By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~
The Cincinnati Bengals remain undefeated as they arrive at their bye week. The Bengals tied a franchise record with a 6-0 start, something that has not been accomplished since 1988 when the Bengals last went to the Super Bowl. Before the season started, the media questioned the Bengals’ ability to win big games and Andy Dalton’s abilities as quarterback, and so far the team has answered those questions emphatically.
The Bengals overcame a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter against the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks to win an overtime thriller earlier this season. Previous Bengals teams may have folded, but Andy Dalton remained poised and led his team to victory. Cincinnati knows they still have to win in the playoffs, but they seem better equipped for postseason play than they have been in years.
Dalton’s QB Rating of 116.1 is the best of his career and trails only Tom Brady’s 118.4 rating for the best in the league. Aided by a talented receiving corps and a strong offensive line, the Bengals’ play caller has avoided mistakes by only turning the ball over three times, while amassing 16 total touchdowns. Wide receiver A.J. Green has continued to show that he is one of the game’s top receivers by averaging 88.5 yards per game. When opposing secondaries have tried to cheat toward A.J. Green, receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have shown they are viable options.
Perhaps the biggest improvement on the offense has come at the tight end position where Tyler Eifert is having a breakout year. Eifert is a matchup problem for slower linebackers and smaller safeties, allowing him to find the end zone six times, which ties him for the most receiving touchdowns in the NFL. At running back, Jeremy Hill has overcome a fumble-ridden start to compliment the strong play of Giovani Bernard. Bernard has seen the majority of snaps due to his pass-catching abilities, but Hill has still managed to rush for five touchdowns to lead the team. As the weather gets colder and the competition toughens, the running game will be a key part of the Bengals’ success.
The bye week provides an opportunity for the defense to recover from injuries. Linebacker Vincent Rey, the team’s leading tackler, was injured during its victory over the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 18. In the secondary, Leon Hall and Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones have been banged up, but the younger cornerbacks have stepped up. Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict may return after the break. He has been out since last October with knee injuries.
The menacing defensive line will continue to anchor the unit as Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have combined for 10.5 sacks. The Bengals still have five divisional games remaining on their schedule and their matchup at Pittsburgh on Nov. 1 will be important for securing an AFC North title and a home playoff game.