2011 Bengals Team Preview
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
What better reflects the current state of the Bengals' franchise? Was it the team's haphazard process to decide whether to bring back Marvin Lewis as the head coach? Or their delayed process in firing offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski? Maybe it was starting quarterback Carson Palmer's decision to not return to the team and instead demand a trade, selling his house in Cincinnati in the process? Perhaps you prefer seeing free agent Jonathan Joseph opt to sign with the Texans rather than staying in Cincinnati, followed by Donte Whitner's feint at signing with the Bengals before landing with the Niners?
At any rate, it's a sad state of affairs for the organization. Owner Mike Brown remains the team's general manager, and he's surrounded himself with various family members and in-laws in the front office. Brown and the Bengals have one of the best stadium deals in all of sports, so they're making money hand over fist and are under no pressure to change their ways. The 2010 season was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Coming off a division championship the year before, the Bengals didn't merely regress, they collapsed to a 4-12 season, last in the AFC Central. After beginning the season 2-1 (including a victory over division rival Baltimore), they lost a disheartening 10 games in a row.
The outlook for 2011 looks pretty grim. Carson Palmer remains away from the team, so they are starting rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who is backed up by journeyman Bruce Gradkowski. They traded away Chad Ochocinco to the Patriots in their best attempt to reprise the Corey Dillon experience. Jonathan Joseph is gone to Texas, supplanted by lesser imitations. They might still end up with a better record than last season, by the grace of a schedule that's considerably easier than last year. The Bengals open with road games at Cleveland and Denver, followed by home games against the Niners and Bills. They then draw games against the Jaguars and the Manning-less Colts before their bye in Week 7.
The goal for this team should be to get their ducks in a row for the future, but that's a sad, familiar refrain for Bengals fans, and it really can't get accomplished anyhow until there's a change at the top. Their best bet is to hope that they take advantage of their schedule, hope that Dalton can hold his own, and maybe they can steal six or seven games.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (4) A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Many draft analysts called him the most talented offensive player in the draft.
2. (35) Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
Dalton is one of two rookie quarterbacks that will get the starting nod right away.
3. (66) Dontay Moch, LB, Nevada
A linebacker in college, Moch will be a corner rusher in the pros in the Bengals' 4-3.
4. (101) Clint Boling, OL, Georgia
Another rookie that will start immediately, at right guard in place of Bobbie Williams.
5. (134) Robert Sands, S, West VirginiaOne of six safeties to make the Week 1 roster.
6. (167) Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford
Probably will spend most of his time on special teams.
7. (207) Korey Lindsay, CB, Southern Illinois
Hoping to make the practice squad.
7. (246) Jay Finley, RB, Baylor
More practice squad fodder.
Nate Clements, CB (Niners)
He'll try to fill the large void left from the Jonathan Joseph departure.
Thomas Howard, LB (Raiders)
Keith Rivers is starting the year on the PUP list, so Howard could get a lot of tackles early.
Cedric Benson, RB
Cheating a little here to come up with another significant acquisition - Benson re-signed a one-year deal to stay with the team.
Carson Palmer, QB (reserved/retired list)
Palmer is too stubborn to play for the Bengals, and Mike Brown is too stubborn to trade him for value.
Chad Ochocinco, WR (Patriots)
Makes room for Green, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell to get more targets.
Jonathan Joseph, CB (Texans)
The combination of Joseph and Leon Hall at the corners was the best thing the Bengals had going for them.
1. How painful will this offense be?
Rookie quarterbacks seldom fare well in the NFL, and we expect it to be no different for Andy Dalton. For all the hand-wringing over Carson Palmer staying away, the truth is that this offense wasn't very good with Palmer - and Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. The offensive line was mediocre and it'll be starting a rookie to replace suspended right guard Bobbie Williams for the first four games, and that's alongside Andre Smith, who has been a bust in his first two years in the league.
2. What can we expect from Cedric Benson?
The Bengals re-signed Benson after he ran for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns last season, once again acting as the team's workhorse. Benson might be the least explosive starting back in the NFL, as he averaged an ugly 3.5 YPC and recorded just two carries for 20-plus yards over 321 rushing attempts. Benson is one of the most boring picks, but barring a complete collapse after back-to-back 300-carry campaigns, he does have a nice floor in Cincinnati. The Bengals would likely use him as a feature back once again, and he was given 62 carries in the red zone last season, including 20 at the goal line (though he only converted six into scores). Just realize there's not much upside, as he finished outside the top-15 fantasy RBs despite getting the fifth most touches. On the flip side, he lacks a real threat to take away the job from him, giving him more security than he might otherwise deserve.
3. Where can we find some upside?
Rookie quarterbacks frequently lack the time and ability to make multiple reads under pressure, so instead they resort to dumping the ball off. In many instances, that means a back or a tight end will get more targets than the wideouts. Thus, someone like tight end Jermaine Gresham could get more work than he did in the past, though whether that translates into red zone looks (something he didn't get much of last season) hasn't been resolved.
Rising: With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco out, Jerome Simpson emerged as the Bengals' top target with 18 catches for 247 yards and three scores over the season's final two games. Simpson was a second-round pick in 2008 but saw very little action - just 13 games on the active roster over three seasons. At 6-2, 200 and with decent speed, Simpson flashed his playmaking ability and almost certainly earned himself a longer look. With all world prospect A.J. Green in the fold along with Jordan Shipley, Andre Caldwell and last year's first round pick, tight end Jermaine Gresham, Simpson will start opposite Green, albeit with rookie Andy Dalton throwing the ball to him.
Declining: In addition to his declining yards per carry, Cedric Benson put the ball on the ground more last season. If the Bengals ever found Bernard Scott capable of handling regular carries, Benson's job would be a little more in danger. He would also be wise to avoid more boats or any other conveyance when drinking, and choose his roommates more carefully.
Sleeper: Jermaine Gresham's rookie season was decent, but short of what the Bengals might have expected when they took him in the first round a year ago. Should Andy Dalton prove to be at least competent, Gresham could take a big step forward.
Supersleeper: Even when you get to the lottery tickets stage of the draft, Bernard Scott's name often goes unmentioned, given the Bengals' tendencies to give Benson nearly all the carries. But whenever Scott has gotten the ball, he has averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Certainly that average would decline some with more carries, but there's an untapped potential here.
Rey Maualuga, LB
Maualuga replaces Dhani Jones as the middle linebacker in the Bengals' 4-3 defense and could be a tackle monster.
Carlos Dunlap, DE
9.5 sacks in just 12 games as a rookie last year. Hey Marvin - it's ok to play the young guys, too.
Leon Hall, CB
Prior to last year, Hall was a decent source of tackles in addition to his shutdown corner abilities. He's never missed an NFL game and just signed a contract extension with the Bengals.
RotoWire Rank: 30