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07 Apr 2013

State of the Team: Cincinnati Bengals

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW

The Bengals run a pretty conventional offense that, aside from A.J. Green, features pretty conventional players. With somewhat limited resources, Jay Gruden must deliberately manufacture yardage: he must constantly try to overwhelm a defense with things like formation wrinkles, rolled pockets, misdirection and other deception-based concepts. There’s nothing wrong with this approach –- it’s called "good coaching." But it’s important to understand that this offense, though not completely strapped for talent, is not good enough to simply line up and gash teams.

BACKFIELD

QB: Andy Dalton, Josh Johnson, John Skelton
RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman, Dan Herron, Chris Pressley (FB); Lost: Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard

Dalton had a lukewarm sophomore season. After turning the ball over too much in the first eight games, the Bengals scaled things back a bit and asked him to play more conservatively. Consequently, he protected the ball well but left a lot of plays on the field. There’s a fine line between playing judiciously and timidly, and it’s a line Dalton will have to tightrope his entire career. Average arm strength demands that Dalton be willing to pull the trigger on anticipation throws.

Green-Ellis is a very professional runner with limited explosiveness. He’ll gain the yards that are blocked, but if the Bengals want a truly high-impact ground game, they’ll have to find a quicker scatback to compliment the veteran.

RECEIVERS

WR: A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones, Brandon Tate

TE: Jermaine Gresham, Orson Charles

Green is special, and he needs more help around him to fully exploit that. It was remarkable how much attention opposing defenses gave him last season and how little attention they gave all of Cincy’s other wideouts. The imbalance in coverage faced between Green and his supporting cast last season was greater than anywhere else across the NFL, even including Chicago's one-man Brandon Marshall show. It was looking like that might change down the stretch, as Sanu was starting to come along before his season-ending foot injury. If he develops, the Bengals will have a solid possession-type No. 2. The coaching staff loves that Sanu can play outside and inside. This is what keeps him ahead of the more athletic, but less refined, Jones. Hawkins is a nice slot talent, but his lack of size requires his workload to be capped. At tight end, Gresham has the tools, but a poor understanding of how to use them. Focus and consistency are his bugaboos.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Andrew Whitworth LG: Travelle Wharton C: Trevor Robinson RG: Kevin Zeitler RT: Anthony Collins

Backups: Clint Bolling, Kyle Cook; Lost: Andre Smith, Dennis Roland

Whitworth is either at the very bottom of the NFL’s "elite left tackle" list or the very top of the second tier. Wharton missed all of 2012 with a knee injury; if need be, the Bengals can once again survive with Boling at left guard. Robinson and Cook have been taking turns as the starting center. Robinson is younger and will have every chance to snag the job, but so far he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. Zeitler is not immune to mistakes, but consistently showed encouraging power as a playside run-blocker. Will that be the case again this year if the humongous Andre Smith is not beside him?

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW

The Bengals defense gradually improved in 2012, finishing the season as one of the league’s top units. The four-man pass rush was lethargic early on, but coordinator Mike Zimmer did a tremendous job compensating with aggressive blitz packages. By midseason, with guys getting healthier, Cincy had one of the most dynamic front sevens in the league, which helped key many of Zimmer’s zone blitzes. Another improvement was the evolution of safety Reggie Nelson. His ability to make noise in the box offset a somewhat iffy linebacking corps and made this unit, as a whole, schematically complex.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DE: Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers

DT: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Devon Still, Brandon Thompson; Lost: Ma’ake Kemoeatu

If we’re calling J.J. Watt a defensive end, then Atkins is the best defensive tackle in all of football. It’s not even close. Outside, Johnson is a very good athlete, while Dunlap is a great athlete, and both are streaky players who can produce like stars. Inside, Peko allows all these stallions to thrive by taking up space and playing with great lateral strength. There is also good depth, especially after re-signing Gilberry. He's a productive veteran who can play inside or outside.

LINEBACKER

OLB: Vontaze Burfict, Dontay Moch, Emannuel Lamur, Aaron Maybin; Lost: Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson

ILB: Rey Maualuga, J.K. Schaffer; Lost: Dan Skuta

Moch is what everyone feared Burfict would be: a talented athlete who can’t get on the field. That has a chance to change this year, but it’s concerning that it didn’t change at all in 2011 or 2012. Burfict has turned out to be an outstanding college free agent signing. Improved physical conditioning allowed his superb athleticism to shine through. If he continues to hone his football IQ, he could become a star. Lamur is a lean, athletic No. 3 linebacker who surprised the team last season. Can he compete for a full-time role?

SECONDARY

CB: Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Pac-Man Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Jason Allen; Lost: Nate Clements

S: Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays, Jeromey Miles, George Iloka; Lost: Chris Crocker

Hall is very valuable because of his diverse cover skills. He can play man or zone both outside and in the slot. Kirkpatrick was a first-round pick who battled injuries throughout his non-impact rookie season. The Bengals hedged their bets on him by bringing back Newman and Jones, both of whom work well in Zimmer’s system. (Newman had very good game charting stats last season after being horrible in his last couple seasons in Dallas.) Allen has always been too finesse, but he’s able to play safety or corner, which is something this scheme really favors. Perhaps he can assume Clements’ sub-package duties. Nelson’s continually improving range and vociferousness in the box are vital to this defense. The stability he lends at safety is important considering his partner, the big-hitting Mays, lacks discipline. But Mays is a better fit for this scheme than critics give him credit for.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Mike Nugent P: Kevin Huber

It's been long enough that we don't have to make fun of Nugent for getting picked in the second round anymore. Huber was below average in 2010-2011, but very good in 2012.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 07 Apr 2013

12 comments, Last at 28 Apr 2013, 8:28pm by Lelouch vi Britannia

Comments

1
by theslothook :: Sun, 04/07/2013 - 3:12pm

Maybe its the style of offense they run - it being condensed rather than spread that would lead andy to say that no other receiver faces a larger share of attention than green. It's actually quite striking how many teams have all star receivers with a big gaping 0 at the other receiver spots. Calvin Johnson I would think would lead the league in that category, but there is also Fitz, Marshall, and andre johnson.

2
by Theo :: Sun, 04/07/2013 - 8:06pm

"Mays is a better fit for this scheme than critics give him credit for."
I strongly disagree. I've seen the guy be out of position, miss tackles and make angles that just made me wonder why on Earth he was on an NFL team. Sometimes I thought that if he wasn't 6'3 240lb something, he'd be playing Arena Football.
He didn't have a starting job because Crocker, Nelson and Clements (who also played safety) were the safeties.
They've kept Mays but released Crocker and Clements, which either makes me horrified for the Bengals fans or makes me wonder if Mays was playing with injuries that are now healed.

3
by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Sun, 04/07/2013 - 10:47pm

So John Skelton is graded as "adequate," but Kevin Kolb was considered "just a guy" in the Bills report. Is this only because Skelton's third-string and Kolb is first-string or do you actually think that of the two 2012 Cardinals quarterbacks, Skelton is the better player? Not trying to start an argument, I am just curious as to how I should interpret this.

4
by Thok :: Sun, 04/07/2013 - 11:45pm

It's possible you should interpret it as "Cincinnati has better weather than Buffalo."

5
by Kaelik (not verified) :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 12:10am

It is pretty clear that people are being judged based on their place on the depth chart.

That is why a whole host of backups have been ranked as the black solid even though the people above of them are pink just a guy. It is not a statement that most teams in the league have the wrong people as starters.

So yes, I'm sure that Kevin Kolb is a worse starter than John Skelton is a third string backup is what they mean, and they are right.

7
by DEW (not verified) :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 9:44am

That makes sense; it also explains why Matt Moore is green in the Miami listing; as a starter he's just sort of there without being embarrassingly bad, but as a backup he's about as good as you could hope for.

10
by buzzorhowl (not verified) :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 11:37pm

This is a good one as well--I didn't comment at the time but I totally wondered about Matt Moore being rated as green.

Thanks for the responses, everyone!

6
by Theo :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 7:45am

The starters - guys in bold - are being judged differently than their backups, it seems.
Only for the offensive line though, he actually uses a line 'backups' it could be clearer if that happened for all positions.

8
by Noah of Arkadia :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 12:12pm

There's a good one for Tanier's trillion zillion scouting thing: "vociferous in the box".

------
FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

9
by Dean :: Mon, 04/08/2013 - 1:44pm

For a team that hasn't had much postseason successs, there's a surprising amount of talent on this roster. Guess that's what happens when you're in a division with Baltimore.

11
by BJR :: Tue, 04/09/2013 - 2:53pm

There's talent on the defence, especially up-front. The Bengals D-Line (both starters and depth) might be the best in the NFL.

The offence is AJ Green, and a bunch of guys.

12
by Lelouch vi Britannia (not verified) :: Sun, 04/28/2013 - 8:28pm

Don't forget the good OTs now that Smith re-signed.