Last season the expectations for the Cincinnati Bengals were little to none. Many “experts” had picked the Bengals to win 4-5 games, if they were lucky, citing that the inexperience of Andy Dalton, and A.J Green would be too much for the Bengals to overcome, and try to make the playoffs. Well they were wrong, as the Bengals did make the playoffs, and both Dalton and Green played quite well. One of the key reasons the Bengals were in the playoffs last season, even though they were bounced early by the Houston Texans, was because of the stellar play of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, and rookie wide receiver A.J Green. I say “one” of the reasons because many people overlooked one of the key reasons why the Bengals went 9-7 last year, their defense.
The Bengals defense, led by defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, went under the radar last season and ranked ninth in the NFL in points allowed, (with 20.2 points allowed per game), and ranked seventh in total yardage, (316.2 yards per game). It seemed that each week, sans the Bengals bye week, Andy Dalton was put into a great position to lead the Bengals to victory. Dalton led a few come-back wins but many people overlooked the fact that the defense was key to keeping the Bengals in those games.
Zimmer’s defense featured a slew of many players who popped up out of nowhere last season like Thomas Howard, who led the Bengals in tackles last season with 99. Howard signed with the Bengals during the shortened 2011 off-season and came into training camp with little to no expectations. But Howard shined during the season and became a force on the Bengals defense. There were many other players who shined on Zimmer’s defense last season but the real question is if they can continue that stellar play this season.
It is no secret that many times when a team has such a surprising season, after being expected to be so bad, that the year after that is usually there down year. For example look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers had a very surpising 2010-2011 season, and were expected to compete for the NFC South in 2011-2012. Instead they suffered numerous injuries, starting quarterback Josh Freeman regressed dramatically, and the Bucs ended up with a 4-12 record.
If the Bengals defense can avoid inuries, and continue to keep their offense in games, then it is very easy to see how the Bengals can make a deep playoff run this season. Dalton, and Green will have more experience underneath their belts, and the additions on defense, most significantly Dre Kirkpatrick, will definitely help. However the Bengals playoff run may need to come as a wild-card as the two dominant teams in the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers look to be loaded again, and aiming to claim another AFC North crown.
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