Numbers never lie. When it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals and the success of the franchise, number prove that this is the best the Bengals have been in a long time. But these numbers we speak of are potentially the most deceptive numbers in NFL history. Marvin Lewis, the mastermind of this “success” story show he is a 90-90-1 coach since being hired. It proves that the Bengals have been in the playoffs the past four of five seasons and have claimed division titles, as well as the three straight playoff berths Those numbers are almost Paul Brown like. It’s the 0-5 number that sticks out like a sore thumb. That number is the one which shows Lewis’s playoff record once he has put the Bengals in the post season, and when it boils down to it, the organization’s hopes of moving forward and post the first round of the post season rely on the shoulders of Lewis and Jekyll and Hyde quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bengals as an organization are at a crossroads with the team’s make up, which is some of the best talent on one of the best most balanced rosters in the NFL. Now, with Baltimore getting better, Cleveland hoping to ride the coattails of Johnny Manziel and Pittsburgh hoping it can become a younger team overnight, Cincinnati will still have a stake in the playoff picture in the AFC.
Here are five questions which need to be answered heading into training camp.
WILL THE REAL ANDY DALTON PLEASE STAND UP?
Everything really does ride on the arm of Andy Dalton. After three seasons, this is the crossroads of his career. There are times when he looks like the best quarterback in the 2010 draft class. Then there are times when he looks like he cannot get out of his own way. Cincinnati is blessed to have an amazing receiving corps and what looks like a very strong running game. If the team can find a balance with the running game, then this could be the most balanced offense in the AFC (sorry, Denver).
CAN THE GROUND GAME COEXIST?
The Bengals did something good in the NFL Draft that makes perfect sense. After using a second round pick on the ultra-versatile Giovani Bernard last season, the team followed up with a second round pick on the big, lumbering and aggressive Jeremy Hill of LSU in this year’s draft. Shades of Pete Johnson and James Brooks ran through my head and a smile ran across my face. Now, with new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, this is a team that can use a strong rushing attack to set up a lethal passing game.
HOW WILL THE TEAM WORK WITHOUT ZIMMER, GRUDEN
You could argue that Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden were the best coordinator tandem in the NFL. The NFL took notice and now, these two great innovators are running the ship for the Vikings and Redskins, respectively. The thing that made them so great was Zimmer handed the defense. Gruden made Dalton a solid NFL quarterback and Lewis was there to coach and oversee everything. That may have been one of the reasons the Bengals have been so consistent – excluding the playoffs.
HOW HOT IS THE SEAT THAT MARVIN LEWIS SITS?
It’s hard to look at Marvin Lewis and see a coach who may have to get past the first round of the playoffs to keep his job. At .500 for his career, Lewis has built this team to weather storms and remain strong on offense and defense. According to Fox Sports, Lewis and Brown's relationship has worked well for both. There is no middle man between them. Lewis is under contract through 2015 after signing a one-year extension this past March and unless the Bengals absolutely go into the tank this season he'll be around to fulfill that contract.
IS LOSING MICHAEL JOHNSON THAT SERIOUS?
We all knew he would leave the Bengals. A linebacker turned 3-4 end, Johnson had a solid season in 2013. He got paid a hefty sum (five years, $43.75 million, $24 million guaranteed) by Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Now, the Bengals must find someone to fill his role. The team locked up other top players like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to long-term deals as well as a veteran in Wallace Gilberry who wasn't wanted by Kansas City or Tampa Bay but has fit in perfectly in the Cincinnati scheme (14 sacks in 30 games). They used a second-round pick on Margus Hunt in 2013 and a third-round pick on West Virginia's Will Clarke this year.