There comes a time in every Cincinnati Bengals fan’s life (Usually around playoff time every year), when you ask yourself “Why in the world am I still a fan of this team?” It is agreed that being a Bengals fan is very frustrating most times. Common conversation among Bengals enthusiasts and enemies alike sounds something like this:
-Honestly, I just want them to win 1 playoff game. I don’t care if they lose the next 7 in a row again after that.
-Monday Morning: Did you hear the news? Pac-Man Jones made it through the weekend without getting arrested.
-Maybe this will be the year Marvin Lewis finally gets fired!
-Vontaze Burfict is only suspended the first 3 games this year so we should get off to a hot start.
-The Bengals should have beat the Steelers in the 2015 Wild Card game. Joey Porter should have been flagged too. The refs definitely fixed the game ,etc, etc.
Here is why there is still hope, that this core group of players still can get the job done come playoff time when it counts.
First, the main issue is the health of 4 of their key offensive playmakers (Andy Dalton, Gio Bernard, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert). Since 2013 the Bengals have had 67 games, regular and post season. These 4 players have only been on the field together during 32 of these games. For those of you counting at home that is just under 48% of games. The Bengals still have been productive enough to make the playoffs 3 out of 4 years and win the division twice. Digging a little deeper into the statistics of the games that they missed we discovered that their record when all 4 players are healthy at the same time drastically improved.
Cincinnati Bengals record involving Andy Dalton, Gio Bernard, AJ Green, and Tyler Eifert since 2013:
-With all 4 players on the field: 21-10-1
-With 1 player out: 9-7
-With 2 players out: 7-8-1
-With 3 players out: 1-2
The Bengals have shown that they can compete with the best teams in the league week in and week out during the regular season, but key injuries have taken a toll on this team through the past 4 years.
Looking deeper at when the Bengals played four traditionally good teams in the AFC (New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens).
-Their overall record against these teams: 10-13
–Overall record when all 4 players are on the field: 5-2
-When Eifert is out: 4-7
-When Bernard is out: 1-4
-When Dalton is out: 1-3
-When Green is out: 2-2
-When multiple players are out: 2-5
This team can not only compete, but play a major role in the AFC this year. Only if they can avoid having a key player miss extended playing time. Add in playmakers like John Ross and Joe Mixon and this team has the potential to surprise a lot of fans.
The Bengals opened eyes around the league during the 2017 draft going with speedster WR John Ross, Washington in the 1st round and knockout specialist RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma in the 2nd round. These picks, while exciting, failed to address a glaring need that is the offensive line. It will prove difficult to get our playmakers “the damn ball” without adequate and capable blocking for the runningbacks and Andy Dalton.
The Bengals only utilized one draft pick in the 5th round, JJ Dielman out of Utah. An area that needed the most help, gets nearly none in the 2017 draft.
Of the five current projected starters, only two have over 15 career starts, Russell Bodine and Clint Boling. The bench does have experience though with Andre Smith returning to the team after a season with the Vikings and Eric Winston, who is a rotational player.
The Offensive Line took a major hit in free agency when both LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Keving Zeitler chose to pursue other options.
Whitworth, a 3-time pro bowler, was the heart and soul of the OL unit. He was a class act on and off the field. It will be nearly impossible to replace what Whitworth meant to this team. It is believed the Bengals decided to move on from him to give the young guys a chance to start. It’s a decision they will most likely regret due to Zeitler also leaving via free agency.
Zeitler was a different story. The Bengals believed they could afford and wanted to re-sign him. The issue was the Cleveland Browns backed up the Brinks truck to Zeitler’s front door with a 5-year/$60 million deal the Bengals could not match.
The Bengals would have pursued Whitworth more, if they had known Zeitler would be leaving.
Whitworth agreed to a 3-year/$36 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams and the Bengals are now without their best two Offensive Lineman from last year.
This years options:
We will start at Offensive Tackle, where I believe will become the biggest cause for concern throughout the course of the season.
A 3rd-year, 2nd-round selection out of Oregon is currently penciled in to fill the void left by Whitworth. Fisher only has 4 career starts under his belt in two years of service. Fisher will be expected to provide much needed blindside protection from the get go to Dalton. I believe Fisher will actually turn out to be a bright spot on this young OL, but it will take some time for him to get going.
A 9th-year player out of Alabama is situated to provide a backup role, but could be used more if the young guys slips up early. Smith spent a year with the Vikings before returning to the Bengals this season. It was a year to forget as Smith gave up 2.5 sacks in just 4 games played before landing on the Injured Reserve. Look for Smith to have serious playing time by mid season due to poor performance from one of the starters.
A 3rd-year, 1st-round selection out of Texas A&M is back in line for a starting spot on the right side this year after being benched towards the end of the season last year due to poor performance. Ogbuehi gave up 7.5 sacks and 40 total QB pressures in 12 starts before being benched for Fisher. Ogbuehi has been disappointing and this position worries me the most on an Offensive Line that has many worries. I look for Smith to replace Ogbuehi as the starting RT by mid season.
The 12-year veteran, players union president, is a quality bench filler. Winston has not performed well enough when given extensive playing time, but can be efficient enough to fill in for a game or two while a starter is out with an injury. Look for Winston to fill the same role this season unless one of the undrafted FA’s impresses enough to put his job in jeopardy.
The Offensive Guard position has one spot solidified, but questions remain about the overall depth of the position.
A 7th year guard with 77 starts under his belt. Boling is the most steady member of the 2017 OL unit. Boling is not flashy, but continues to get the job done well enough. Boling did give up 5 sacks last year, but he should rebound this year to become the leader of this Offensive Line.
A 3rd year backup, with 1 game of experience, who will need to fight to make the roster.
Westerman is a 2nd year guard out of Arizona State. The Bengals may choose to move Smith to Guard if Westerman is not ready yet. He only had one game of experience last year. He will need to show he is ready for a full-time gig.
Another 2nd year guy, that spent last season on the practice squad. He will most likely wind up back on the practice squad this year.
A 4th year starter out of UNC, Bodine has not missed a start since entering the league. That does not mean he has played well for all of those starts. He struggled more than usual last year giving up 4.5 sacks. Bodine will need to better as the Bengals drafted a Center, JJ Dielman, in the 5th round of this years draft.
Dielman is a rookie from Utah, he was selected in the 5th round. He will push Bodine for playing all year.
A 4th year backup with only 1 career start, he will need to improve to secure a roster spot.
Undrafted Free Agency signees
-Landon Lechler, OT, North Dakota State. I believe the 6’8” Lechler has a strong chance to make the team out of training camp. A good training camp for Lechler could push underwhelming starters, Fisher and Ogbuehi for playing time.
-Dustin Stanton, OG, Oregon State
-Kent Perkins, OT, Texas.
Overall, the Cincinnati Bengals will be an improved team in 2017, but the Offensive Line unit will need to be much better than expected if this team has any plans, other than vacation, come playoff time.