The Who Dey nation is up next on ‘Repair My NFL Team’ series.
The Cincinnati Bengals entered this year with Super Bowl aspirations, the same as 31 other NFL teams.
The Bengals began the 2016 campaign shorthanded. They were minus Vonteze Burfect; their best linebacker, due to a four game suspension. Also, tight end Tyler Eifert started the season on the shelf; missing the first 5 games of the season. Eifert is one of the Bengals most explosive players. He’s second to only the perennial Pro Bowler, wide receiver A.J. Green. However, the most impactful loss was that of former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
Offensively the Bengals moved the ball very well, ranking 13th in the NFL in total yards while averaging 356.9 yards per game. That contributed largely to Andy Dalton passing for 4,206 yards, good for 11th best in the league. On the ground, Jeremy Hill rushed for 839 yards with 9 TD.However, Hill averaged under 4 yards per attempt for the second straight year. Hill’s backfield mate, Giovani Bernard ran for 337 yards with 2 TD, adding another 336 yards with 1 TD through the air. Bernard was lost for the last quarter of the season via a torn ACL. Rex Burkhead filled in admirably, but he’s a free agent now.
Cincinnati struggles mightily along the offensive line. Second-year right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was benched several times throughout the season in favor of veteran Eric Winston. Ideally, the Bengals would like to slide young left tackle Eric Fisher into the starting lineup, but he was just as bad as Ogbuehi in 2016. To further complicate things, veteran starters LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler are free agents.
The Bengals offensive woes stemmed from lack of touchdowns and injuries. They were 24th the league in touchdowns scored with just 35 total TD. Losing their best player for the last quarter of the season definitely contributed their scoring deficiencies. A.J. Green ended the season with 964 yards on 66 receptions, with 4 end zone strikes.
Defensively Cincinnati was in the middle of the pack, ranking 17th in total yards. The Bengals finished with just 33 sacks as a team, finishing just 19th in the NFL. The defensive line has seen a dip in production. DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap are still effective, but there is little depth beyond those two. Starting DT Domata Peko is also a free agent.They could use upgrades at middle and strongside linebacker; spots that are currently occupied by athletically limited Ray Maualuga and the aging but productive Karlos Dansby. In the defensive backfield, thier best cover man Dre Kirkpatrick is a free agent. Adam Jones has been a solid corner in the league for years. However, he has probably come to a crossroads with the Bengals due to age and off-field issues. They need to get younger at corner, as well as more athletic at safety.
KEY FREE AGENTS
Andrew Whitworth, LT
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB
Kevin Zeitler, RG
Brandon LaFell, WR
Rex Burkhead, RB
Domata Peko, DT
Wallace Gilberry, DL
Karlos Dansby, LB
Eric Winston, OL
Cedric Peerman, RB
Margus Hunt, DE
Chykie Brown, CB
POSSIBLE FIRST ROUND DRAFT TARGETS (9th PICK)
EDGE / DL Solomon Thomas
Let’s sum this up!! The Bengals are a very talented team. Their 6-10 record was contributed largely by injuries. The off season is much desired, mostly allowing the injured players to heal properly. However, Cincinnati will potentially be hit hard by free agency this off-season, with as many as 7 starters able to test the market. The Bengals need to replace its middle and strong linebackers. Also, they need to acquire a young corner as well as a rangy safety. Improvements along the offensive line are needed as well…whether internally or externally.