If you know someone who grew up a Cincinnati Bengals fan in the 1990s, they know the meaning of futility. The team went 52-108 during the decade. The decade of the 2000s wasn’t much better: 68-91-1. The nickname, the Bungles, was very appropriate.
But there is a feeling of a new era in Cincinnati this decade. Much of it comes from the future promise of quarterback Andrew Dalton, who led the Bengals to the playoffs his first two seasons in the league, and a defense on the rise. The Bengals D last season finished sixth in fewest yards allowed. They also sacked the opposing quarterback a team-record 51 times, just one sack behind the league leaders Denver and St. Louis.
The Bengals finished the 2012 regular season winning 7 out of 8 games. They nearly came out of the gate this season with a big win at Chicago. The Bears’ fourth quarter comeback resulted in a 24-21 loss for Cincy.
Where does that lead the Bengals tonight? How about 7 point favorites to beat the Steelers. That’s been unheard of in the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin era.
The Green Bay Packers, who travel to Cincinnati this week for their next game, will be studying the Bengals closely tonight. A few things that I will be looking for in tonight’s Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game:
• Wide receiver A.J. Green is a monster. Green caught two touchdowns against the Bears in week 1. Will the 6-4 Green continue to eat up secondaries? The number one receivers for the Redskins and the 49ers posted huge numbers against the Packers. A healthy Green may be one of the biggest threats to the Packers next Sunday.
• QB Andrew Dalton is a winner. In Dalton’s rookie year in 2011, he threw for 20 touchdowns and had a QB rating of 80. In his second year, he threw for 27 touchdowns and a QB rating of 87. Will Dalton continue to improve in year three? Badgers fans may remember his performance in the Rose Bowl in January 2011, when he led TCU to a victory and became the winningest active quarterback in college football with 42 victories. How will the Steelers play Dalton? Do they play man-to-man coverage and try to force him out of the pocket to make a play with his feet?
• Bengals pass rush is overdue. The defense suffered a letdown against the Bears in the final quarter in Chicago. Will they be more dominant at home against Pittsburgh? Cincy has their “Big Three” in Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and Michael Johnson. They laid an egg in week 1. No sacks.
• Cincy’s secondary is second rate. If the Packers hope to upset the Bengals next week (yes, Cincy is favored at this point), Aaron Rodgers will need to exploit the weaknesses in the Bengal secondary. If Rodgers gets time to throw the ball, there is a good chance for an upset. It will be interesting to see what success Big Ben will have throwing against the Bengals.
• The Bengals have a short week to prepare. As a result of playing tonight, the Bengals have just five days to prepare for the Packers. Any players who get nicked up tonight will have one less day to get healthy. I am not exactly cheering for A.J. Green to pull a hammy, but it might make me smile a little if it happened.
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