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Saturday, November 23, 2013
Good, bad and ugly of Bengals' season

By Coley Harvey

Like any team this late into a season, the Cincinnati Bengals have had their share of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

With 11 games down and the Bengals' bye week wrapping up this weekend, now is as good a time as any to take a look at those events that have helped shape the season to this point. At 7-4, there is a lot for Cincinnati to celebrate. There's a whole lot of good. But as the past month has shown, there is plenty of the bad and ugly to go around, too.

Here is a quick evaluation of what has gone right and what has gone wrong for the Bengals through the longest stretch of games this season:

THE GOOD -- The defense. Cincinnati's defense has kept the Bengals afloat, coming away with timely turnovers and key stops. The unit's No. 7 ranking is just one way its success can be measured.

Vontaze Burfict
Vontaze Burfict has been the muscle behind the Bengals' defense this season.
Quite simply, teams haven't been able to move the football on the Bengals. Only once has an opponent thrown for more than 300 yards on them this season, and their 211.0 passing yards allowed per game average ranks sixth in the league.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been the really good, playing one of the biggest roles in limiting opposing offensive performances thanks to his role as an enforcer. With a league-leading 118 tackles, the second-year undrafted player has turned in a true Pro Bowl-caliber season.

The Bengals have performed well defensively despite dealing with a bevy of injuries to key players. Veteran cornerback Leon Hall was lost for the season before the halfway point; defensive back Taylor Mays was lost a week later; and Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins went out the week after that. Linebacker Rey Maualuga has missed significant time, too, but is expected to return next week.

All of those injuries aside, there still exists a measure of fluidity within the group, despite the changed pieces. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has done a better-than-admirable job keeping the unit together.

THE BAD -- The rushing game. After a breakout year operating as Cincinnati's primary ball carrier, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has struggled to return to that level of consistency. Last season, he had more than 1,000 yards rushing, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. With 522 yards this season and just five games remaining, he's averaging 3.3 yards per carry.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis
BenJarvus Green-Ellis' running game has taken a step back.
Based on his production in the past three games -- averaging at least 3.4 yards per carry in each -- Green-Ellis appears to be trending up. Some of his troubles could be attributed to thumb and ankle injuries he played through early in the season. According to him, he's been healthier the past month, and it finally may be showing.

In addition to Green-Ellis' play from scrimmage, rookie Giovani Bernard hasn't had quite the overall impact on the rushing game the Bengals were hoping for. As dynamic a playmaker as he has been in the passing game and during occasional long runs, Bernard's rushing total still remains comparatively low. While his average of 4.4 yards per carry is high, he's only rushed for 434 yards.

The Bengals' rushing attack is gaining an average of 3.72 yards per carry a game. That's good enough for 26th in the NFL. Meanwhile, their 1,187 total rushing yards ranks as the 13th-most in the league.

What can explain that comparatively high rushing total? High snap counts. The Bengals rank second in the league with 756 offensive plays this season. Only Buffalo has more (774). Three times this season, they have run more than 80 plays from scrimmage in a single game.

THE UGLY -- Three days in October and November ... and one more in September. The most controversial part of the Bengals' season has been the inconsistent play at quarterback. As good as Andy Dalton has been at times, he's been downright ugly at others.

Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton is in the midst of a shaky three-game stretch, including one where he had only 93 yards passing.
Last week against the Cleveland Browns, for example, he ended up getting a big-game win over the division foe he has handled the best during his career, but he also threw for only 93 yards. It was the first time in his career that Dalton had not thrown for more than 100 yards in a game that he finished.

As analysts and experts have been saying all season, as Dalton goes, so go the Bengals. Yes, the defense has been great and will continue to keep Cincinnati in ballgames. But you can't pin all of your hopes and dreams on your defense if you're the Bengals.

Eventually, you're going to have to hope your quarterback takes over and shows the type of success that made him the king of October. On the heels of his AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors that month, Dalton has put together one of the worst three-game stretches of his career. One of those contests actually was played in October, on Halloween, and came the day he was honored. He also turned in a 29.7-QBR performance against the Browns in September that now looks far from his worst outing of the season.

December can't get here quickly enough for Dalton, who is looking to turn pretty once again.