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Continuity should benefit Bengals' offense

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Posted Jan. 14, 2012 @ 4:16 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Continuity. In some cases, it is a major positive.

Take the case of Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden returning for at least one more season in Cincinnati. Gruden, who reportedly agreed to a new three-year, $3.6 million contract, was widely praised for his work with first-year QB Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati offense in his first season on the job.

As a club source noted, Gruden will finally have a full offseason to work with his players. Coaches and players couldn't work together or even communicate for the vast majority of the 2011 lockout. Even with this obstacle, the Bengals made a successful transition from Bob Bratkowski's offense to Gruden's West Coast scheme — and they did it with a rookie passer at the helm.

Though the Bengals finished 20th in yards and 18th in points in 2011, there's reason to believe they can improve in those areas. The organization is high on Dalton, who started every game as a rookie. Their top pass catcher, WR A.J. Green, was also a rookie, and evaluators rave about his upside. Already some regard him as an elite difference maker. The club is also high on OLT Andrew Whitworth, C Kyle Cook and TE Jermaine Gresham, with all considered key pieces of the puzzle.

Another year in Gruden's scheme, coupled with development from Dalton, Green and Gresham, and the offense could very well be stronger next season.

That isn't to say the Bengals won't need to make moves on that side of the ball, however, with the decision on whether to re-sign RB Cedric Benson at the top of the list. But the Bengals' 2012 preparations begin with the offense already being in a relatively good place.

Now, if the Bengals can also retain defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the organization can be forgiven if it enters the offseason with a collective bounce in its step. Zimmer, who has interviewed for the Dolphins' head-coaching vacancy and is expected to interview for the Buccaneers' head-coaching job, oversaw a defense that allowed the seventh-fewest yards per game and fourth-fewest yards per play in 2011.

As with the offense, the defense isn't without areas that cannot be improved. For instance, the Bengals' pass defense, while generally solid this season and above-average from a yards-allowed perspective, could use a little more playmaking ability at cornerback and safety. But the Bengals' concerns aren't major on this side of the ball — and that's especially true if Zimmer returns.

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