But that is not to say everything is ideal. As the roster continues to be formed, as plays are installed and as technique is taught, the coaches still have several items on the fix-it list that must be addressed to take the team up another level.
The Passing Game. This one is everyone’s primary concern, but it has to be mentioned because it is so important. The NFC East will not be as forgiving as the NFC West (against whom the Bengals were 3-1), and another 20th ranked passing attack will not net a repeat trip to the playoffs.
The solution isn’t complex: a #2 receiver who is more consistent than Simpson was. Teams could double up on Green because Simpson simply was not enough of a threat on his own. Choosing who that #2 will be, however, will not be easy but will be fun to watch and debate.
The Kick Return Game. Despite Tate being 5th in return yards, the return game was 24th in effectiveness at just 22.8 yds/ret. Special Teams coach Darrin Simmons has to find a returner who can provide more pop on kick returns. With Brandon Tate continuing to generate positive buzz about his performance as the #2 WR, the odds that Simmons was going to be looking for a new kick returner anyway. Choose wisely, Darrin!
Penalties. This is a huge bugaboo with me because the team has struggled with discipline mistakes for several years now. It simply has to stop. The bulk of the onus falls squarely on Paul Alexander’s squad.
Overall, the Bengals were tied for 18th in number of infractions at 99. (122 times the yellow hankie fall on the Bengals, but 23 flags were declined.) Of those 99 penalties, 27 were false starts (6th most in the league) and 22 were offensive holding (3rd most in the league). With two new guards on the O-line, communication, snap counts and working together will be even more important in not getting the offense off-schedule.
It might be tempting to blame all of those false starts on the lack of offseason work, until we note that 16 teams kept their FS calls under 20 for the season, and 8 teams had fewer FS calls than games played. Discipline has to be a primary focus all offseason, and those who cannot maintain discipline ought to slide back on the depth chart.
On a positive note, they only had 1 delay of game penalty in 2011. That was a refreshing departure from recent history in which they had committed 20 DG penalties in the past 3 years, including a mind-boggling 13 in 2009. Every team had at least one DG flag in 2011. Interestingly, the Raiders led the league with 10 delay whistles.
I have not necessarily exhausted the items on the fix-it list, but addressing these three items alone will make the Bengals a tough team to beat.