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Five stats

Posted Jul 9, 2013

Looking for the Bengals to take that next step from 9-7 and 10-6? The Great Leap Forward may be steeped in these five stats in all three phases that can put them over the top.


Giovani Bernard

Looking for the Bengals to take that next step from 9-7 and 10-6?

The Great Leap Forward may be steeped in these five stats in all three phases that can put them over the top.

THIRD DOWN

The Bengals were 27th in the NFL at converting third downs (34 percent) and they were worse in the six AFC North games on 25 of 82 for 30 percent.

But offensive coordinator Jay Gruden emerged from the draft with two third-down weapons in receiving tight end Tyler Eifert and pass-catching running back Giovani Bernard.

The more should be the merrier. Quarterback Andy Dalton already feels comfortable enough on third down with the incumbent tight end that Jermaine Gresham led the Bengals with 21 third-down catches, tied for ninth in the AFC.

But Dalton's two third-down backs, Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman, combined for just four third-down catches, all by Leonard. And the starting back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, had none on third down. Meanwhile, Ray Rice of the Ravens and Ronnie Brown of the Chargers led AFC backs with 19 catches on third down.

No one is banking on Bernard catching 61 balls like Rice. But since Kenny Watson caught 52 in 2007, no Bengals back has caught more than 30 passes. Bernard figures to change that some.

SACKS ALLOWED: 51

Just too many for a team that believes it can win it all. The Bengals finished 25th in giving up sacks per pass and gave more than lip service to the time-honored coaching cliché, "Sacks aren't just on the offensive line, but the quarterback, the receivers and the backs."

How else to explain that Pro Football Focus ranked the Bengals the NFL's second-best pass-blocking team? Left tackle Andrew Whitworth graded highest of all the tackles in the PFF pass-blocking rankings and rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler finished eighth among guards. Right tackle Andre Smith and left guard Clint Boling each finished 19th and in the upper third at their positions.

That bit of analysis suggests the Bengals have the stuff up front but need more coordination in the pass game ranging from the pocket to the trenches to the routes. Will another year of experience for the young wide receivers make them more familiar with their hot reads? As Dalton progresses into Year 3, won't his decision-making be quicker to help cut down on sacks? Will a change-of-pace back like Bernard help prevent pass rushers from teeing off?

Here's one of those areas the Bengals hope they can reap the benefits of their kids being in the same system as they head into their third season under Gruden.     

INTERCEPTIONS:  14

Not bad. At No. 15, the Bengals were in the upper half of the NFL. But it was the lowest ranking in any category for a defense that enjoyed its second straight top 7 finish.

When they got them, it sure made things so much easier. The Bengals didn't get a two-pick game until Nov. 4 when cornerback Terence Newman intercepted Peyton Manning in the end zone to give the Bengals a fourth-quarter shot against Denver, and their two picks the next week helped spring the win over Eli Manning's Super Bowl-champion Giants. Cornerback Leon Hall didn't have a pick until Dec. 13, but his 44-yard return woke the Bengals out of a frightful abyss in Philly before his two interception returns marked the only TDs in Cincinnati's two elimination games later in the season.

Does it matter? Of the top five teams in interceptions last year, four didn't make the playoffs.

But does it matter? The Bengals were 7-4 when they had at least one pick (4-1 on the road) and 2-1 with multiple interceptions.  

And they'll be looking to replace the three lost with the departure of safety Chris Crocker, along with Reggie Nelson, the team's co-leader.

RUSHING TDs: 11

The Bengals are on the right track with The Law Firm after their most since 2006. But it's not a number that matches up with the elite offenses, except for the dozen posted by the fourth-ranked Broncos and the 10 by the second-ranked Saints. But you can do that when your quarterbacks are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, respectively.

The top-ranked Patriots scheme helped out Tom Brady with 25 rushing TDs, RGIII dashed fifth-ranked Washington to 22 and the third-ranked Lions ran for 17 TDs. It is the answer to every red zone woe, where the Bengals finished 16th.

The Final Four consisted of the Ravens (17 rushing TDs) vs. the Pats and the 49ers (17) vs. the Falcons. The Bengals haven't had 17 rushing TDs in a season since the '97 club put up 23. The average rushing TDs for the NFL's top 10 offenses last season?

15.

KICKOFF RETURN AVERAGE

If you want to call it a blemish, it is the only one on a sterling 2012 for the Bengals special teams. Add up their league rankings in the kicking game's 10 major categories and their number of 115 led the NFL in an effort spurred by Kevin Huber's best season ever by a Bengals punter and coordinator Darrin Simmons's seemingly endless supply of cover players.

Cincinnati's 19th ranking returning kickoffs and 20th ranking covering them were the club's lowest finishes, and the Bengals still finished 15th in the NFL when it came to the opponents average drive start. But Cincinnati's average was doomed by its worst play of the season, Denver wide receiver Trindon Holliday's 105-yard kick return that opened the second half and put the Bengals in a 17-3 hole that was just too big to extract themselves.

On the other side, Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate finished a competent 13th in NFL kick returns, but nothing longer than 45 yards. Tate's reliability at returning both kicks and punts makes him tough to beat out, but the Bengals could use some Holliday-like fireworks. As the Broncos found out in a 31-23 game, it was enough for a win.

It's worth noting that the Super Bowl-champion Ravens led the league in kick return average and two others in the top five (No. 2 Seattle and No. 5 Minnesota), made the playoffs.

 

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