The Bengals 2009 offense did not score a ton of points but they got the job done. Carson Palmer had a productive season with 3,094 passing yards, 21 TDs, and 13 interceptions. He was not the dazzling passer he has been in the past, and his mobility looked somewhat limited. Fortunately the Bengals offense was able to share the load. Cedric Benson led the running game, totaling 1,251 rushing yards and 6 TDs. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and did not lose a single fumble (his only fumble was recovered). Chad Ochocinco also had a good season, finishing with 1,047 receiving yards and 9 TDs.
In the offseason Cincinnati signed Antonio Bryant, who had a breakout year with TampaBay in 2008, but took a step backward last season. He has struggled with inconsistency, but has good size and speed and will stretch the field opposite Ochocinco. The Bengals also added to their offense through the draft, selecting TE Jermaine Gresham in the first round. Gresham is a complete tight end who can block and catch. He excels as a receiving threat, with speed to get down the field and excellent hands. He sat out all his senior year at Oklahoma with an ACL injury, but should be ready for the 2010 season. The Bengals do not often incorporate their tight ends into the passing game, but with Gresham as an option that will change. His blocking skills will help in the running game as well. WR Jordan Shipley was also drafted from Texas in the third round, and should contribute as a slot receiver.
The Bengals defense was a big part of the team’s success last year, helping them to finish first in the difficult AFC North. Young cornerback tandem Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph were a smothering force, clamping down on opposing receivers and picking off passes. Each tallied 6 interceptions, with Joseph returning one for a TD in Cincinnati’s 23-20 home victory over Pittsburgh . Hall added two forced fumbles, 24 passes defended and 71 tackles in only his third season. Joseph forced one fumble, defended 20 passes and had 69 tackles. Both corners are physical and fast, and are still getting better. They may have surpassed Green Bay’s Al Harris and Charles Woodson as the best CB tandem in the NFL.
The Bengals linebackers are also talented and young. Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers, former teammates at USC, have come in and contributed immediately. The Cincinnati defense is powerful and physical, a necessity in the AFC North, but they also have speed and swarm to the ball. In 2009 they averaged only 301.4 yards allowed per game (good for 4th in the NFL) and opponents scored only 18.2 points per game. The Bengals got 8 sacks from Antwan Odom, but finished in the middle of the NFL pack in total sacks. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap was drafted from Florida in the 2nd round, and the Bengals hope he can provide some added pressure. Dunlap is very talented, but was considered an underachiever at Florida. Head coach Marvin Lewis has consistently proven himself to be a skilled motivator, and if he can turn Dunlap into a sack machine the Bengals defense will be fearsome.
The Bengals schedule last year was not the most difficult, but they nonetheless deserve lots of credit for winning the AFC North. Their schedule is much harder this year, as they face both Super Bowl teams, New England and San Diego on top of their division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore. It will be an all-out fight to hang on to the division, but their core players are still young. I expect Cincinnati to be in the playoff hunt for many years to come.
2010 Schedule: @New England, Baltimore, @Carolina, @Cleveland, Tampa Bay, bye, @Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh, @Indianapolis, Buffalo, @New York Jets, New Orleans, @Pittsburgh, Cleveland, San Diego, @Baltimore
2010 Record Prediction: 9-7, third in AFC North
The Bengals and Patriots kick off the season against each other September 12th in Foxboro. The Patriots have not lost an opening game since 2003, but this one will be tough. Both squads suffered defeat to wild card teams in the first round of the 2009 playoffs, and will be looking to start this year on a positive note. The team who prepares the best in the preseason, both mentally and physically will have the edge. Key match-ups to watch will be Randy Moss versus the Bengals secondary, and Cedric Benson versus the New England front seven. Cincinnati’s offense is a balanced attack, and the Patriots will have to generate pressure on the quarterback while still clamping down on the run. Winning this game would give the Patriots a lot of momentum going into their week two away game against the Jets.