This week we are going to look at our upcoming opponent a little early this week.
Coming into this season, the Bengals are hearing the words "Super Bowl" being whispered around the Queen City. Expectations are high, and the team does have a realistic chance to make a run to New York at the end of this coming season. Let's take a closer look at the cats who wear the stripes:
Running the show for Head Coach Marvin Lewis will be former Katy (TX) High and TCU standout quarterback Andy Dalton. He has led the Bengals into the playoffs during each of his first two seasons. The biggest weapon in Dalton's arsenal will continue to be third year wideout AJ Green, who is coming off of a 1300+ yard season in 2012. His other primary targets include Mohamed Sanu, who was beginning to come into his own last fall before suffering a season ending injury, and Marvin Jones who will be entering his second season in the league. Jones will need to elevate his game this fall to offset the loss of speedy slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, who appears to be headed to IR. You will remember Hawkins as the guy who was runner up to Jesse Holley on 4th and Long. He pulled in 51 balls for the Bengals last year.
Dalton, who does not have the biggest gun in the league despite his nickname, has a solid pair of tight ends to work underneath. Rookie Tyler Eifert joins solid veteran Jermaine Gresham, so we should expect plenty of two tight end looks from the Cincinnati offense. In the backfield, the Bengals feature Benjarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard. It is only a matter of time before the Law Firm becomes second fiddle in Cincinnati.
Except for the center, the Cincinnati offensive line will maintain the status quo. In the middle veteran Kyle Cook and second year man Trevor Robinson are the contenders. Cook, who missed a good portion of the season with an injury, seems to be winning the battle so far. Moving outward, the Bengals have an outstanding pair of young guards: Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler, whom I wanted to see in Dallas. The bookends are slated to be Andrew Whitworth, perhaps the most underrated left tackle in football, and Andre Smith, a 2009 first round selection from Alabama.
Up front Cincinnati has a powerhouse defensive line, which was a key factor in the team recording 51 sacks last season. Inside they have Domata Peko and perhaps the best 4-3 defensive tackle in the league, Geno Atkins. Last year he led the Bengals with 12.5 sacks and was outstanding against the run. At the ends, Cincinnati has Michael Johnson, who was hot on Atkins' trail with 11.5 sacks and both Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers to man the opposite side. Rookie Margus Hunt from SMU will also be in the rotation.
At linebacker the Bengals, who are a 4-3 team, added veteran 3-4 SAM backer James Harrison, the former Steeler. What seems to be a questionable move actually makes sense when you consider that Mike Zimmer, the defensive coordinator, like to apply pressure with his SAM. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, Harrison seemed to be a shell of his former self last season, as injuries have taken their toll on his body. At the WILL spot, Vontaze Burfict played last year with a chip on his shoulder after his draft day free fall. The Bengals were rewarded nicely for their willingness to take a chance on him, and there is no reason to expect less than another stellar season from him. In the middle, Rey Maualuga will be attempting to rebound from two successive dismal seasons. Many Bengals fans were ready to move on from him after last season.
In the defensive secondary Cincinnati has a very good cornerback tandem in Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick, who many draft pundits were linking to Dallas prior to the Pick Six trade up on draft day. Kirkpatrick missed quite a bit of time during his rookie season due to an undiagnosed bout with mattjohnsonitis. The reserve corners are a pair of faces familiar to Cowboys fans: Adam "Pacman" Jones and Terence Newman. At safety they have Reggie Nelson and a guy who was high on my wishlist this spring, Shawn Williams. Williams was the Georgia safety alongside Bacarri Rambo and, in my opinion, the better player.
Place kicker Mike Nugent went 19 of 23 last year, but he does not feature the strongest leg in the world. The Bengal punter, Kevin Huber was fifth in the league in net average. The return guys will be Brandon Tate on kickoffs and Pacman Jones on punts.
On paper, the Bengals look like a serious contender to hoist the Lombardi. They should be a tough test for the Cowboys dress rehearsal, but when I reviewed the ongoing injury reports for the Bengals, I kept seeing a lot of the names listed above. Quite a few of them missed the week two contest and I wonder how many might miss this game due. It will be interesting to see who Marvin Lewis runs out on to the field.