With all of the pieces falling into place for Cincinnati on both sides of the ball, many fans of the Queen City find themselves impatiently waiting for the start of the 2013 season.
After talking to several fans, it seems like there is a lot more football anxiety than usual. Why? Because all of the fans that have stuck with the Bengals through all of the disappointments in the last three decades finally have something to get excited for.
It’s been a long time since their team was expected to have a legitimate shot at winning the division, other than perhaps last year.
It’s been a long time since the team has entered a season coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances. Thirty years, in fact.
And many think it’s about time we stop flirting with becoming an elite, perennial playoff team, and actually become one.
I share those same sentiments, but if we are to do just that, I think it relies largely on three things.
The first is the adjustments that head coach Marvin Lewis is able to make throughout the season. This is not just mid-game, but throughout the course of the year as well. Cincinnati still has a very young team, and the guidance of a head coach will be invaluable to a group of players looking to win their first playoff game.
The second is the play-calling of Jay Gruden. At the beginning of last season saw Gruden experiment with a lot of unexpected calls, and the defenses were repeatedly caught off guard. In the second half, the scores that Cincinnati put up in each game were significantly decreased. This is partly because the opposing defenses got tougher, but partly because the play-calling became almost monotonous. Indeed, I found myself able to predict what we would do next. And if I can do that, it’s a sure bet that an opposing defensive coordinator can do the same.
Finally, and perhaps more than any other factor, this year will rest on the shoulders of Andy Dalton.
He has been surrounded by talent at nearly every position on offense. Now, he simply needs to use it. There has been a lot of skepticism about Dalton as to what consistency he can have in the NFL. He needs to forget about everything that is being said, and relax in the pocket. Being able to handle the pressure will be key as the third-year quarterback looks to lead his team to the franchise’s first playoff game in over twenty years.
There’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to.