AFC North Preview
Here is a preview of each NFL team for the 2012 season. We'll take a look at the offense, defense and special teams, along with key acquisitions and key losses. Let’s take a look at the AFC North and the Cincinnati Bengals.
3)Cincinnati Bengals (9-7 SU, 8-6-2 ATS, third in AFC North)
Key Additions: CB Jason Allen, DE Jamaal Anderson, OG Jacob Bell, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, DE Derrick Harvey, CB Terence Newman, OG Travelle Wharton.
Key Losses: RB Cedric Benson, WR Andre Caldwell, S Chris Crocker, DE Jonathan Fanene, OG Nate Livings, DE Frostee Rucker.
The Bengals earned a playoff berth last year with a rookie quarterback and rookie wide receiver. That’s because the defense stepped up. The Bengals have done a nice job developing players, especially young players on defense. Cincinnati needed to improve their secondary and they did by adding CB Jason Allen from St. Louis and drafting CB Dre Kirkpatrick out of Alabama. They drafted Marvin Jones from California and Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers to try and plug in the number two receiver hole.
The Bengals are gong as far as the development of quarterback Andy Dalton. The youngster from TCU threw for 3,398 yards with 20 TDs and 13 picks (80.4 qb rating), surpassing most expectations for a rookie starter who was a second-round pick. It did help to have one of the premier rookie wide receivers to come along in years in A.J. Green, who caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and 7 TDs. The Bengals needed to give Green some help and they drafted Mohamed Sanu (6-1, 211) from Rutgers and Marvin Jones (6-2, 199) from Cal to give Dalton more weapons. TE Jermaine Greshman (56 for 596 yds, 6 TDs) became the first Bengals tight end in 30 years to post 50 receptions or more in two straight seasons. At running back, they signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis from New England to replace Cedric Benson. Cincinnati had the 19th-ranked rushing offense last season so Green-Ellis with his size and power should elevate that part of the game. On the offensive line, both tackles are strong led by LT Andrew Whitworth and RT Andre Smith. Smith was finally able to get himself in shape and played in 14 games. The Bengals lost two guards in free agency, with Nate Livings going to Dallas and Mike McGlynn off to Indy. Clint Boling, last year’s fourth-rounder started three games but struggled last season as a rookie and Travelle Wharton adds some experience. They drafted Kevin Zeitler (6-3, 322) in the first round and he will start right away at right guard.
The defense ranked 7th in the NFL in yards allowed per game and they were 9th against the pass. It all starts up front in the 4-3 defense where DT Geno Atkins (6-1, 293) put up 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. NT Domato Peko (6-3, 318) is their best run-stoper, who recorded 66 tackles and 2.5 sacks. DT Devon Still (6-5, 307) was drafted in the second round from Penn State and could add some pass rush from the interior. DE Robert Geathers (6-3, 280) is solid but unspectacular while Michael Johnson (6-7, 260) had 5.5 sacks but was replaced by Frostee Rucker (4 sacks), who left for Cleveland. Carlos Dunlap (6-6, 277) is more of a situational pass rusher. At linebacker, they struggled against the run in the second half of the season. Thomas Howard (6-3, 240) led the team in tackles with 99 and forced two fumbles. MLB Rey Maualuga (6-2, 255) did record 88 tackles but mised a ton of tackles as well. OLB Manny Lawson (6-5, 240) was solid in pass coverage. At cornerback, Leon Hall is coming back off an Achilles injury after playing just nine games. They needed some reinforcements here and they got some with the drafting of Kirkpatrick (6-2, 186), a potential shutdown corner with great size. Allen can help in nickel situations and 36-year old Nate Clements can hold the fort until Kirkpatrick is ready. CB Terrence Newman also adds some depth from the Cowboys. The safeties are ordinary as FS Reggie Nelson was solid with four picks and 85 tackles. SS Taylor Mays could finally get a shot with Chris Crocker gone.
The Bengals have a very good kicker in Mike Nugent, who made 33-38 kicks but missed four of them in the final three games. Punter Kevin Huber averaged 44 yards per punt and nailed 24 inside the 20. The return game was excellent, led by Brandon Tate, who averaged 10.6 yards per punt return with one touchdown and 23.8 yards per kick return. They could use help there on kick returns.
The Bengals should improve though their schedule is pretty tough. A lot will depend on whether Dalton continues to improve. They are definitely one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL.