When a team has a breakout year, like the Cincinnati Bengals did last season, the expectations are high. The bar is raised and what was done before has to be even better. The domino effect takes over and things are supposed to snowball into the perfect follow-up campaign.
It’s easy to predict what a team may or may not do, on paper. On the field, things are totally different. In order to bounce back, here are five things the Bengals must do, for a successful playoff run.
Make sure Andy Dalton comes back strong
The magical story that showcased Andy Dalton was perfect. He spoiled it, when he tried to tackle a 300 pound defensive end. His anger was justified. Stephon Tuitt made an incredible circus interception, for a big man. The resulting, attempted tackle effectively put him out for the year.
Dalton is recovering and the cast has been removed. But, he has yet to throw a football. In a text message, via the Cincinnati Bengals site, Dalton stated he’s being cautious.
“Not throwing yet because we are being very conservative with it. I feel like I can throw but no reason to push anything right now. I have plenty of time now to get 100 percent.”
Not only do the Bengals need him healthy, they need him at ease with the offense. The departure of Hue Jackson didn’t come as a shock. Ken Zampese should be a smooth transition that should keep the AFC Passing Champion ticking like a Timex.
While most of the praise and accolades were given to Jackson, Zampese was in on the scouting and development of Dalton. They have a rapport that should get even stronger, as the season progresses.
Keep the defense fired up
The Men in Orange and Black made a statement last year. The Bengals defense became one of the most hated– feared and respected – units in the league. Playing at a fierce level, they made sure the team was able to stay in close games until Dalton and the high-powered Bengals offense clicked.
According to Spotrac, three key veterans are able to test the free agent waters. Bringing the defense back at full strength should be a priority for Bengals brass. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is excited about the new season and its challenges. Depleting the core of the NFL’s No. 2 scoring defense shouldn’t be on that list.
Fix the running game
Jeremy Hill’s 2015 campaign was a disappointment. He lacked the power and drive that made him a rookie sensation the year before. Whether it was a sophomore slump or just plain bad timing, his passion was not the same. Running backs coach Kyle Caskey and Zampese will have a Scooby Doo mystery on their hands. A good ground game will open up a the passing game. Get this repaired and the Bengals will be unstoppable.
This sounds like the title of a B horror movie. The sometimes uncontrollable outbursts of Burfict resembled a slasher flick. Getting him reigned in will fall into the hopefully capable hands of Jim Haslett. The Bengals need the heart and grit of their WILL linebacker. What the Bengals don’t need is his ability to go beyond the line. Missing three games should help him realize how important his talents are.
Sweep the division and get a No. 1 seed
This may seem like being greedy, but it could save the Bengals unnecessary heartbreak. By sweeping the division rivals, the playoff road will probably run through Paul Brown Stadium. It could also eliminate a nasty scenario like the Wild Card fiasco that took place on January 9. Taking care of business will get the Bengals a coveted two-week bye. With a few avoidable losses last year, Cincinnati may have been hoisting the Lombardi.
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