The Cincinnati Bengals have produced three winning seasons in the last 21 years so mixed results are not only expected but celebrated because Bengals fans know that things can always be worse. Despite their 2-1 record, the 2012 preseason has been a muddled jumble of good and bad, yielding more questions than answers.
Below is a list of five positive things the Bengals can rest their striped pelts on as well as five issues that could be irritating thorns in their paws come September. [Folks, I love terrible puns so it’s best to just strap in now.]
+ WR Marvin Jones
Was there some sketchy backroom meeting where the Bengals and NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell worked out a deal where only the Bengals could employ players and coaches named Marvin? I guess New York Giants DT Marvin Austin missed the memo. Either way, Jones, the 6-foot-2 rookie from Cal, has been great for the orange and black.
Granted, he only has 5 catches through his first three preseason games, but his yards-per-reception average is staggering at 25.5 yards per catch. One of the Bengals primary concerns going into the preseason was finding a legitimate No. 2 receiver to compliment A.J. Green. Not only does Jones show the ability to do more than merely compliment Green, his impressive size and propensity for the deep ball could allow him and Green to stretch the field and open more passing lanes for Bengals QB Andy Dalton, looking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
+ Backup Linebackers (Roddrick Muckelroy, Dan Skuta, Dontay Moch, and Vontaze Burfict)
I propose that Cincinnati’s starting linebacking corp. should replace Shaquille O’Neal as the new spokespeople for Icy Hot because they are going to need a ton of those patches to alleviate the pain from constantly looking over their shoulder. The second and third-team linebackers came to play this preseason.
Combined, backup linebackers, Roddrick Muckelroy, Dan Skuta, Dontay Moch, and Vontaze Burfict have combined for 29 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 1 interception; that’s 21 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 1 pick more than the combined total of starters, Rey Maualuga, Manny Lawson, and Thomas Howard. This will make for some interesting competition during the concluding week of the preseason, especially at strongside linebacker, where the underwhelming Lawson currently sits atop both preseason standouts, Skuta and Moch on the depth chart.
+ SS Jeromy Miles
Miles is currently competing against Taylor Mays for the starting strong safety position in Cincy, but he should feel great about his chances. It’s very simple math: Miles has 15 tackles and an interception through 3 preseason games. Mays, a third-year player, only averages 16 tackles a season with one forced fumble to his name.
Seriously, remember when Mays was at USC and looked like the second coming of Ronnie Lott? Now he’s just some thuggish headhunter; and if you don’t believe me, check out the play before Mays gets injured in their game against the Jets. He throws his head at a Jet player – clearly going for helmet-to-helmet contact – and gets himself injured. I love karmic justice in football.
+ Getting to the Quarterback
Sacks are unquestionably huge; they allow the defense to impose their will on the offense and act as big statement-makers. The Bengals have not forgotten that this preseason, recording 11 sacks in the first three preseason games. Not only does this equate to 3.7 sacks per game for the Bengal defense, it also dwarfs their opponents’ combined sack total of 6.
As Dalton develops at quarterback, it is crucial that the Bengals defense consistently puts the ball in his hands and allows him to play with the lead. Stifling the opposing team’s offense with multiple sacks is the best way to do this so it’s promising to see Cincinnati’s front seven show off their ability to get to the quarterback.
+ Dontay Moch
This may come off redundant since Cincinnati’s backup linebackers have already been discussed, but the Who Dey Nation should take a second and praise Dontay Moch for his stellar play this preseason. With a 4-game suspension at the start of the regular season breathing down his neck, Moch has decided to put his nose to the grindstone. Through three games, Moch has recorded 3.5 sacks.
Obviously, the biggest question will be how Moch plays after sitting out for over a month, but Bengals fans have to love the intense, hard-nosed play from Moch during the last few weeks. If he can keep up this production and stay out of trouble, do not be surprised to see Moch starting at strongside linebacker later this season.
– QB Andy Dalton
Any Bengals fan that tells you they weren’t surprised by the success of Dalton last season is lying. The TCU standout led his Horned Frogs to a Rose Bowl win as a senior then threw for over 3,300 yards and 20 touchdowns in his first year in Cincinnati like it was nothing.
Dalton quickly ascended to main-man status in Cincy, complimented by the incredible play of fellow rookie WR, A.J. Green. However, many people wonder if Dalton will expand on his inaugural success or suffer a slump. If the first three games of the 2012 preseason are any indication, it will be the latter. So far, Dalton has only completed 42.5% of his passes and thrown one touchdown while his understudy, Bruce Gradkowski has thrown two touchdowns and completed over 57% of his passes.
– The Running Game
Last week, Green Bay Packers running back, Cedric Benson told the media that he thought the Bengals would miss him this season. At first, this seems extremely arrogant for a back who only averaged 3.9 yards a carry and scored 6 touchdowns in 2011, but the Bengals have found a way to back the former Cincinnati tailback’s chidings through the first three preseason games.
So far, the Bengals have been outrushed by 133 yards this preseason and their five contending tailbacks – BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman, Brian Leonard, Dan Herron, and Jourdan Brooks – have carried the ball a combined 53 times for a lackluster 2.4 yards a carry. In his first start as a Packer, Benson averaged 6.3 yards per carry. If this keeps up, the Bengals will have to rely too heavily on their second-year quarterback during the regular season, which could hamper their chances of returning to the playoffs in 2012.
– Moving the Chains
Through the first three preseason games, the Bengals have 20 fewer first downs than their opponents. This is the cumulative result of their offensive woes so far. The most successful teams, year in and year out, are able to dominate time of possession and control the pace of the game and much of that starts with moving the chains. This is a must-fix.
– A.J. Green
The highly touted Georgia receiver was everything the scouts predicted he would be last year. In 2011, Green hauled in 65 grabs for over 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns and definitely put to rest any controversy over whether he or now Atlanta Falcons receiver, Julio Jones should have been the first wideout off the board in the 2011 Draft.
However, Green’s stat line this preseason is deceptive. So far, he has recorded 3 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown; but if you take away that touchdown, which came on a beautiful 50-yard bomb from QB Andy Dalton, Green only has 2 catches for 12 yards this preseason. This would be less of an issue if Julio Jones wasn’t nipping at the heels of Roddy White in Atlanta for the No.1 receiver job.
Draft classes are notorious for linking players’ careers, especially first round picks, so Green needs to step his game up and take another step towards his franchise-player potential, especially since Atlanta’s Jones has already recorded 13 catches, 240 yards, and a touchdown.
– The Rest of the Wide Receivers
The Bengals certainly infused a healthy amount of competition at wide receiver, bringing in newcomers Brandon Tate, Mohamed Sanu, and Armon Binns. Still, Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis and his offensive coaching staff must feel underwhelmed by the lack of production from anyone not named Marvin Jones. So far, Tate, Sanu, and Binns have combined for 109 receiving yards and a touchdown, a nearly identical stat line to Jones, who has 2 more yards receiving. While Cincinnati must feel relieved to see at least one young prospect step up and make a case for the No. 2 receiver slot, they should be equally disheartened by questions of who else can produce should Jones or A.J. Green go down during the season.