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4 things Bengals can improve on in second half of season

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If Cincinnati improves in these areas, this team may very well end up fighting their way into the Super Bowl.

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The Bengals may have a perfect record, but like every NFL team, they are far from perfect.

You could look at most Bengals games this season and find a flaw that could ultimately cost them against better teams. Based on the latest round of power rankings, the Bengals haven't faced many teams in the top half of the rankings.

That's not to say this team isn't capable of winning it all, but if they do improve on some of their weaker areas, they'll certainly increase the chances of reaching their ultimate goal. Here is a look at four things the Bengals should be looking to improve upon as they seek out the Lombardi Trophy at season's end.

1. Stopping the run

The Bengals' defense as a whole has played well this season, but they have given up far too many big plays, which could be troubling against better teams.. Entering Week 10, the Bengals rank 13th against the run, but rank dead last in opponents' yards per rush, allowing 4.9 yards per carry.

The Bengals' offense has been good enough to carry the defense when needed (who thought we'd ever say that) and get big enough leads that opponents had to gear more toward the pass to keep up and abandon the run. That said, allowing so many yards when opponents do run the ball cannot continue if this Bengals team is to win multiple games in the playoffs when teams run the ball more.

This team has too much talent in the front seven to be giving up so many yards per rush, and with Vontaze Burfict's return, expect this to be something the Bengals do improve upon very soon.

2. Getting more from Jeremy Hill

The Bengals' offense is already very dangerous, and amazingly, that's come without Jeremy Hill doing much thus far. No one saw that coming after Hill carried the Bengals into the playoffs last year with his amazing second-half surge that saw him rush for nearly 1,000 yards over the final nine games.

Through eight games this year, Hill has only 344 yards on 104 carries, a meager 3.3 yards per carry. He also doesn't have a single run over 20 yards after having eight of those as a rookie. In Week 9 against a Browns' defense ranked among the league's worst at stopping the run, Hill averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.

Again, this Bengals offense has been good without Hill, but they're going to need more from him as the weather gets colder and running the ball becomes the more favorable option for success.

3. Dre Kirkpatrick must be more consistent

You could argue that Dre Kirkpatrick has been the most disappointing Bengal thus far, and he has to step up and play better if he's going to remain a starting corner. He's frequently giving up receptions when opposing quarterbacks target him, and he's easily been the Bengals player who teams think is this defense's weakness. He's also getting targeted more with Adam Jones and Leon Hall playing very well and forcing teams to go after him.

Kirkpatrick is still learning what it takes to a be a full-time corner and not just a situational guy like he was his first three seasons. Now that he's a starter, he's playing 50-70 snaps per week for the first time, which can be a bigger adjustment than most realize. Kirkpatrick will look great in coverage at times, and then have lapses that lead to him giving up easy catches.

I'm putting him on this list because I believe he can play better and must do so if this team is going to beat teams like the Broncos, Patriots, Packers, and Cardinals. Those teams have several talented pass-catchers that are going to have a field day against Kirkpatrick if he plays as inconsistently as he has at times this season.

4. Step on team's throats early

Looking at the final scores, it's easy to think the Bengals are taking care of business against weaker teams who have no business hanging with them. However, Cincinnati has had trouble jumping on teams early and getting big leads to kill any confidence opponents have of winning.

Against the Chiefs (+2 points), Bills (+3 points), Browns (+4 points), Chargers (+8 points), and Ravens (+10 points), the Bengals failed to put those games away in the first half when they had chances to build bigger leads and make it much harder for each team to come back in the second half. Ironically, it was the Ravens who made a biggest second-half run and nearly beat the Bengals after they held a 10-point lead at halftime that should have been much bigger. The same was true of the Chargers, who had the ball late with the chance to drive for the game-winning score.

Turnovers, penalties and dumb mistakes kept some of those games from being over early and gave opponents hope in the second half; two of the Bengals' opponents ended up making it a game in the fourth quarter that could have gone either way. The Bengals need to be better at putting teams away early and not giving them any hope coming out of the halftime break.

What do you want to see the Bengals improve on?