As a Steeler fan it is sad to admit that in 2015 even I for the first time had a thought that there is a chance the Bengals could win the Superbowl this year. It was coming off an 8-0 start that included wins over the aforementioned Steelers, the Chiefs and the Seahawks. Then after their bye, the same old Bengals thoughts took over all of those Super Bowl dreams when Andy Dalton laid an egg in a 10-6 home loss to the Houston Texans. The Bengals got to 10-2 before a disappointing home loss to the Steelers cleared out most of the Bengal band wagon. It was because Dalton was ruled out in that game with a thumb injury that he never returned from. AJ McCarron showed how important it is to have a good team around you in going 2-1 in the regular season before the same old Bengals emerged in their second home loss to the Steelers.
Marv is the same old Marv at this point. There can be something said that a decent number of his coordinators are now coaches, or at least in jobs of higher authority because of him. But at the same time it seems like he may have peaked with this team. Many brought up the play of Odell Beckham against the Panthers being a sign Tom Coughlin showing lack of sense of the times, but Lewis heard little when he kept Vontaze Burfict, who literally cost his team a playoff game, in that game after the sideline reporter said that Burfict was so mad he had to restrained by his own coaches in third quarter. The team also has lost their second offensive coordinator in as many years, and lost their defensive backs coach to a promotion in Miami. Paul Guenther in year two with the Bengals took some job oppurtunity himself and is back to build up the resume with a very talented defense.
Andy Dalton was legitimately good to start the year. A lot of people mentioned that McCarron hanging in for four full quarters against the Steelers and Broncos was a sign that there was no difference between the two don’t realize that in the first half of the season Dalton would have probably won them those games. Aside from his play against the Texans and his interception that got him hurt against the Steelers Dalton was one of the best quarterbacks in the league and was the final piece that could have put them over the hump. Still, it felt like a Cinderella type of thing and it will be interesting to see if his clock struck in that first loss against the Steelers.
In 2014 it was rookie Jeremy Hill eventually overtaking carries and priority from Gio Bernard, but in 2015 it was a team that was more effective with Bernard on the field. The healthy Tyler Eifert may have been the reason in that Bernard, as well as him free passing lanes, but the real fact is that the two running backs can coexist. Hill is the pounder, and will have to end games, but the opening of the lanes is Bernard. It leaves them set at this position with spark plays from Rex Burkhead, and Cedric Peerman also signed as a special teams player.
Wide Receiver is going to be tricky. AJ Green is the man, make no doubt, and the passing game with thrive with him as well as Tyler Eifert returning. The problem is that Eifert has one year on his rookie deal, and while you want to extend him, both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are free agents. To make it worse, Jones has been a hot commodity in talks, and Sanu has already been linked to his offensive coordinator last year in Cleveland. That is all speculation, but the Bengals are a cheap team. The biggest reason for keeping Marv Lewis is that he has dealt with these issues the entire time. The Bengals will more than likely extend Eifert and see those two leave so all of the sudden you are looking at Mario Alford and James Wright, making wide receiver a potential draft upgrade.
The offensive line in 2015 was also one of the best in the league. Andre Smith is a free agent, and you have to wonder where the Bengals value him compared to the wide receivers. They drafted Cedric Ogbuehi, and Jake Fisher in the first two rounds last year, and that could be assumed as a fill in for Smith, but at the same time Andrew Whitworth is now 34 at left tackle, and only has one year left. If the Bengals aren’t comfortable with one of their picks losing Smith could be a long term blow. Something to watch, as the guards and center are basically locked in, and between the three it is one of the better interiors in the league.
Between Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap you are looking at 24.5 of the team’s 42 sacks. The inside out combo had Atkins playing at one of the highest levels of his career, and had Dunlap playing at his peak at times. The two both could have made the All-Pro team and Atkins did get the honor. Michael Johnson is nice as a pass rusher across from Dunlap, but the question will be if they can resign Wallace Gilberry, who had a really successful season as a pass rusher. On the inside next to Atkins is Domata Peko, who has been there forever, and but like DE, has questions in the depth of the unit with both Brandon Thompson and Pat Sims impending free agent. Honestly, Gilberry, and Sims might be commodities in free agency, like Sanu and Jones, so the question will now be how much can they retain.
While thinking of retaining pieces they need to see that Vincent Rey is due a contract and could join the list of guys on other teams free agent wish list. Vontaze Burfict is the most talented linebacker, but obviously has that hot head that will hold him out for three games next year. Aside from that is Emmanuel Lamur, who showed promise, but is also due a contact, and AJ Hawk and Rey Maualuga, two guys who are both past their prime. It will be interesting to see how they maneuver swapping the old of Hawk and Maualuga and the new of Lamur and Rey while answering questions elsewhere.
The Bengals have to answer questions elsewhere you say? That is not good news when we haven’t even mentioned that starters Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are all free agents. Not to mention, Hall aside, they are coming off of arguably the best years of their careers. The Bengals have been drafting for this, but like at tackle haven’t shown that they are 100% ready to invest in Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick. This is not to mention that losing those safeties could be borderline devastating. Two very underrated pieces that made this defense so talented overall.
Where do they go?
You have to retain as much in house as possible. As I mentioned you are looking at Sanu, Jones, Smith, Lamur, Rey, Jones, Hall, Iloka, and Nelson all are guys who are going to get possibly overpaid if they seek employment elsewhere. The Bengals also have to decide whether to extend Eifert, or wait due to his health, and like we mentioned this isn’t a team that will spend up to the cap to keep the group. They drafted heavily on the line and at corner in the hopes of hitting and now is the time it will need to pay off.