October 21, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) gets up slowly after injuring his right arm against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. Pittsburgh won the game 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

A Chink in the Bengals’ Armor


 

 

In the midst of all the praise the Cincinnati Bengals have been getting this offseason as another solid NFL Draft has some pegging them as Super Bowl contenders, Evan Silva of Roto World isn’t exactly sold on all of the hype. In fact, he ranked the Bengals’ starting lineup as the 17th-best in the NFL, which ranks every teams’ “projected” starting lineups entering the 2013 season:

 

Offensive Overview: The additions of Bernard and Eifert and healthy return of Sanu give coordinator Jay Gruden the enticing option of opening up his offense and scheming more aggressive, pass-oriented football. Will he, and does he think modest-armed Dalton is capable of playing that way? Through two seasons, Dalton has largely been utilized as a game manager, and his performance has regressed in back-to-back years as the seasons have progressed. He’s not getting better. Look for Gresham to spend more time on the line blocking while Eifert becomes the flex or “move” tight end, creating mismatches in the slot and outside. Green is arguably a top-two receiver in football, and Cincinnati’s offensive line is right up there with the best in the league. If the Bengals are ever going to get over the one-and-done playoff hump, though, they’ll need more from Dalton. It’s also possible Dalton’s limited physical talent will continue to hold this club back.

Defensive Overview: Cincinnati’s secondary is average and Maualuga is a liability at middle linebacker, but this is a top-ten defense because the front four is ferocious. Atkins is the best three-technique tackle in football. Via the franchise tag, the Bengals are smartly keeping Johnson in another contract year after his breakout 2012 season in the final year of his rookie deal. Peko is a passable nose and Dunlap is talented enough to take over games, if he could ever stay healthy consistently. On passing downs, look for Dunlap or Johnson to kick inside with Harrison dropping to end. Mike Zimmer’s defense can bring an enormous amount of pressure, which makes life much easier on Cincinnati’s defensive backs. Camp battles will take place at free safety and left corner. Newman will be pushed hard by 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick.

 

I hate to say it, but I agree with Silva in his belief that, while the defense appears to be as good as the 2012 unit that ranked 6th in the league in total defense, there are some majors chinks in the armor in the middle and on the back-end. For as long as Rey Maualuga is the starting MLB, which is the quarterback of Mike Zimmer’s defense, this unit will never be strong enough to carry the Bengals to a deep run in the postseason.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s simply too much uncertainty in the secondary at safety to feel good about facing Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger (twice), and Joe Flacco (twice).

Silva also nailed it on Dalton and his late-season struggles. He was a key reason the Bengals offense scored one offensive TD in their last 38 possessions to end the season. In the Bengals playoff game against the Houston Texans, when under pressure, Dalton was 3 of 10 for 11 yards, with 2 sacks as he failed to get his team into the endzone in a 19-13 loss. He must improve in 2013, if the Bengals want to take the next step.

 

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