The Cincinnati Bengals were the surprise team of 2011 in the NFL. Get rid of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, and most anyone else associated with the Bengals and go from 4-12 in 2010 to 9-7 and the playoffs in one of the league's toughest divisions. How'd they do it?
I guess the part where they got rid of anyone associated with the Bengals.
The Bengals have quietly improved on offense in each of the last four years, going from the league's worst in 2008 to 18th in points and 20th in yards last season. Their defense carried them, but if they want to prove that they weren't just a flash in the AFC pan last year, they're going to need more production from a young offense. Stars? They probably only have one of those, but A.J. Green has the potential to be the best wide receiver in the NFL this side of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Are the Bengals going to "roar" in 2012 on offense or are they going to...well..."meow"? Here is a preview of the offense for the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals.
2011 Record: 9-7
It would be easy to say that Dalton had somewhat of a ho-hum rookie season but let's not forget how difficult it is for a quarterback to even have an average rookie season. Dalton managed to limit turnovers and remain somewhat steady, proving he's at least better than Mark Sanchez.
Dalton completed 58% of his passes for 212 yards per game along with 20 TD, 13 INT, and 6.6 yards per attempt. It's concerning just how average he played towards the end the year: 55.5% completions, 6 TD/4 INT over the final seven games. He really struggled against the Ravens, throwing 1 TD and 3 INT in two games while completing just 46 of 89 passes. He still has to play them twice.
The continued development of one of the league's best receivers will help, as will the addition of Sanu. But we've seen with other elite receivers that they don't necessarily just make a QB... he has to get better on his own, too. I expect similar results in 2012 in this difficult pass-defense division. He did nothing to ease concerns in the preseason, completing 20 of 44 passes for 5.6 Y/A, 1 TD and 0 INT.
2012 Projection: 56% completions, 3,300 yards, 21 TD/16 INT
While replacing Benson was absolutely necessary, you would have thought that the constantly-getting-younger-at-key-positions Bengals would have done better than the 27-year-old Green-Ellis. While he did score 24 touchdowns over the last two years, he did it for the Patriots, a team that's constantly in the red zone. As the primary back in New England, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry in the last two years and moves to a team that did not see superior run-blocking in 2011.
As the unquestioned starter, he's worth a roster spot, but only as an RB3 for me. I wouldn't want to start him every week.
2012 Projection: 200 carries, 800 yards, 9 TD
What makes Green-Ellis such an obvious choice for starter is that they don't have much behind him. I can't see either Scott or Leonard as 20-carry per game back and the rookie Dan Herron had 1.7 yards per carry in the preseason and got cut. Worse comes to worst, Scott has the most potential but he's been hurt.
Size, speeds, hands, agility. There are things that Green needs to develop to be elite but his rookie season was rather phenomenal considering how productive he was despite his flaws. Green had 65 catches for 1,057 yards. By comparison, Calvin Johnson had 48 for 756 as a rookie. Larry Fitzgerald had 58 for 780. Roddy White had 29 for 446. The NFL we saw in 2011 was much different than past seasons as evidenced by the production of rookies like Green, Julio Jones, Torrey Smith and Doug Baldwin, but that doesn't mean he's still not coming off of an incredible year. There are few receivers in the NFL you'd rather have right now than Green.
If you search Football Outsiders for "A.J. Green" it will say, "Did you mean a.j. great?" That's a good way to put it.
2012 Projection: 75 catches, 1,300 yards, 10 TD
One of my personal favorite receivers in this years draft, I think the Bengals made a great pick by getting him in the third. Highly productive at Rutgers, I see him doing well in his first year as Green draws attention away from him as Sanu becomes the second favorite target of Dalton. He had 12 catches for 105 yards in the preseason.
2012 Projection: 55 catches for 600 yards, 5 TD
The Bengals have a few vets around but Jones is the only other receiver on the roster that I think is worth mentioning. He had an outstanding camp and preseason, finishing with 9 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The fifth-round pick could be sneaky on the waiver wire this year. Deserves a sleeper tag.
2012 Projection: 35 catches, 450 yards, 2 TD
It felt to me like Gresham was a grizzled vet coming into his tenth NFL season, but in reality he's a third year player that was a first round pick in 2010. He had 56 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns last year and could be a breakout waiting to happen. That would be great news for Dalton. The more weapons he has, the better his numbers will be.
Sleeper tag for Gresham, could be worthy of a backup TE bench spot.
2012 Projection: 60 catches, 700 yards, 5 TD