Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals isn’t getting a lot of attention this season. The 35thoverall pick in the 2011 draft has a quarterback rating of 85.0 so far this season, he has already thrown for 12 touchdowns, and he has led his team to five straight victories, but still he struggles for notoriety. Andy Dalton has led a franchise once devoid of hope.
After losing its two most prominent players in Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer, (the latter of which had decided that he would rather not play football than play for the Bengals) Cincinnati fans could hardly have been overwhelmed by the addition of a second round pick out of Texas Christian University. Who could blame a fan base for not being giddy about the fifth quarterback selected in a draft?
A.J. Green is a “freak” according to cornerback Ike Taylor. At the University of Georgia he held more sway over the success of a team and its offense than any other wide receiver in the nation. In his senior year, Georgia went 1-3 in games in which he did not play and 5-3 in games in which he did participate. (His four missed games were due to suspension, not injury.) As the fifth overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft this 6’4” 207lb receiver definitely excited fans more than a second round quarterback, but it was still presumed that a lone rookie receiver would at best be the most talented sailor on a sinking ship.
Cedric Benson is a beast and not just because he is incapable of controlling himself or functioning amicably within society. (See his recent misdemeanor assault case.) He is also a beast because he ran for over a thousand yards in each of the last two seasons and certainly seems to be on pace to do more of the same this season and that is despite already being suspended for a game this past October. (Return to misdemeanor assault case.) Cincinnati Bengal fans would certainly have been optimistic about Cedric Benson this season, but also uneasy about his return to production. How effective could Benson have been expected to be without any other proven offensive threats and a suspension looming that was initially presumed to be at least two games?
All those fears and doubts have been cast aside in the wake of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 6-2 start. The main catalyst may be a defense that is ranked 10thand 2ndagainst the pass and rush, but the biggest surprise remains the productive nature of the offense. A.J. Green’s first catch in the NFL was a touchdown catch. Andy Dalton has started every game this season and already has almost as many completions as freckles and Cedric Benson continues to grind out yards with consistency.
The problem coming for the Cincinnati Bengals is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals have yet to face a defensive unit of the Steelers’ caliber and it seems unlikely that they are prepared. A.J. Green will be facing the first shutdown corner of his career, in Ike Taylor. Dalton has had success so far this year, but he has yet to face a defense with the complexity that Dick Lebeau presents. Injury plagued though it may be, the Steelers’ defense will also be putting in front of Dalton a caliber of talent he has yet to experience. Presuming Troy Polamalu will play, Dalton has never seen a player as unpredictable or as dangerous as the strong safety that will be occupying the inner depths of his mind for four terrible quarters on Sunday.
In a game against the San Francisco 49ers, the only other respectable defense they have faced this season, the Cincinnati Bengals scored just eight points. Andy Dalton threw two interceptions and no touchdowns and A.J. Green had just 29 yards receiving. Cedric Benson had 64 yards rushing with 17 carries and 49ers walked away with a 13-8 victory.
There is no reason to believe that this young offense has dramatically improved enough since that September 25thstomping. One would hope that another single digit score is looming for this burgeoning Bengals squad, but who can predict youth. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, this Cincinnati Bengals offense is a unit on the rise and it is one that the Steelers may have to reckon with for the next NFL generation. The one sterling beacon beaming on the horizon for Bengal opponents: Mike Brown will almost certainly screw it up.
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