By Jeremy Hritz
The Cincinnati Bengals have been building through the draft, and it is beginning to pay handsomely, as they have accumulated a talented group of young players. And after the most recent draft with the additions of tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, the Bengals offense looks to have improved even more. Couple that with a young and aggressive defense led by Geno Atkins, and the Bengals seemed poised to take a shot at the AFC North Crown in the 2013 season.
It was the Bengals that stomped any hopes that the Steelers had of the playoffs in the 2012 season, by pulling out a close 13-10 victory at Heinz Field, a game that was low-lighted by a pick six by Ben Roethlisberger. It was the first time in a long time that the Bengals beat the Steelers in a meaningful game, and hopefully it was not a sign of things to come in impending seasons.
The success of the Bengals rests heavily on the shoulders of the red-one, Andy Dalton, who in two seasons has thrown for 47 touchdowns and 7067 passing yards, numbers similar to Roethlisberger who threw for 7342 yards and 47 touchdowns in his first two seasons. And with a potent offensive weapon in A.J. Green, along with his new draft toys, Dalton could be looking to put up even more impressive numbers in his junior year in the league.
However, if there is any knock on the young quarterback, it is that he takes too many sacks (70 in two seasons) and makes too many decisions that result in turnovers, with 29 interceptions and six fumbles lost in two seasons. If Dalton is to get the Bengals over the hump and past the first round of the playoffs, he must learn to protect the football much better.
This isn’t the only scrutiny of the young quarterback.
In a recent article on NFL.com that examined the top ten quarterbacks under 25, Dalton came in at number nine. Author Gregg Rosenthal noted that Dalton is an effective passer when he is getting rid of the ball quickly, but that he struggles connecting on the deep ball, averaging only 5.58 yards per attempt in the final six games for the Bengals (stats from NFL.com).
In order for Dalton to take the next step and claim an AFC North championship, he must show in 2013 that he has improved in these areas.
This much is true about the Bengals: they have a lot of young talent. And in a division with the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, teams with many holes in the rosters due to player departures, Cincinnati may be in position to assert themselves as the division favorites.
Or, they could continue to be the “Bungles” as they are so endearingly called in Pittsburgh, just good enough to get a ticket into the tournament, or just bad enough to earn a top five selection in the draft. While their 2013 outcome is far from being decided, on paper, they appear to be a team on the upswing.
The Steelers will find out first hand just how good the Bengals are in week two on Sunday Night in Cincinnati, and whether or not Dalton has championed the bomb.