Looking between the 2011 and 2012 schedules, there’s one big thing that stands out to me. The Bengals played some pretty weak quarterbacks last year. Most teams had a good defense, but their QBs were hurt or bad in the first place. In terms of 2011 rankings, that makes me think better of Andy Dalton, but worse of the Bengals defense.
When the Bengals played the NFC West in 2011, the opposing teams had Alex Smith, Tarvaris Jackson, John Skelton (normal starter Kevin Kolb), and Kellen Clemens (normal starter Sam Bradford). The poor list of QBs continues into the other division that the AFC North was matched up against, the AFC South. That list includes TJ Yates (normal starter Matt Schaub), Blaine Gabbert, Curtis Painter (normal starter Peyton Manning), and Matt Hasselbeck.
Only two (Smith and Hasselbeck) placed in the top 20 QB ratings in 2011. Within the AFC North, the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was 10th, but the Ravens’ Joe Flacco was 19th, and the Browns’ Colt McCoy was 27th.
Here’s the 2012 list of QBs, side by side with the 2011 QBs:
By comparison, the 2012 schedule has a much tougher crop of opposing QBs. The Bengals play eight different QBs with a passer rating in the top 20 in the NFL (if you include Flacco and Ben, 2011 had 4). The NFC East’s Michael Vick, Eli Manning, and Tony Romo will all play the Bengals next year. These 3 quarterbacks are all better than anyone the Bengals faced in 2011. Then throw in Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Matt Cassel, and Tim Tebow, and suddenly you realize how lucky the Bengals were to play against 4 backup quarterbacks this year.
All that being said, the Bengals defense must not be content with where they are right now. They truly fell off at the end of the season, in both run defense and pass defense. Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown must add to this defensive unit in the draft, especially in the secondary.