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Fourth Quarter, AFC Wild Card Game, Cincinnati was holding to a slim 16-15 lead.  Antonio Brown catches a pass over the middle, BOOM! Vontaze Burfict drops his shoulder and hits Brown in the head.  A 15-yard penalty is assessed.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Adam Jones gets into it with Steelers coach Joey Porter and another 15-yard penalty is given.  Both penalties allowed Chris Boswell to kick a field goal and win the game for the hated Steelers.  No matter what good Cincinnati tries to do, something bad seems to happen.  Here’s is a closer look at this year’s version of the Bengals.

OFFENSE

Strongest Position/Area:  Quarterback.  Andy Dalton was having a solid season before he went down with injury.  He averaged 240 yards per game and threw 25 touchdowns.  What impressed me about the year Dalton had is his interception numbers went down from 17 to 7 and he completed 52 passes that went for 20+ yards.  Former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson seemed to trust Dalton to attack downfield more.  His backup A.J. McCarron started several games including the wild-card game, and he proved to be a viable backup throwing six touchdowns and two interceptions.  The one question I do have is how much will the offense change for Dalton, if any under new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese?

Weakest Position/Area:  2nd Wide Receiver:  This off-season saw Cincinnati loses two of their three main wide receivers in Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu.   Jones, when healthy, was reliable.  The problem is he has played only one full season in his career.  Sanu, on the other hand, never really reached his potential in my opinion.  He has always been a “third option” with the talent of being a solid “second option”.  Even though these two guys may not be great, those are holes that need to be filled.  I just don’t if they adequately filled those holes.  Brandon LaFell was brought in to challenge for this spot.  He has one year in which he caught more than 50 passes.  A little inconsistent despite having good physical tools.  Tyler Boyd was drafted and is expected to get a long look as well.

DEFENSE

Strongest Position/Area:  Defensive Line.  This front four is nasty!  All four guys combined for 34 of the team’s 42 sacks last season! Geno Atkins is a top 3-5 player at defensive tackle.  Defensive end Carlos Dunlap  and defensive tackle Domata Peko had  career highs in sacks with 13.5 and 5.5 respectively.  This unit spear-headed the Bengals to sixth-best in the league at stopping the run.  Everybody on the line can cause havoc for offenses.  I don’t think they are getting the recognition they deserve.

Weakest Position/Area: Safety.  Reggie Nelson had a career year for the Bengals last season recording eight interceptions.  Now, he is gone.  So how do they manuever? Who moves to free safety, George Iloka or Shaun Williams?  Do either one of them possess the same ball skills or play-making Nelson provided?  These all are interesting questions as we go forward. The overall defense is really solid at all positions.  If the safeties are consistent, the Bengals could end up being a top 5 defense.

Draft Report:  William Jackson III is a good prospect, but I don’t know if Cincinnati needed to draft another cornerback in the first round.  Maybe management is a little weary of Dre’ Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard not being as good as originally thought? Perhaps the Bengals think that in a league where passing has become first they can never have too many corners.  I love the Tyler Boyd pick in round 2.  He was productive despite average to sub-par quarterback play at Pittsburgh.  Andrew Billings is a mammoth of a man at defensive tackle.  He could have a prominent role as a future replacement for Domata Peko.

Spotlight Player: Andy Dalton.  Dalton has certainly had his share of success in this league.  He has put up good enough numbers to guide his team to the playoffs.  I just wonder can he take his game to the next level and become elite?  If he is going to make the leap however, Dalton will have to do it with a relatively new group of receivers, and Tyler Eifert possibly not being fully healthy to start the season.  We will see how Andy performs, but I have a feeling this could be a “make it or break it” season for him and his team as well.

Up Next: Cleveland Browns

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