It hasn’t been a great start for the Bengals through the first eight games of the 2016 NFL season. Four losses and a tie stain a record that only includes three wins. Due to almost equally poor starts from the 4-4 Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, as well as the abysmal 0-9 start from the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals still have a completely realistic shot at winning the AFC North and making the playoffs.
Through the first eight games, the Bengals do have a select few players that have actually been playing very well and deserve credit for keeping the Bengals in the playoff discussion. With the NFL’s most receptions (59), second most receiving yards (896), three touchdowns, no turnovers, and a handful of mind-boggling catches, A.J. Green is the absolutely undisputed MVP of the team at the halfway point in the season. Cincy Jungle already wrote about the stellar season he is having and gave him the more notable team MVP award, so in this post I’m going to recognize a different player who hasn’t been quite as consistently spectacular as Green, but has been a big factor in any success the Bengals’ offense has had this season.
Last year, Andy Dalton ‘arrived’ as a quarterback who appeared to have taken the next step as a passer. Unfortunately, he fractured his thumb in Week 14 against the Steelers and was unable to finish off his incredible season with a playoff run. But, in 2016, he seems to be off to a similar start. Heading into Week 10, even with only eight games played, Dalton ranks eighth in the NFL in passing yards (2,349). He also ranks sixth in quarterback rating (98.0) and has thrown the least interceptions (three) among quarterbacks with at least 190 attempted passes on the season.
The one area he could use improvement in is scoring. He currently ranks 18th in the NFL in total touchdown passes thrown (nine). But, now that Tyler Eifert is healthy and playing like his old self, those fortunes should change very quickly. Dalton and Green have essentially been the only constants keeping the Bengals’ offensive head above water this season, so the full addition of Eifert should make this offense a scary one to deal with in the second half of the season.
Honorable mention: Andrew Whitworth
Although I feel like Whitworth’s impact is not quite as impressive as Dalton’s this year, I do believe it is important to mention. While the only consistent problem for the Bengals on the offensive line has been at right tackle, Whitworth has been the only consistently great performer on the offensive line this season. Unfortunately, his impact has not translated to better play from his fellow members of the offensive line, so it’s hard to recognize a player who is part of a unit that has given up 25 sacks on the season.
The Bengals really have not had many ‘great’ performers on the defensive side of the ball this season. At the moment, they are allowing the eighth worst yards per game (378.5), the 13th most points per game (23.6) and the second lowest total fumble recoveries (seven). Any member of such an under-performing unit can’t deserve much recognition for their accomplishments, right?
To an extent, that is a perfectly valid way to feel. But, it would be unfair to Carlos Dunlap if we did not recognize the fact that he is playing very well this season. Through the first eight games, he has recorded five sacks, which ranks seventh in the NFL among all defensive ends. He has also forced two fumbles and has recorded 19 tackles, more than any other defensive end on the Bengals. His seven pass deflections are also the most of any player on the Bengals, which is very impressive for a defensive end.
Honorable mention: Karlos Dansby
The Bengals have a few bright spots other than Dunlap. Vontaze Burfict has been effective since returning from suspension (30 tackles, one sack, two pass deflections) and Josh Shaw is stepping up in the slot. But, it has been the impact of Karlos Dansby that has been particularly impressive all season. Through the halfway point in the season, the Bengals look fortunate to have signed Dansby in the offseason. He leads the team in tackles (34), has recovered a fumble, and deflected three passes. There’s something to be said about stabilizing a position that was looking to be a huge problem for the Bengals last season.