ESPN’s Joyner: Bengals Can Make the Playoffs


ESPN In$ider’s KC Joyner wrote an article today with an optimistic outlook on the Bengals chances of making the playoffs this year. He emphasizes the great play by rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green, the defense, and the remaining schedule.

On Andy Dalton:

"Dalton got off to a very rough start this year, as reflected by his Total QBR ratings: 27.0 in Week 1, 41.2 in Week 2, 14.0 in Week 3 and 26.7 in Week 4. At that time, his season-long Total QBR rating was 26.6, which ranked as the fifth-lowest total in that metric.In the next two games, Dalton’s Total QBR numbers shot up dramatically, though, as he notched a 61.2 mark in Week 5 and an 88.8 mark in Week 6.That is a very positive trend that is also shared by his yards per attempt (YPA) totals in the vertical pass-route depth categories so far this year:Andy Dalton’s 2011 Passing StatsRoute DepthCompAttYdsTDIntPenPen YdsYPAMedium (11-19 yards)21364162231110.9Deep (20-29 yards)510122120012.2Bomb (30+ yards)39135100015.0Vertical (11+ yards)29556734431111.8Stretch Vertical (20+ yards)819257220013.5Anything above the 10-yard mark in these categories is considered a good performance, and Dalton is posting double-digit numbers in all of them. If he keeps up this level of play, it won’t quite be enough for him to win NFL rookie of the year, because of the presence of Cam Newton, but it should put him into strong contention for AFC Rookie of the Year."

On AJ Green:

"Part of why Dalton has been able to hit downfield throws is how well his star rookie wide receiver A.J. Green has been playing.A.J. Green’s 2011 Receiving StatsRoute DepthCompAttYdsTDPenPen YdsYPAShort (1-10 yards)17231261165.5Medium (11-19 yards)79125131111.3Deep (20-29 yards)266710011.2Bomb (30+ yards)3713510019.3Total294545344179.6Vertical (11+ yards)1222327331113.5Stretch Vertical (20+ yards)51320220015.5To put Green’s 9.6 total YPA into perspective, consider that there are usually only about 25-30 wide receivers each year who are able to post a YPA of 9 yards or higher at season’s end. Green is only one-third of the way through his first campaign, but at the moment it looks like he has a very good shot at being one of those 25-30 this year."

On the run-blocking (suprisingly):

"The Cincinnati offense also has been doing a solid job in the running game. The Bengals’ blockers have given their ball carriers a good blocking situation (loosely defined as when they don’t allow the defense to do anything to disrupt a rushing attempt) 46.6 percent of the time. That is right about where the league average ends up at season’s end, but given that most teams started off with very poor run blocking this year (a likely side effect of the lockout), it means the Bengals are ahead of the curve in this category."

On the defense:

"As notable as the Cincinnati offense has been so far this year, the real strength of this team is defense.It starts with the ability to stop the run. The Bengals are allowing only 3.3 yards per rushing attempt, a total that ranks tied with Baltimore for the second-best in the league in that category.That low rush YPA is a benefit of a defense that is creating a poor run-blocking situation for the offensive team 59.7 percent of the time so far this year. That is a very good total, even when one accounts for the generally subpar run blocking around the league during the first quarter of the season.The Bengals are also doing a superb job defending the pass. Their 6.4 pass YPA allowed ranks tied for fourth-best in the NFL.One of the main reasons for that low total is the quality play of Cincinnati’s cornerbacks, Leon Hall (6.4 YPA allowed) and Nate Clements (7.3 YPA allowed).The one area where the Bengals could use improvement is in the turnover category, as they have snagged only two interceptions so far this year, but there is good news on that front.Cincinnati is forcing opposing quarterbacks into making bad decisions 3.6 percent of the time (a bad decision being when the quarterback makes a mistake with the ball that leads to a turnover or near turnover, such as a dropped interception). The mark of excellence here is 3 percent or higher, so as long as the Bengals keep up their current performance in this metric, the interceptions should come their way soon."

On the easy schedule:

"In addition to all the quality statistics, Cincinnati is the beneficiary of a somewhat favorable second-half schedule that includes matchups against Seattle, Tennessee, Cleveland, St. Louis and Arizona. If the Bengals can add three or four wins in those games along with one or two wins in their tougher matchups (Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice, Houston), it would equal nine wins for the season, which might be enough for the Bengals to make the postseason in the surprisingly weak AFC this year. It would be an impressive feat for a team that was supposed to be in rebuilding mode this season."

Joyner’s argument is music to the ears of a Bengals fans. The poise of Dalton, the downfield threat of AJ Green, the elite defense, and the easy schedule have given the Bengals a 4-2 record so far. The run game needs work still, and hopefully fans will see a rejuvenated running game when Bernard Scott gets the start at RB, due to Cedric Benson’s one-game suspension.