COMMENTARY | In the defensively-driven AFC North, points can be hard to come by for the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns finished 6th, 13th and 19th in points allowed, respectively.
A case can be made that each of those teams have improved on the defensive side of the ball over the 2013 offseason. This makes things rather tough for a Bengals offense that finished a mere 22nd overall in total offense one year ago.
Cincinnati did its due diligence over the offseason to improve the offensive woes of the team. They brought in explosive running back Giovani Bernard and versatile tight end Tyler Eifert via the draft. Also, the remainder of the offense comes back healthy and more experienced.
Quarterback Andy Dalton seems ready to meet the challenge of becoming a major threat at the position. He has been vastly underrated over his first two seasons due to his mediocre play in the playoffs. However, given Dalton's situation regarding his lack of weapons outside of A.J. Green, his chance of success has been limited.
This year, that cannot be an excuse for the Bengals or for Dalton. The team is healthy and much-needed components have been added to improve the offense drastically. Still, despite all of the pieces being in place, a plan must be put into effect.
This is where offensive coordinator Jay Gruden comes in.
Gruden was brought in to Cincinnati in 2011 due to his offensive dominance as a coach while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in the Arena Football League. In both of those instances, Gruden was a winning coach and provided one of the most explosive offenses in his respecive leagues.
The same argument in terms of the lack of success that was used for Dalton could be used for Gruden over the past two years - a complete lack of weapons on offense, and a plethora of inexperienced players.
Like Dalton, Gruden has no excuses in 2013.
The success or failure of this offense - barring any catastrophic injuries - rests solely on Gruden's shoulders. He has the quarterback that can get it done. He has the weapons at the wide receiver position. He has a two-headed monster in the backfield. He has the necessary personnel to run an effective two-tight end set. What more could he ask for?
The play book must expand this season and his hybrid West Coast offense will need to take the form that was originally expected back in his inaugural season with the team in 2011.
Simply put, if Gruden can create the dynamic plays using the proper personnel groups, we could see a top-10 unit from the Bengals this season. Along with their stout defense, that is most certainly a recipe for a third-consecutive playoff berth.
It all hinges on Gruden this year for the Bengals.
Sean O'Donnell is a contributor for Yahoo! Sports and a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the co-host of the Bengals Central podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network. You can follow him on Twitter: @SeanODonnellNFL
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