By Josh Kirkendall, Cincy Jungle
The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off another playoff berth in which they were eliminated in the first round by the New York Jets. After an undefeated division record, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens four times, Cincinnati hopes to repeat as division champions for the first time since the 1981-82 seasons.
Significant Offseason Additions/Subtractions
Cincinnati signed veteran wide receivers Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant on offense through free agency and drafted Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham in an effort to improve their skill players across the board. On defense, the team drafted defensive tackle Geno Atkins, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and signed Gibril Wilson to increase their numbers of hard-hitting safeties while re-signing several players that were scheduled for free agency, like Roy Williams and Brandon Johnson.
After a season in which Cincinnati finished 26th in the NFL with a passing offense that averaged 180.6 yards passing per game, the Bengals upgraded their skill players with several significant receivers and a tight end. Rather than returning to their glory days of being a pass-happy offense, the team still figures to run a balanced offense, led by Cedric Benson, who finished second in the NFL with a 96.2 yard-per-game rushing average.
However, critical to the team's passing offense improvements will be protection. Last year, an inexperienced and young offensive line forced the Bengals to be concerned enough about the wear on Carson Palmer, electing to run mostly quick routes to limit the pressure.
A big reason Cincinnati finished 2009 with a 10-6 record, the Bengals fourth ranked defense figures to make greater strides. With early successes from defensive end-converted-to-linebacker Michael Johnson, along with Geno Atkins, the Bengals support a tremendously exciting front seven, that includes guys like Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Dhani Jones, Tank Johnson, Domata Peko, Antwan Odom, Robert Geathers and Dunlap.
That being said, the secondary is the defenses best strengths, putting together a collection of hard hitting safeties in Chinedum Ndukwe, Roy Williams, Chris Crocker and Wilson. Still, the team's safeties is a distant second behind a powerful group of cornerbacks. Being noted as one of the league's best cornerback duos, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall will be supported by Adam Jones, who is greatly improving the team's nickel packages, and rookie Brandon Ghee and Morgan Trent.
After the Bengals elected to let place kicker Shayne Graham leave for free agency, the team signed David Rayner and Mike Nugent to compete for the job. Jordan Shipley, Adam Jones and Quan Cosby figure to compete as the team's punt returners, with incumbent Cosby having ranked as one of the best punt returners in the NFL last season.
Head coach Marvin Lewis heads into the final season of his existing contract with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer recently signing a three-year contract during the offseason. Zimmer plans to work hard on the team's pass rushing, which ranked middle-of-the-road last year. Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski hopes that the team's improved skill positions will enable them to remain balanced, with a greater efficiency in the passing game.
Conclusion/Prediction for 2010
With a gauntlet on the schedule that includes the New Orleans Saints, the Indianapolis Colts, the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, the San Diego Chargers and four games against the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals will have a fight on their hands through much of the season with one of the league's toughest schedules. With a defense that figures to improve upon the team's success last year, along with an offense that hopes to see a big improvement in the passing game, the team truly figures that they can win each week. While not favorites to win the division by most "insiders", the Bengals will make enough noise this year that just making the postseason won't be enough. They're talking Super Bowl.