Cincinnati Bengals fans have all seen this before: a team that gets off to an impressive start, only to have it implode before our very eyes, dashing our hopes once again. I wouldn't blame any Bengals fans for being gun-shy about this team. We're less than 365 days removed from "Team Turmoil" where filming reality TV shows were more important than watching game film and in-fighting and back-biting were the rule of the day in the locker room at Paul Brown Stadium. But this team is different.
After a lifetime of pain and suffering with all of you, I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't believe it: the culture down on the river has changed, and for the better. It's safe to believe in this group, Bengals fans. I won't promise you this team will win the Super Bowl this year; heck, i won't promise you'll they'll even make the playoffs, but what you've seen so far you can count on seeing from here on out: a hard-working, prepared team who gives it all they've got to "win a game for Cincinnati."
Defense. This team is built on it. Unlike the Palmer-Ochocinco aerial shows of the past, this one is built with hard-nosed guys in the trenches, and lots of them. This unit is currently ranked number one in the NFL, and judging by their depth and consistency, there's no sign of that changing any time soon. We knew that Mike Zimmer knew what he was doing as soon as he arrived. What we see now are the players he's needed to execute his system. No offense to Dhani Jones, but he just couldn't do the things that Rey Maualuga can. And if Keith Rivers thinks he's going to step back into his old slot, he'd better let Thomas Howard know because he's all over the field, making play after play. The defensive line is deep and aggressive. They are controlling the line of scrimmage against the run and pressuring the quarterback from every angle, allowing a more than competent secondary to do its job. Yes, there have been some blown coverages, including yesterday's 74 yard touchdown that gave Jacksonville the lead. But in between, it's been domination. The old adage says that offense sells tickets while defense wins championships. There's a championship caliber defense in Cincinnati.
The offense isn't selling tickets just yet, ranking 18th in the league in scoring, but it is playing winning football. That means fewer mistakes, and more importantly, not allowing those mistakes to destroy their confidence. Andy Dalton threw a poor ball into the wind yesterday, that was picked off and returned for what looked to be a touchdown. Except Dalton didn't give up on the play and made the saving tackle, allowing his defense to force a field goal. It turned out to be a difference making play.
Despite having rookies at key positions, a new coordinator, and no off season to get acclimated, the Bengals are playing sound football on offense. That will only get better as Dalton and AJ Green get more experience and the whole offense comes together under Gruden's system.
This is a team with a new attitude. No longer do we see finger pointing and hear excuses made. The leaders on both sides of the ball can now speak freely without fear of being "blown off" by certain "stars." Everyone has bought into the system and each other.
Moreover, this is a team that a year ago lost eight games by a touchdown or less, several of those in stunning fourth quarter collapses. This team already has three fourth quarter victories. Yes, they've had two losses where they couldn't close the deal, but we haven't seen any of the self-defeating body language and sniping that we've seen in years past.
The 2011 Bengals aren't the '85 Bears, but they've brought exciting football back to the Queen City. Because of that, they deserve the support of the fans.
I know it's been hard to be a Bengals fan, but this time it's different….really!
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