The 2011 Cincinnati Bengals have been the epitome of team play. From the deep rotations on the defensive line to the contributions of all three running backs, Cincinnati has discarded their old reputation as a collection of individuals and embraced the team concept. Because of that, there is a tendency, especially among the media, to gloss over great individual performances. The Bengals have several players who, to this point, have performed at a level deserving of individual recognition.
Geno Atkins leads all NFL defensive tackles with 6.5 sacks. His ability to be a disruptive force up the middle of the defense has been a huge part of the Bengals' success thus far. Last week against Cleveland, Atkins had a key pressure that forced a Colt McCoy interception that ultimately turned the game in the Bengals' favor. And with Cleveland driving, Atkins recorded a sack on a crucial third down that forced the Browns to punt. Atkins name should definitely be in the Pro Bowl mix along with his fellow DT Domata Peko who is second among DTs in tackles with 44.
Mike Nugent is tied for the NFL lead in field goal percentage with Dan Bailey of Dallas. He has converted all but one of his field goal attempts this season. His consistency has been crucial as every one of the Bengals' games thus far has come down to the fourth quarter. Last week, Nugent kicked two key second half field goals that were the margin of victory. He is also sixth in the league in kickoff average with regard to net yards, an honor that is also a testament to outstanding coverage teams. Jeromy Miles and Cedric Peerman each have 10 special teams tackles, tied for 10th in the league.
On offense, Andy Dalton has been magnificent as a rookie quarterback. The only other rookie QB in the conversation with Dalton is Carolina's Cam Newton. Dalton holds a slight edge in QB rating over Newton, 81.8 to 81.1. Dalton has thrown 16 touchdown passes to Newton's 12 and has been intercepted only 12 times to Newton's 14. The most important stat is victories, though. Dalton's Bengals have seven while the Panthers have only three.
AJ Green is far and away the best rookie receiver in the league. Traditionally, it has taken young receivers time to adjust to the NFL game. Not Green. His number of receptions aren't eye popping as he has missed the better part of two games with an injury and is the focal point of opposing defenses. Even so, he's scored six touchdowns and accounted for 745 yards through the air. His presence on the field will make a huge difference this weekend in Pittsburgh. He left the first contest between the two after injuring his knee making an acrobatic touchdown catch.
The Cincinnati Bengals are enjoying team success, but make no mistake, this team has talent. As the regular season draws down, expect more than a few members to receive accolades from the media and their peers.
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