- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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Happy Fourth of July, everyone. May your days be filled with fireworks, good food and great fellowship as our nation turns another year older.
In keeping with the theme of the holiday, we are devoting this Friday's factoid to the following number: 4.
Of course, we could just as easily have used the number 1,776 to represent the year America declared her independence, but it was a little easier to find a number that correlated with the day's historic date.
The number four represents the Cincinnati Bengals' rank in yards differential per game last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. At an average plus-63 margin, the Bengals gained more yards per game offensively than they gave up per game defensively. Only three other teams had higher average yard differentials: Denver, New Orleans and Seattle.
Coincidentally, the Broncos, Saints and Bengals all had top-10 offenses last season. As a result, it made sense that they generated so many yards per game offensively. The Bengals, Saints and Seahawks also each had top-10 defenses that limited opposing teams from generating yards last season, thus helping widen their positive yards per game margin.
Plain and simple, that is the primary formula to having as wide a yards differential as the four Bengals, Broncos, Seahawks and Saints had in 2013. If you can pair a prolific offense with a good defense, you have a good chance to control the flow of a game, the time of possession of a game, and most importantly, the score of a game. It's no coincidence that the top-4 teams in yard margin last season were playoff teams. Of course, teams five through seven (Lions, Texans and Cardinals), weren't. But that is more a reflection of them largely being unable to turn the many yards they compiled into points. The 4-12 Texans, for example, only scored 17.2 points per game. Denver, the league leader in points per game and yards differential, scored 37.9.
It's not simply enough to gain yards between the 20s. You have to be able to turn them into six points once you hit the red zone.
The Bengals were able to do that last season, scoring touchdowns on 73.3 percent of their red zone possessions, per ESPN Stats & Information. Only Denver's 76.1 red-zone efficiency percentage was higher.
As the Bengals look to pick up the pace slightly on offense this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's scheme, the hope is that they also score more points and gain more yards per game than they did in recent seasons. With a defense that underwent relatively few changes -- the transition to longtime assistant Paul Guenther as the new defensive coordinator was the biggest adjustment the Bengals had to make on that side of the ball -- the expectation is that the unit will be nearly as good as it was in 2013.
If the defense then can maintain its 305.5 yard-per-game average from last season, and the offense can put up even more yards and points than it did, then Cincinnati's rank in yards differential could be even higher than No. 4 in 2014.