2012 Team Previews: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals

  • 2011 Record: 9-7 (3rd in AFC North, lost AFC Wild-Card Game to Houston)
  • 2011 Point Differential: +21 (13th out of 32)
  • 2011 Strength of Schedule (per PFR’s SRS system): 0.9 (t-24th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (offense): 5.6 (t-17th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (defense): 5.7 (t-10th)
  • 2011 Adjusted Pythagorean Record (accounting for Strength of Schedule): 8.2-7.8 (18th)
  • 2010 Adjusted Pythagorean Record: 7.4-8.6 (19th)

And now a very special preview of the 2012 Bengals from Super Bowl-winning coach and current ESPN announcer Jon Gruden. Take it away, Coach Gruden!

Well, my fellow pigskin compadres, when I think of up-and-coming franchises that made a TREMONDOUS LEAP FORWARD in 2011, I think of these Cincinnati Bengals. Did you know that THESE GUYS made a jump from four wins to nine wins in JUST ONE YEAR? Just the sort of POSITIVE TURNAROUND you used to see an old ball coach manufacture back in Oakland and Tampa Bay, if you recall. *turns to his right to guffaw with an imaginary Ron Jaworski* Now I’ll tell ya that my HIGH SCHOOL ALGEBRA skills might be a tad rusty, but by my count these CINCINNATI BENGALS won five more games in 2011 than they did in 2010. And should they keep improving at that rate over these next few years, as I fully expect they will, we’re looking at a team that’s going to win TWENTY-NINE GAMES in 2015. Now that’s some job security I ENVY! *chuckles heartily*

And, without a doubt, the biggest reason for this SEISMIC RESHIFTING OF THE AFC NORTH LANDSCAPE is the improved offensive play brought about the new quarterback Andy Dalton, his playmaking wide receiver A.J. Green, and the tremendous new offensive philosophy brought in by new offensive coordinator JAY GRUDEN. These Cincinnati Bengals scored a whopping twenty-two more points in 2011 than they did in 2010. TWENTY-TWO! That type of improvement is INFECTIOUS and lifts the spirit of your entire organization. Just look at the Bengals defense. With their faith SUITABLY RESTORED in their offensive counterparts, they went out and allowed seventy-two fewer points than in 2010. Amazing how a few flare passes in the flat and some six-yard slants can LIFT THE SPIRITS OF MILLIONS. *tears up slightly, juts jaw to counteract these strange feelings* I tell ya, it reminds me GREATLY of the improvement I brought to the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS when I took their head coaching job way back in the year 2002. Anybody want to hazard a guess on how many more points we scored in my first year there? *chuckles, nudges imaginary Mike Tirico* You guessed it all right, TWENTY-TWO. I hardly need to tell you the effect it had on our defense (improved by eighty-four points), our schedule (magically became much easier), and our Super Bowl opponent (caused my good buddy Rich Gannon to horrifically crap his pants). *raises right eyebrow, smirks* What can I say, some of us were just BORN TO INSPIRE.

But getting back to THESE GUYS, the Cincinnati Bengals. Now most of you, I think, already know the OUTSTANDING SECOND-YEAR offensive coordinator of these Cincinnati Bengals is my younger brother Jay. And I gotta say, I’m proud of ‘im, but I’m more than a little surprised at his success. Every last person in the extended Gruden clan loves Jay dearly, but…*raises right eyebrow even higher*…let’s just say he was always lagging behind the BIG DOG so to speak. When I was diagramming six-yard slant plays on the kitchen table with my box of Cheerios, Jay was experiencing violent nosebleeds as a result of picking his nose too much. When I was climbing the coaching ladder and hobnobbing with great coaching minds like Mike Holmgren and Ray Rhodes, Jay was off playing and coaching that little ArenaBall they play there in those basketball arenas. Heck, the only reason I hired him as an assistant when I was coaching in Tampa was because I thought he was at risk of losing his house and getting stabbed by a hobo on the street without that steady paycheck I could provide. So imagine my surprise when I turn on the game film of these Bengals games last year. I’m seeing BONA FIDE WEST COAST PRINCIPLES jumping out at me on that tape. Ideas that would make BILL WALSH HIMSELF rise from the dead and then kill himself again because he would know he could never come up with something so brilliant.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that the vast majority of these plays Jay is using are being lifted directly from my old Tampa playbooks with, in most cases, the same terminology even being used verbatim. But I’m not here to judge Jay. I’m aware if you want to BE THE BEST, you have to learn FROM THE BEST. And, frankly, it gives this old ball coach QUITE A THRILL to see his offensive theories still in practice today and know that his legacy is SECURE AND INTACT. That’s what gives me so much optimism for these Cincinnati Bengals and why I expect them to win something in the area of eight Super Bowls in nine years. And if they somehow find themselves in need of a new coach…*smirks, raises right hand*…I think there’s a certain Super Bowl-winning coach available out there who might be interested in TAKING A STAB at it…*grows visibly agitated*…No, not Bill Parcells, me! *finishes purchase of Icy Hot at neighborhood CVS, leaves in a huff*…

 

Random thoughts

If you’re looking for the biggest reason for the Bengals’ return to the postseason in 2011, look no further than strength of schedule. A year after playing one of the toughest schedules in the league (and finishing 4-12), the Bengals rode one of the easiest schedules in the league to a 9-7 record and a wild-card berth. The team’s jump in Adjusted Pythagorean record, on the other hand, was much more modest…The Bengals offense actually faced a tougher-than-average slate of defenses, so Andy Dalton’s solid-for-a-rookie ANY/A of 5.7 looks even better after taking that in consideration…Of course, much of Dalton’s success came from heaving up prayers to fellow rookie A.J. Green, who was a deserving Pro Bowl selection in his first season. Interestingly, Chase Stuart notes that it is rare for a wideout to have the best rookie season of his draft class and then go on to have the best career of that given class, so it’ll be fascinating to see how Green follows in that trend…While the Bengals’ defense had one of the easiest slates of offenses in the league, there’s no doubt that defensive tackle Geno Atkins had a breakout season, notching 7.5 sacks and becoming a force against the run. At 24, he might be turning into a superstar…

 

Outlook

The Bengals’ win totals have gone up and down dramatically over the past four years: from four in 2008 up to ten and a division title in 2009 back down to four in 2010 back up to nine and a wild-card berth in 2011. The Bengals’ team quality, however, has not greatly deviated in that time period, basically hanging around as a eight-win team that is subject to the whims of its schedule. That trend doesn’t figure to change in 2012. Dalton’s numbers will likely improve in his second year with an easier slate of defenses to face, but the defense will probably fall back below average as a result of having to face the quarterbacks of the NFC East and AFC West. The good news is the AFC looks to be entering a down period, with only the Patriots and Steelers standing out as true Super Bowl contenders and everyone else hanging below them with various levels of major flaws. Thus, a repeat of last year’s nine-win season absolutely could land Cincinnati back in the postseason. Serious title hopes, however, do not appear imminent.

2012 Projected Point Differential: 349.4-357.0

2012 Average Projection: 7.8-8.2 (2nd in AFC North)

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