Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NFL season. This team-by-team preview details why your favorite franchise might have to start looking forward to next year — and highlights at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today, we’ll talk about one of the most hapless franchises in professional sports.
Like much of the 2013-14 NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals play in a competitive division. Will the Browns build on their surprisingly successful 2012 campaign? Will the Steelers do that thing they do every three or four seasons and “be good at football”? Will the Joe Flacco have anyone to throw the damn ball to? All fair questions, and all relevant to the success of this year’s Cincinnati Bengals.
There’s no denying the up-and-coming air this team has about it. A successful quarterback/wide receiver combo from the same draft class, a bolstered defense featuring names like James Harrison, Carlos Dunlap, and something called a “Vontaze Burfict,” as well as an excellent 2013 draft — I find it hard to make a case that there’s anything THAT wrong. Could it be that they aren’t screwed?
Could it be that the wind is at their backs and they’re poised for the first serious run at a Super Bowl since 2009?
Before we just hand the Bengals the Lombardi trophy, let’s talk about their running back situation. Last year, Benjarvus Green-Ellis touched the ball 278 times, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. That’s good enough for 27th in the league.
You can make your own judgement about whether or not those numbers are sufficient for a championship caliber team, but the Bengals already have handed down their ruling: No bueno, nesecito un otro running backo. (Not sure why they did it in broken Spanish.)
So they drafted Giovanni Bernard in the second round as a solution. Giovanni who? Ya, that’s like fixing a leaky boat by chewing gum and shoving it in the holes. Out of the University of North Carolina, he actually was the first running back selected in the draft, which says one of two things:
1) 2013 was a terrible class of running backs.
2) The Bengals know they have a serious problem at the position.
It’d be a huge leap to think this guy will dramatically change the ground game for Head Coach Marvin “Yep I’m still here for some reason” Lewis. Sold as one of those veteran-trains-rookie-drafted-to-replace-him shindigs, the Bernard/Green-Ellis RB situation will undoubtedly be something their AFC North opponents will look to exploit.
I digress. The move was made, in part at least, to beef up their “big play” potential (wowie-kazowie this Bernard kid catches balls out of the backfield holy shit!). Coupled with first round tight end Tyler Eifert, the Bengals are aiming to becoming an explosive offensive juggernaut. Sound familiar? That’s because they’ve done this before and it didn’t work. Remember that Carson Palmer/Chad Johnson/T.J. Whoseyourmama/Chris Henry stretch in the mid-2000’s? Who was their running back then? Give up?
Answer: Rudi Johnson.
If I was a Cincinnati Bengals fan, I’d say same-shit-different-day with this strategy. A super high-powered passing game with much left to be decided in terms of running the football is like only taking threes and expecting to shoot your way through the NCAA Tournament. I should know — I’m a Knicks fan, they set an NBA record for threes made last year, and look where it got them. All you have to do is run into a savvy defense or simply get cold for a game and bang, the whole season is over. Without the ability to reliably hand the ball off to an established, capable back, you can’t manage the clock or the game or slug it out in the way AFC North teams often do. Maybe that’s why Vegas gives you guys an over/under of 8.5 wins this season?
Or maybe it’s just because you’re the fucking Bengals. Ya, I’d say that’s the definition of pretty much screwed…
Why you might not be screwed: Your defense, which already was ranked 7th in rushing yards allowed and 12th in passing, got better and no one all that important left in free agency. More importantly, A.J. Green is unanimously considered the third best wide receiver in football, and Andy Dalton and he are going to be a killer duo for a long time. So you’ve got that going for you…
Actual season prediction: 10-6. Make some noise in the playoffs with a first round win. Then lose to a better, more experienced team.