Know Your Enemy trudges forward with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals had a down year in 2016 under long time coach Marvin Lewis and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years. The Bengals finished with a 6-9-1 record for 2016.
The Bengals offense struggled in 2016 with Andy Dalton at the helm and plenty of weapon injuries (Eifert and Green). They scored 20.3 PPG which was 24th in the league after Ken Zampese took over OC duties for Hue Jackson (Cle HC). They were 13th in the league with 1,769 rushing yards at 4.0 YPC. Dalton earned a 91.5 QB rating with 7.5 YPA on 563 attempts. He tossed 18 TDs with only 8 interceptions on the year. Dalton kept the Bengals close but couldn’t get their offense over the edge last season.
The Bengals defense was much better allowing only 19.7 PPG for 8th best in the league under DC Paul Guenther. Cincinnati forced 20 turnovers and gave away 17 on the year. They were 5th best in the league allowing only an 83.1 QB rating. The Bengals defense is tough to score and move the ball against.
The Bengals had some injuries in 2016 with their weapons and lost Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu in free agency prior to 2016. Cincinnati decided to restock by adding speedster John Ross in Round 1 of the 2017 draft. Ross can fly and broke the combine 40 record.
AJ Green returns after a down year in only 10 games but should be a monster number 1 WR again. Tyler Eifert is a good tight end and Tyler Boyd should grow in year 2 after a 601 yard 1 TD rookie season.
Brandon Lafell has talent and added 862 yards and 6 TDs on 106 targets. Josh Malone was drafted in Round 4 as well with some speed on his plate. Giovanni Bernard is a good running back receiving option.
The Bengals have plenty of weapons for Andy Dalton. Dalton needs to take a step forward with more TDs. Cincinnati looks forward to a healthy Tyler Eifert (394 yard/5 TDS in 8 games) and AJ Green (964 yards/4 TDs in 10 games) to add more TDs and yards for Dalton and get back to his 100+ rating from 2015.
The Bengals pass rush was inconsistent but they got good play from their back 7. Dre Kirkpatrick was re-signed and former 1st round pick Darqueze Dennard should be counted on to be a starter in 2017. Adam Jones is a good slot cornerback despite some off-field antics in his past. George Illoka and Shawn Williams is a good safety combo as well. Josh Shaw could battle Dennard for playing time.
Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey are good linebackers in support of run defense and coverage. Kevin Minter is a solid ILB added from the Cardinals to take over for Rey Maulaga (cut). Marquis Flowers could challenge for some playing time at SAM as well. The Bengals have a strong back 7 and it shows with their passer rating allowed.
Pass Rush Pieces
The Bengals disappointed in pass rush in 2016 but Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins had good seasons. Dunlap had 8 sacks and Atkins chipped in 9 sacks in 2016 with consistent pass rush. Atkins is a beast 3-tech and Dunlap brings a strong consistent pass rush.
Michael Johnson (3.5 sacks) disappointed in his second year of return to the Bengals; but will be challenged by mid-round rookies in Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis. Wallace Gilberry is a below average player with age but is a decent 5th DE. Ryan Glasgow was added in Round 4 at DT to join Atkins, Pat Sims, Andrew Billings and Marcus Hardison at DT. The Bengals hope these young defensive linemen aid Atkins and Dunlap to boost their inconsistent pass rush.
Dalton can be a good QB. He had 106 rating in 2015 but fell to 91.5 in 2016. Dalton earned mid- 80s ratings in 2012-2014 but still made the playoffs with defense and a run game. Dalton should have the weapons and run game and defensive support for 2017. However, he may not have the protection to succeed in 2017.
The Bengals ran the ball well with 1,769 yards but were not very efficient with their top two backs. Jeremy Hill had 839 yards on 222 carries at only 3.8 YPC but added 9 TDs. Giovanni Bernard added only 3.7 YPC on 91 carries.
Rex Burkhead had 4.6 YPC but left for the Patriots in free agency. Finally, the Bengals hope to knock out the competition with Joe Mixon. Mixon was drafted in Round 2 despite off-field issues of hitting a woman on tape. He is a good prospect and could boost the Bengals running game if he stays out of trouble.
The Bengals offensive line was strong and took two big hits in free agency. They lost long time left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth was the second ranked LT in the league. The Bengals also lost top 10 rated guard Kevin Zeitler to the Browns. The Bengals replace Whitworth with former first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi. Zeitler is replaced by the return of Andre Smith. Smith was up and down as a right tackle for the Bengals over the years and failed with the Vikings before injury in 2016. Smith will get a chance at guard. Jake Fisher struggled as a rookie at right tackle but Clint Boling and Russell Bodine are solid at left guard and center. JJ Dielman was drafted in Round 5 to help out at guard and center. The Bengals have a lot of question on the offensive line which could be a problem for a non-mobile Dalton.
The Bengals gave up 4.4 YPC in 2016. Teams can run on the Bengals despite strong LBs and defensive line pieces. We will see if that continues in 2017.
The Bengals travel to Green Bay in Week 3 and to Minnesota in Week 15. Cincinnati hosts Chicago in Week 14 and the Lions in Week 16 on Christmas Eve. Most of the North won’t face the Bengals until late in the season. They are a tough team due to defense and plenty of new weapons for a capable Andy Dalton. They could be a problem for all four North teams. The Bengals went 4-3-1 at home last season and only 2-6 on the road. Chicago and Detroit could have tougher matchups in the Bengals Jungle late in the season. Any team that made the playoffs five of the last six seasons can’t be overlooked.