NFL Preview '11: Cincinnati Bengals
At one point in the 2009 season the Cincinnati Bengals were 9-3 and cruising toward an AFC North title. The Bengals did indeed clinch the division but since that 9-3 start Cincinnati has been 5-16 and a rocky 2010 led to an even rockier 2011.
The focal point of this offseason was the status of quarterback Carson Palmer who demanded a trade. The Bengals have refused so Palmer is threatening to retire. In anticipation of this mess Cincinnati used a second round pick this spring on quarterback Andy Dalton and the rookie sits at number one on the depth chart. In another move the Bengals traded Chad Ochocinco to New England but there's a chance Cincy won't miss either Ochocinco or free agent Terrell Owens. That's because the Bengals selected wide receiver AJ Green with the fourth overall pick. The youth movement continues at wide receiver with Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson. Relying on so many young guys is cause for concern so the Bengals will need a stepped up effort from a running game that fell flat in 2010.
On the surface the Bengals defense, which finished 14th against the run and 19th against the pass, was not a big liability but defense rules the day in the AFC North. Up front rookie Carlos Dunlap had an immediate impact with 9 1/2 sacks but that accounted for one-third of Cincinnati's total sack production. Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall roamed the secondary and combined for seven interceptions however Joseph departed for Houston this summer. The Bengals replaced Joseph with veteran Nate Clemens from San Francisco. Another San Francisco signing, linebacker Manny Lawson, should help to solidify Cincinnati's linebacking corps.
There's no doubt Cincinnati is rebuilding the offense and it will take some time for it to come together. This means the Bengals will have to rely on defense so just being average isn't going to get it done. The Dalton-Green combination may turn out to be the best in the AFC North but like the Bengals chances, it appears to be at least a year away.