Today the summer film series takes a look at Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals are an interesting team offensively for a couple of reasons. I am a huge fan of quarterback Andy Dalton and what he managed to do as a rookie last season getting his team in the playoffs but a player I want to focus on is wide receiver, A.J. Green. Before the 2011 draft, I had a chance to really sit down and study Green while he was at Georgia and I came away so impressed by his natural ability to not only catch the ball but his ability as a route runner. There is little wasted motion in his ability. It is like he is gliding and effortless. He is the type of receiver that covers a lot of ground quickly. His frame is outstanding at 6-4 to carry his routes all over the field. He shows the ability to adjust to any type of pass thrown. Put on a show early in the season against Denver catching 10 passes for 124 yards. The thing that impressed me the most about Green is how comfortable he looked working with Dalton. For being two rookies I thought there were plenty of times where they both were on the same page when it came to executing their plays. In 2012, the Bengals will get back in the lineup the super productive Jordan Shipley who tore his MCL and ACL in the Broncos game last season. Shipley is a quarterback's best friend in his ability as a route runner and his dependable hands.
For the last several years when you think of the Bengals running game you think of Cedric Benson. To his credit, Benson's career got off to a terrible start with the Bears but with the Bengals he was a productive back which surprises me a little bit why they decided to make the change from him to BenJarvus Green-Ellis from the Patriots. Green-Ellis is a downhill runner that is physical with the ball in his hands. His hands are dependable and his pass blocking skill is adequate. At tight end, the Bengals have a stud tight end with Jermaine Gresham. I really do like Gresham's ability to get up the field. Is one of those new tight end's in the NFL that are such a problem to deal with because they are so athletic and their size makes them difficult to match up with. In eight of his 14 games, Gresham had a reception of over 20 yards. Gresham for a big man has nice soft hands to catch the ball. You don't see him fight the ball at all. Like Green and Shipley is a reliable receiver that shows the ability to consistently make plays.
On the offensive line, the Bengals have parted ways with long time guards, Bobbie Williams and Nate Livings. Where they have remained consistent is in the type of players that they have replaced them with. Travelle Wharton is a powerful, point of attack player that shows the ability to get some nice movement in the running game. They also drafted Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler who is similar size to Wharton but is a little better pass blocker. Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are the tackles. Whitworth does a really nice job on that left side matching up against the better rushers in the division. Smith has always had issues with conditioning but when on, can be a load coming off the ball. It's an offensive line that likes to come off the ball and hammer you. They are a zone blocking group and with Green-Ellis running the ball will be difficult to deal with.
I have always had a great deal of respect for Mike Zimmer and what he has been able to do over the years as a defensive coordinator. In 2011, his defense was 9th in the league in points allowed and 5th in the league in sacks. Zimmer has always done an outstanding job of running a pressure defense. The strength of the group is at linebacker. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga was 2nd on the team in tackles and he is one of those guys that is always around the football. Maualuga does a really nice job of playing with his hands and working down the line to get in on the tackle. He is a physical point of attack player and also doesn't give up much in coverage. Weak side linebacker Thomas Howard is the team's leading tackler and if you don't account for him, you will have a great deal of problems. Howard only had three games of 16 where he had three tackles or less. He is more than capable of finding the ball and finishing the play.
On the defensive line, tackle Geno Atkins plays that three technique role that La'Roi Glover use to play in Zimmer's 4-3. Atkins led the club in sacks with 7.5 and can get some serious push inside. Will use his quickness to get off on the snap working against guards that struggle with those types of players. In the secondary, the Bengals drafted one of my favorite corners, Dre' Kirkpatrick from Alabama. I loved the way that Kirkpatrick tackled and what he was able to do in coverage running with his man. As super competitive player, Kirkpatrick should start off in the nickel but could also see some action inside at safety playing with range and a physical game. Kirkpatrick will also get to work with Pacman Jones and a Mike Zimmer favorite, Terence Newman who played like he was broken down last season but Zimmer has always got the best from Newman throughout his career.
The Bengals were a playoff team in 2011 with a rookie quarterback and receiver leading the way. It was a team that had a five game winning streak at one point but it's also a team that lost five of its last eight games. A trip to Ohio in December is never an easy situation after playing the Eagles the week before. If the Cowboys are going to be a playoff team in 2012, it's going to have to find a way to go take this game from the Bengals.