Why the Bengals are the real deal

Andy Dalton is our No. 6 QB through Week 3, and Geno Atkins is back to his old self. Will the Bengals have what it takes come January?

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Why the Bengals are the real deal


The Bengals have been building one of the league’s better rosters for a number of years now, but they have never been able to take that next step and win when it matters—in January.

With the team now 3-0 and a game up over the Steelers—who will be facing several weeks without their star quarterback due to a knee injury—can the Bengals now take that next step?

If they do, why now, and not before?

To start, the Dalton-coaster is only going in one direction, for once. Andy Dalton’s career has been a study in consistent inconsistency. He has always graded out as an average quarterback, but usually with massive highs and lows in a season, netting out to a guy who couldn’t raise his game when it mattered. This season, Dalton has been playing well, with no poor games yet, and is currently the sixth-ranked PFF quarterback through three weeks. His passer rating under pressure is 108.9, and when blitzed, it’s a ludicrous 140.0. He has thrown just one interception so far this season, compared to eight touchdowns, and (adjusting for drops) has been accurate on 70.7 percent of his passes.

Nobody has ever doubted that Andy Dalton has ability, but his ability to sustain his best performances has always been an issue. If he can do that this year, the Bengals are instantly a different animal.

Another plus for Cincinnati is the return of Geno Atkins back to his best self. In 2012, there was no better defensive tackle in the game, but the knee injury he suffered derailed that progression as one of the game’s great interior forces. Though he played last year, the Atkins we saw was a mere shadow of his former self; another season removed from that injury, we are seeing the real player emerge once more. Atkins already has three sacks and 12 total pressures over his 154 snaps. He trails only Aaron Donald in our DT grades.

Atkins has the kind of ability that can completely disrupt an offense, both from collapsing the pocket inside as a pass-rushing force, and from blowing up runs with leverage. If he plays to this kind of level all season long, he’ll be right back in the conversation for the best DT in football, and the Bengals will be a much tougher proposition to attack.

The team is bristling with weaponry on offense. The Bengals have always had a pretty good line, but now they have an abundance of skill players too. A.J. Green doesn’t have to be the guy any longer, with Marvin Jones, Giovanni Bernard, and Tyler Eifert, in particular, all capable of conjuring a big play from nowhere at a moment’s notice. Eifert actually had a bit of a nightmare against the Ravens, surrendering a sack and a hit as a pass-protector, dropping one of the two passes sent his way (and catching none), as well as being manhandled as a run blocker, but despite all of that, he still has a positive grade on the season (his previous two games were so good).

This is a team that should be there come January, but that has been the case for awhile. Now they look like a team that can contend for real; the only question remaining is whether a couple of weak links be exposed later in those key matchups. So far, Cincinnati is rolling, and needs to be taken seriously.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I think we have seen this scenario before haven’t we? The Bengals start off great then start believing all the hype about how wonderful they are and then it all goes south on them.

    • Zack23

      Losing playoff games means “it all goes south”? This isn’t starting 4-0 and finishing 8-8 situation

      • crosseyedlemon

        My point is that the Bengals haven’t been noted in the past as one of those teams that can thrive when facing adversity and overcome significant setbacks. Maybe this years team has the leadership and maturity to do that. Only time will tell.

        • Zack23

          No you said they start off strong, get hyped, then it goes south. They’ve lost in the playoffs. They haven’t choked and gone 0-4 down the stretch. Haven’t lost to some bad team in week 17 to miss playoffs. They’ve lost playoff games, that’s their only adversity, not being successful in the playoffs so far.

          • eYeDEF

            True, but Dalton still was inconsistent during those playoff seasons with times he looked great and others he looked terrible. It kind of made you wonder which one would show up in the playoffs and so far, he’s been nothing short of terrible. If he can stay ascendant without the dips and win enough to land a home playoff game or two against a marginal signal caller instead of facing a shootout scenario hoping to outgun Luck or Rivers he’ll be making it much easier on himself.

          • eYeDEF

            True, but Dalton still was inconsistent during those playoff seasons with times he looked great and others he looked terrible. It kind of made you wonder which one would show up in the playoffs and so far, he’s been nothing short of terrible. If he can stay ascendant without the dips and win enough to land a home playoff game or two against a marginal signal caller instead of facing a shootout scenario hoping to outgun Luck or Rivers he’ll be making it much easier on himself.