So what that HBO and NFL Films has come for a second time to Cincinnati to film the NFL reality series “Hard Knocks”. Does that benefit the players any? Not at all! Is it a distraction? Time will tell! If the message from Head Coach Marvin Lewis gets through to his team, then this show is simply for the fans to enjoy, and Lewis has one thing on his mind: “We’ve got one goal, which is to be world champions. We can’t talk about it, (referring to the presence of the Hard Knocks crew in preseason) now it’s time to do the work. It’s got nothing to do about what the people from NFL Films and HBO are doing; it’s what we are doing. They are going to try and capture that the best that they can. We can’t worry about that.”
The hype is building, and momentum gathering for something special with the Bengals this year. They’ve been solid during the past 2 seasons, making the playoffs both years, but sent packing each time in the first game. If Coach Lewis’ message gets through, the Bengals simply want to win a world championship, only that is good enough!
For the Bengals to be taken seriously this year as a Super Bowl contender, they have to get off to a better start at the beginning of the season. Last year, when they finished 10-6, they were 3-5 in the first half, and then went 7-1 down the stretch. So becoming more consistent out of the gates is key, in order to host a playoff game. If they have to travel to places like Denver, Houston, New England, or Baltimore would make it very difficult to get to the Super Bowl. Look for more consistency from the Bengals this year throughout the regular season.
Defensively the Bengals are very impressive. Boasting perhaps one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, the Bengals front four nicknamed the “Fearsome Foursome”, is probably the best ever in Bengals history as they accounted for 43 of the Bengals team record 51 sacks one season ago. DT Geno Atkins, entering his 3rd season, lead all defensive linemen in the NFL last year, with 12.5 sacks. NT Domata Peko has been the lines leading tackler 4 times in the past 5 seasons. Bookends DE Michael Johnson had 11.5 sacks a season ago, and DE Carlos Dunlap needs to stay healthy. Bengals also drafted in the 2nd round of this years draft DE Margus Hunt from SMU and hope to develop him and add to the depth. With that kind of production from your DL, it allows the linebackers to roam free to make plays.
Two-Time Pro Bowl CB Terrence Newman had some high praises for the linebackers. “The linebacking corps is phenomenal. They make plays in the passing game and running game. They’re big and can run. When you talk football, they’re all smart as hell, too. When Zim (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) asks questions, they rattle off the answers like nothing. It’s impressive.” And Head Coach Marvin Lewis seconds the brainy part. “They’ve got so much upside. They’re not only physically good. They’re very good mentally. Very, very good that way.” MLB Rey Maualuga signed a contract extension this offseason and is incredible in the passing game and led the front seven with 5 passes defensed. WLB Vontaze Burfict led the team in tackles last year with 174 and is looking for bigger and better things entering his second season. Adding to the LB corps this season the Bengals went out and signed LB James Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowl selection with division rival Pittsburgh.
When asked how the adjustment has went from the Steelers to a new system with new terminology now with Cincinnati Harrison had this to say: “Tez (Vontaze Burfict) and Rey (Maualuga) are helping me out with things that I need to know on the field. It’s a switch of positions for me, so to speak, where I’m learning from younger guys.” Coach Lewis feels Harrison is doing well adjusting: “James has done great. It’s been fun. It’s what I expected. Obviously I’ve seen this guy play more football than anybody here. I know the things he was asked to do there (Pittsburgh), the wording and the terminology and how things were created. So I thought it was an easy plug-in here.”
In the back end of the secondary, there are very good veterans on the corner, with CB Leon Hall, CB Terrence Newman, and CB Adam Jones, who also secures a spot in the kick return game. Locking down the FS spot is Reggie Nelson, while SS is still up for battle between George Iloka, Taylor Mays, and Jeremy Miles. The defense as a whole is rock solid and as good as any in the NFL, as last year they finished with the 6th best defense.
Offensively, the Bengals need to become more consistent, and need to develop and more consistent rushing attack. It seems to becoming a RB by committee in Cincinnati, as currently RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis currently #1 on the depth chart, but Rookie RB Giovani Bernard was selected in the 2nd round in this past years draft to do big things and help with the rushing attack. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden thinks Bernard can help right away. “He’s got great feet. He’s short (5-9), but strong, and he’s going to be tough to see in the hole. He’ll bounce around; make a lot of people miss. If he gets in the open field, he’s dangerous. He catches the ball very fluidly” said Gruden.
The offense has 3 returning Pro Bowlers in WR A.J.Green, TE Jermaine Gresham and OT Andrew Whitworth. Green has been out for most of the pre-season with a bruised knee, but no concerns that he’ll be ready to go by the opener in Chicago on Sept. 8. Green is explosive, has tremendous hands, and with his 162 receptions in his first two seasons, are second most for a player in his first two seasons. Green had a streak last season of nine straight games with at least one TD.
While QB Andy Dalton didn’t get back to the Pro Bowl last year, he did have better numbers then he did in his rookie season Pro Bowl year of 2011. Everyone knows that the QB position is the most scrutinized position on the team, and Dalton is very good at times. So critics are wondering will Dalton go from good to elite? A QB is ultimately judged on by the team’s overall success, and the Bengals need to win in the playoffs before the pundits say Dalton has made that next step. Coach Lewis talks about what he expects of the rest of team rather than putting the entire load on his QB. Lewis says, “The pressure of expectations is not all on Andy. It’s on the other 10 guys on offense to step up and support him, and it’s on us as coaches to do a better job.”
So the Bengals went out and got him a few more weapons, one we already mentioned in rookie RB Bernard. But before selecting Bernard, they got a huge weapon in TE Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame, their 1st selection in the draft. The Bengals already had a Pro Bowl TE in Jermaine Gresham, so why use your 1st pick for another TE. Because Eifert is considered by many a can’t miss prospect. And already in the pre-season you see both on the field together with a double TE set, much like New England’s Tom Brady has enjoyed for so long. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has noticed a nice pattern developing in training camp between Eifert and Dalton. “Tyler is already making a good mark on the quarterback; the the important thing. You bring people in here, and we can sell them all we want to, but it’s up to the players to gain each others’ trust. Both these guys are already starting to see a trust factor. Tyler is going to get better. He’ll have a better understanding the longer we go.”
Andy Dalton has accepted a leadership role this offseason, and isn’t afraid to publicly let “WHO DEY NATION” know what his expectations are for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals. “It’s really just our own expectations that matter most. We’ve got a lot going into this year. We’ve got basically everybody back from last year, and we’ve added some new guys who are going to help us out a lot. I’m excited about getting the season going. There hasn’t been a whole lot of learning going on so far – installs, or things like that. Everybody basically knows what we’re doing. That’s going to make us better going into the season. I’m excited to get going. We’ve got a good group.”
Expectations are indeed high in Cincinnati this season.
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