the other side are the players. Most of whom live kind of regular lives and are kind of regular dudes. Collectively, these guys rally each week and generally try their hardest to win games. It means a lot to them when they do and likewise when they lose.
That includes the Cincinnati Bengals and their quarterback, Andy Dalton. The guy is one of the best seventeen human beings in the entire world to play quarterback in the NFL today, but he comes off as so average to everyone. And not just as a player. People see regular, everyday traits in his personality and assume he's weak because of that perception. If only he yelled more, the Bengals would win playoff games, right?
No matter how you spin it, the Bengals are not a blind organization. They can see that Dalton is not the immediate mega-star or else they would have coughed up the cash already. Instead, Cincinnati drafts running backs in the second round two years in a row and installs a coordinator who has made comments about utilizing the running game more. Then they drag their feet on contract negotiations to either force the Dalton to camp to settle for their initial offer or play out the season and see what happens.
Hue Jackson has one the brightest young rockets in the game today with Giovanni Bernard, a player with MVP-caliber skills. Now coupled with him is Jeremy Hill with his width and straight-ahead running style. And while it may not be popular to say so, I still very much like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and thought he should have been the given the load in the second half of the playoff game. The idea that he must be cut because he cost too much when the Bengals still have vaults of cap-space seems hasty to me. I know it gets tricky when it comes to special teams and active spots on game day, but getting rid of good pros for no good football reason just doesn't add up.
The receiving corps will always be in decent hands while A.J. Green is in stripes. He is the best talent to come to the team since Anthony Munoz. The next man, though, is one of two big question marks for this offense.
Marvin Jones had a solid year and made some unbelievable catches, showing a knack for bringing down contested jump-balls and demonstrating astounding moments of concentration. His emergence later in the season allowed for that terrific run of home blowouts in the second half of the schedule. Can he be relied upon to do it again, is the question. He certainly has the athletic gifts required to excel at the position, and he shined when given the chance, but his sheer inexperience plants the smallest seedling of doubt in me.
If he can carry on, this offense will seemingly be in excellent shape with the versatile Mohamed Sanu there to muscle his way downfield and Dane Sazenbacher doing his best to make us forget about Andrew Hawkins. Bring in the tight-end tandem of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert and what's not to love?
The offensive line may be rain on this parade though. Gone is Kyle Cook replaced by a fourth-round rookie. Gone is Anthony Collins who was paid handsomely by Tampa Bay. Back to tackle is Andrew Whitworth, who is still a pro-bowler at the position, but in my mind, does his best work inside at guard. I know that the group of undrafted free-agents and journeymen backups have filled in swimmingly in the past for Paul Alexander, but with three position changes along the line, one can't but help wonder about the stability there.
So this is an offense with a ton of intriguing weapons but vulnerabilities at quarterback and offensive line, which makes it very difficult to predict an outcome around. If they can truly run the ball the way they want to, it may be a nice and tidy scheme, but if Dalton is forced to throw a lot like last year, a few effective pass rushes can rattle him into crushing second half turnovers...like last year.
So while the media and most fans will tell you that it's a team slipping backward with Dalton and Marvin Lewis at the helm, the reality is that these guys are pretty polished veterans who win most of the time. Criticize all you like, but the actual people playing for the Bengals have a job to do, with or without you.