The Bengals’ streak of 5 consecutive playoff seasons ended last year when they were only able to win 6 games. Injuries took a huge toll on the team last year, but probably not as much of a toll as free agency did. The Bengals lost wide receivers Sanu and Jones and replaced them with draft pick Tyler Boyd and veteran Brandon Lafell. Both played well as the season went on, but this is a team that lacked speed on offense, and it’s tough to win in any league when you lack speed. So, coming into this offseason the biggest concerns for me were getting more speed at the skill positions and of course the offensive line needed to be upgraded.
The Bengals on offense will be high powered when it comes to skill position players. With the addition of Washington speedster John Ross and Oklahoma’s explosive Joe Mixon at the running back position, they certainly addressed the concern when it comes to speed. A healthy Tyler Eifert and Gio Bernard will give QB Andy Dalton all the weapons a QB could ever want. The question marks for this team on offense will come on the offensive line, as they lost the only two productive linemen they had last year in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Look for returning Bengal Andre Smith to take over Zeitler’s guard position and Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher to man the tackle positions. Ogbuehi was terrible last season but has spent over a month this off-season at the Glazer offensive line camps and will be moving to his natural left tackle position. If the line can be just mediocre, this offense could be among the best in the league.
On defense, the Bengals strengthened the defensive line position in the draft and look for Carl Lawson to be a stud from the get-go. Kevin Minter should make the linebacker corps stronger and Nick Vigil should be able to step up and fill in more this season. Overall, the defensive line should in itself make the rest of the defense stronger. Plus, don’t forget that defensive tackle Andrew Billings and first round draft pick William Jackson will return after missing their entire rookie seasons. Overall, this team could be a real force if they can stay healthy.
Maybe the biggest key, though, will be the coaching. Marvin Lewis has turned the Bengals into a perennial playoff team during his tenure in Cincinnati. While I think he has done a great job to change the culture of losing that has permeated the Bengals, he still has not been able to win a playoff game. You might ask, why is that? I think the blame falls directly on Lewis’s shoulders as this team seems in big moments to either disappear or generally just lose all composure in big situations. Can Lewis correct that? Who knows? Unfortunately, I would not bet on it since the Bengals have had the same problem for the better part of 13 years. If he can somehow change the lack of discipline this team has shown in the past, the talent to make a Super Bowl run is there. If he can’t will he still keep his job? Probably!
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