Despite an inconsistent offense, the Cincinnati Bengals are capable of doing just enough to win tight games when they matter most. Thus far, the Bengals largest margin of victory has been just ten points (this two score victory came against the now 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers). Luckily, the Bengals have a well-rounded defense that is capable of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks while their quick witted secondary has proven they can disrupt big plays at critical moments. While the Bengals may not be the best team in the AFC conference, they are currently leading a surprisingly competitive division, which, if they can remain relatively consistent, will be enough to give them their third consecutive playoff berth.
Out of all the quarterbacks in the NFL, Andy Dalton is the ultimate enigma. Within a two-week span, Dalton is capable of being a supreme passer at one moment (see overtime victory against the buffalo bills) while regressing to being a mediocre passer in the next instance (see game against the Cleveland Browns). With that being said, Dalton has been able to correct his errors on the fly more so than he did last season. So far, Dalton has only thrown more than one interception in a single game (threw two interceptions in the Bengals first game against the Chicago Bears) and has only completed less than 65% of his passes on two occasions. Although Dalton may not be an elite or even stellar passer, he has proven that he can confidently make adjustments when they are needed.
Yet, even with Dalton’s new found poise and uplifting demeanor, it is the Bengals balanced and tenacious defense that has allowed Dalton to obtain his renewed confidence in his abilities. The Bengals defensive front is not only more formidable and powerful, it is also impressively well built with young line backers like Vontaze Burfict (61 tackles, 1 INT) and Rey Maualuga (42 tackles). The youthfulness and quickness of these determined linebackers has resulted in the Bengals having a respectable run defense that can demolish offensive lines while quickly seeking out a potentially critical rushing attack (they are 11th in the league at stopping the rush)
While the Bengals defensive front has done an admirable job at squelching big rushing plays, their secondary is even better. The Bengals cornerback’s corps has stepped up immensely when it comes to forcing decisive turnovers with standouts such as Adam Jones (24 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT) and Terrence Newman (29 tackles, 1 INT). While the Bengals safeties may not have the statistical accolades to compete with their aggressive corners, they still do an exceptional job at locking down favored receivers and are capable at honing in on the ball for an interception when it matters most.
Although the Bengals much improved defense is definitely an encouraging sign of things to come for this franchise, they still have to contend with two tough divisional opponents in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. While the Steelers 1-4 record may appear to indicate that they are down for the count, they still have a quick and unforgiving secondary (ranked 4th in the NFL) and a passing game that is still developing and could be the Steelers saving grace later in the season (Steelers are ranked 7th in the passing yards). Like the Steelers, the Ravens also have a formidable albeit young defense that has the athleticism and talent to put constant pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens passing is also slowing improving, as they are currently 12th in the NFL in passing yards. While the Bengals have already handed the Steelers a decisive defeat, the Bengals have yet to play a Baltimore Ravens team that is known for it’s relentlessness and intuitiveness when it comes to making improvements on their game plan.
When all is said and done, the Bengals have all the components on their roster to win their division. Although to road to supremacy will be a difficult and arduous excursion, Dalton has provided a leadership foundation with which to propel his team to a new level of success. If the Bengals can continue to correct their mistakes while allowing their young defense to play smash mouth football, they have a reasonable shot at being division champions for the first time since 2009.