Watch out folks, the Cincinnati Bengals have sneakily transformed from a joke to an extremely solid team. And maybe you can't buy into them yet because they are 2-1 this season, and one of those wins came against a lowly Pittsburgh Steelers team, but this squad has slowly gotten better each year since they drafted Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in 2011.
Last season, the Cincinnati defense gave up the eighth fewest points per game, ahead of teams like the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals also gave up the sixth fewest yards per game, which proves that this defense is a top-notch crew.
With their 51 sacks last year, they were one away from being tied for the league lead. And although their defense only ranked tied for 16th in the league with 14 interceptions, they ranked fifth in allowing the least amount of receiving touchdowns. In the end, that is the more important stat in measuring a secondary.
So in other words, this defense was just barely short of elite, but they were knocking on the door quite loudly. With names like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Rey Maualuga, James Harrison, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, and Terence Newman, it is evident that this defense is stacked from top to bottom.
The offense on the other hand, may be a tad bit overrated. They ranked 22nd last season in yard per game and 11th in points per game.
Andy Dalton had a decent season, throwing 28 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, but that ranked him 12th in the league for most interceptions thrown. His completion percentage ranked 13th, behind the likes of Christian Ponder. And he ranked 13th in passer rating with a mark of 88.1.
The Bengals are ready to win right now, and every aspect of the team is on board with that maturation process…except Dalton.
All of these numbers aren't horrendous, but they also aren't anything special, either. Granted, the Bengals did not get much from their running game last season, ranking 18th in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per rush. But in the end, this offense was a tiny bit better than average, and that was good enough for them to make the playoffs.
The postseason is when everything fell apart for the Cincinnati offense, and especially Dalton. The Bengals only scored 13 points in their Wild Card Round matchup with the Houston Texans, and Dalton also added an interception in the game with zero touchdowns.
The defense on the other hand, only gave up 20 points to a high-powered Texans offense, which means that the Bengals only needed a decent performance from Dalton and the offense to move on to the next round.
In the 2011 playoffs, Dalton's rookie season, he had an even worse performance, which should have been expected. The Bengals only scored 10 points and Dalton threw zero touchdowns with 3 interceptions.
There are definitely excuses here for Dalton considering he is only in his third year, but this argument really is not about that. The fact is that the Bengals are ready to win right now, and every aspect of the team is on board with that maturation process…except Dalton.
With weapons like A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and the emerging Giovani Bernard, this offense is a top-notch quarterback away from being great. Combine their great and improving offense with an almost elite and improving defense, and you have a Super Bowl contender this season, especially considering how weak the AFC North is with the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens officially deteriorating.
Watching Dalton run the Cincinnati offense is like watching my grandma try to operate a Porsche.
Even with Dalton, this team is almost a lock to win the North, but where can they go from there? Do you really look at this team, led by Dalton, as a Super Bowl contender?
My main problem with Dalton right now, other than the numbers I outlined, is the question whether he has the arm strength to properly utilize his weapons. Watching him run the Cincinnati offense is like watching my grandma try to operate a Porsche.
Sam Quinn, our NBA Editor, recently wrote an article about how the San Diego Chargers and Philip Rivers need to part ways for both of their sakes. Imagine the Bengals' offense being commanded by a level-headed Philip Rivers. He has the arm strength to correctly utilize Green and the crew, and he has the playoff experience to bring down powerhouses like the Texans and Denver Broncos.
Now, the key to this argument is not that Dalton won't ever be able to lead this team to a Super Bowl, but that right now, the odds are highly against him. And that is a problem, because this team is equipped for a Super Bowl run, and with a weak AFC North and AFC in general, this is the season for that run.
Dalton is a decent-to-good quarterback, but history tells us that you have to be good-to-great to win the Super Bowl as a quarterback. Dalton needs more time to grow, but unfortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, their Super Bowl window may be closed by the time he does.