The Cincinnati Bengals are leading the AFC North and have made the playoffs the last two seasons, yet they are one of the more anonymous power teams in the NFL.
They have invested heavily in offense in recent years and the results have showed, but it is a roster that won't have many Pro Bowlers on it. Much like the Patriots early in the Tom Brady era, the Bengals have succeeded without a plethora of star-power talent on the offense.
Andy Dalton wasn't part of the flurry of quarterbacks taken in the first 12 picks in the first round of the 2011 draft. He was taken in the second round – 23 picks after the Vikings took Christian Ponder. Instead of getting involved in the first-round flurry, they used the fourth pick of the 2011 draft to select wide receiver A.J. Green, who may well be the only Pro Bowl player on the Bengals offense this year.
Even so, it's hard to argue that the Bengals aren't one of the most complete teams in the NFL. They can win on offense. In six of their nine wins, they have scored 27 or more points. They can win on defense. They have allowed 20 points or fewer in seven games. Of their five losses, two of them came on the road in overtime or the Bengals would be in the middle of the chase for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Yet, when you look at their offense, there is a lot of parity among the players and a lot of guys who play critical roles while flying somewhat under the radar.
The Bengals have only one player viewed as a superstar talent (Green). But they have a lot of players who do things very well and embrace their role on the team.
There are only four teams that have five receivers with 40 or more receptions – Denver, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Denver is obvious because Peyton Manning is having a record-setting season. The Falcons have suffered injuries at wide receiver that have forced them to incorporate backups into starting roles. The Steelers had the league's worst rushing offense prior Le'Veon Bell returning from injury and were forced to spread the ball around through the air. But the Bengals? They're just good.
Green leads the team with 87 receptions, but the Bengals have been able to spread the ball around to other receivers, including rookie running back Giovani Bernard (49), tight end Jermaine Gresham (43) and wide receivers Mohamed Sanu (42) and Marvin Jones (40). With two receptions Sunday from tight end Tyler Eifert, the Bengals will be the first (and possibly only) team to have six players with 40 or more receptions. While Green is the star of the group, all six of them have scored touchdowns through the air and Jones leads the team with nine touchdowns.
Dalton has been extremely efficient at quarterback, throwing for 3,649 yards, completing 61.5 percent of his passes and throwing 27 touchdowns, earning a passer rating of 87.6. He has five games with a passer rating of 105.5 or higher and has nine game with two or more touchdown passes.
Just as the passing game has been prolific thanks to players knowing their roles, the same can be said for the rushing offense. The combination of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard has been an impressive tandem in the backfield. Green-Ellis leads the team with 197 carries, 666 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Bernard, an explosive rookie who has been held back, has 144 carries for 653 yards (a 4.5-yard average) and five touchdowns – to go along with three receiving touchdowns. In most cases, a near-50/50 time split doesn't work, but somehow the Bengals make it work.
Perhaps most impressive is how little use kicker Mike Nugent gets. The Bengals have scored 60 times this season – 44 touchdowns and just 16 field goals. When the Bengals get in the red zone, they score touchdowns at a healthy rate. Only two of Nugent's 20 field goal attempts have come from inside 30 yards and only seven have come inside 40 yards. When the Bengals get into scoring position, they typically put seven on the board.
When the national talking heads discuss the Bengals, much of the chatter is about their defense. But it's a roster of offensive players that are able to perform a role without griping or grousing about the extent of their playing time. In short, they're playing team-first football and it shows.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Stats-wise: Bengals take balance to extreme
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