The Cincinnati Bengals are getting ready for the stretch run. A disappointing first half has fans scratching their heads. Is the best yet to come?
At this point last season, the Cincinnati Bengals were basking in the glow of an 8-0 run and in control of the AFC North. All cylinders were clicking and it looked like the team would be in contention for its first postseason victory under Marvin Lewis.
Unfortunately, it all came to a screeching halt on January 9. Once again, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers raining on a well-orchestrated dream and sending the Bengals home. The biggest fear, during the offseason, was that the hangover from such a devastating loss would affect the 2016 campaign. So far, that may be the case. If the Bengals want to make the playoffs for a sixth straight year, it’s do or die. The time is now.
Looking at the Bengals from a cohesive standpoint, the team still looks good on paper. The competitive edge is still there. But, the fire is gone. On defense, the departure of Reggie Nelson seems to have caused a riff in the secondary. Offensively, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu haven’t been the reason for Cincinnati’s struggles. The play calling of new coordinator Ken Zampese is still taking root with players and fans.
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The Bengals were a solid unit in 2015. Paul Guenther was in charge of a unit that had the edginess of a Super Bowl team in waiting. Now, it seems that either the scheme needs to be freshened up or the players have forgotten how to run it. Even worse, the players may be getting old. Whatever the case, the passion is missing on defense.
There are definitely going to be some growing pains. Losing positional coaches will cause continuity problems with the players. What one coach taught isn’t going to be the exact same as another. With those changes of philosophies, there will also be a learning curve and performance drop off.
What was thought to be the strength of the defense has been mediocre. The linebackers are on the field but not looking like the studs they are. Karlos Dansby hasn’t been the coverage demon most people expected. Vontaze Burfict has struggled since coming back from suspension. He’s playing like he’s afraid to get aggressive.
When things pick up in Week 10, there could be some changes to the lineup. There comes a time when a shakeup can infuse life into a defense. According to Guenther, Nick Vigil will be seeing increased playing time. Also, DeShawn Williams could make a cameo appearance. With Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins routinely being double teamed, the addition of Wallace Gilberry could reap dividends.
It’ suddenly 3rd and 11 for this once proud defense that’s used to better rankings. The second half has to be a complete turnaround.
Zampese’s Troops Must Produce
The return of Tyler Eifert is refreshing. The Bengals’ offense will surely get production from the huge target and Andy Dalton will make sure of that. But, what’s encouraging is the way Zampese has gone to the running game. Suddenly, the most forgotten facet of the Bengals’ O is starting to show life again.
Seeing Jeremy Hill rumble through defenders again is a beautiful sight. Watching the speedy Giovani Bernard run off tackle is a thrilling sight. The offense is definitely going to put up numbers under Zamp. But, the red zone scoring has to be there. Running between the 20-yard lines isn’t going to win many games.
Dalton will get stronger as the year progresses. He has a lot to prove. But, in order for him to make a huge statement, he needs time. The development of Cedric Ogbuehi has to get resolved quickly. Unlike Andre Smith’s situation, Ogbuehi has to shine immediately in pass protection and the run game.
There are a ton of things that need to be fixed but the core is still intact. The bottom line is winning the AFC North. To do so, the Bengals need to make every game a do or die scenario. Having that attitude will secure another ticket to the postseason.