Groundhog Day: 2016 Cincinnati Bengals Season Preview

The Cincinnati Bengals biggest issue is well documented. They simply need to win that all important playoff game that has avoided them since 1991. The Bengals playoff window always seems to be propped open by a stick that seems to snap at the mere sight of the post season. But with some key losses on offence, is the window finally sealed shut?

“It’s Groundhog Day”

The first half of the 2015 regular season couldn’t have gone much better for Cincinnati. They started by winning their first 8 games, including wins against teams like the Steelers, Seahawks and Chiefs. The 2nd half of the Season however was less successful, the pinnacle being a simultaneous loss to the Steelers and QB Andy Dalton going down injured with a broken thumb. Dalton, up until this point was on course for his best Season so far and went a long way to prove doubters wrong. The Bengals cruised into the Playoffs with 12 wins, but as had become the regular occurrence at this time of year, they left the post season without a win.

The Bengals roster was (once again) loaded with talent in 2015, with 8 players making the pro bowl, but had to change. Unfortunately not everything changed for the better.

“It’s Groundhog Day”

You’ll have noticed that there has been a definite theme of repetition so far in this post and that carries over to the 2016 off season moves.

For starters Hue Jackson became the latest Bengals Coach to take on a Head Coaching role with the Browns, following Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden who both left in 2014 to become Head Coach. At this point Marvin Lewis’ Coaching tree is as good as any currently in the league. Hue Jackson’s influence cannot be underestimated. Jackson had been at least partially responsible for turning Andy Dalton into a QB with top 10 potential. Up steps Ken Zampese who had been the Bengals QB Coach since 2003. Zampese likely gets the job for his experience with Andy Dalton, but much like Paul Guenther had managed to replicate Mike Zimmer’s success, Zampese will hope that he’s learned enough from Jackson to effectively control this offence. Zampese is faced with a number of big losses to the offence, of which Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are easily the biggest. There is no doubt that the brace of 2nd level receivers benefitted from merely being on the same team as AJ Green, but still they’re big losses and tough to replace. The Bengals attempted to fill the void with Brandon LaFell, who they picked up from the Patriots and Tyler Boyd who they picked up in the 2nd round. LaFell sits higher on the depth chart, but Tyler Boyd, in typical Bengals fashion, has had a very impressive run so far. Boyd should more than fill in for the gap left by Marvin Jones. On the offensive line Andre Smith had been a safe pick at right tackle since 2009. Smith wasn’t re-signed in 2016, finding himself on an up and coming Vikings team that could use his experience on the line. Smith will be replaced by 2015 1st round pick, Cedric Ogbuehi, yet more proof that the Bengals are excellent at drafting for the future.

The exceptional defence remained relatively unchanged with one big loss. Reggie Nelson had a career year in 2015, but at 32 the Bengals believed it was time for a change. Nelson is set for a big season with the Raiders, giving the next man up a chance to shine, which in this instance is Shawn Williams. Williams has played a limited role in the team so far and comes into the team having some pretty big boots to fill. Vontaze Burfict is one of the most talented line-backers in the league. However boneheaded plays like his dangerous hit on Antonio Brown in the playoffs hurts the teams line-backer group, that with the addition of Karlos Dansby is looking a little on the old side. There is definitely talent there, but they could really do with Burfict not missing the start of the season. Burfict will need to change his attitude or run the risk of losing his job.

It’s Groundhog… Wait, Maybe Not.

This team has changed very little. Yes they’ve lost a couple of weapons in Sanu and Jones, but they’ve then added Tyler Boyd who looks like he’s going to fill in admirably. They just always seem to have an insane amount of depth and no matter who they lose, they stay competitive.

So what needs to happen for them to win their 1st Playoff game in 15 years. For starters Ken Zampese needs to continue the hard work of Hue Jackson, with Andy Dalton playing to his full potential. Dalton himself has no excuses. The combination of AJ Green, Tyler Eiffert and Jeremy Hill behind one of the most underrated offensive lines in the league means Dalton is in one of the best situations in the league. I have to think we’ll see another top 10 performance from the “Red Rifle”.

The defence, for me is where they could really impress and it could see them through to a potentially impressive playoff performance. Last year they lost Mike Zimmer leaving Paul Guenther to take charge, which at the time seemed like a huge loss. Guenther did a great job however, turning their front 7 into a terrify unit of sack machines, seeing Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko combine for 27 sacks. So with a year of the new system under their belt, you have to think the only way is up, which is frankly terrifying. What makes their performance even more impressive is that they were getting pressure whilst blitzing only 19.2% of the time, 2nd lowest in the league. This unit is getting pressure with the minimum amount of people, which is a trait of a team with Super bowl capability.

Really I should get straight to the point… I’m all in on the Bengals. The offence has enough weapons to be truly potent, with talent in every position. They can score points is what I’m trying to say and are a team that can hang with most in a shootout. Then there’s the defence, which in my opinion is a top 3 group. Their ability to cause pressure with 4 is impressive and I have to think they’ll only build on it. Combined with their exceptional front 7 is a talented secondary, which combined with the extra talent freed up by a dominant defensive front have a much easier job. I feel like I’ve taken the long way to get to my point, I’ll leave it with this one statement…

I don’t just think they can win a playoff game. I think they can win a Super bowl.

Enjoy the Season.