Can defense carry the Bengals?

The Cincinnati Bengals will likely start a rookie quarterback, do not know their starting running back and have to install a West Coast offense in limited time. This has all the makings of a slow start offensively.

Therefore, expect Cincinnati to rely heavily on its veteran defense to carry this team early in the season. The Bengals' defense took a major step back in 2010, but is looking to get back to its 2009 form, when it was ranked No. 4 in the NFL.

Injuries and inconsistency led to Cincinnati's No. 15 defensive ranking last season. The Bengals' defense fell to the middle of the pack, which wasn't too bad considering they were 4-12.

But with a new offense filled with young players, there will be no margin for error for Mike Zimmer's defense this season. Second-round pick Andy Dalton is projected to lead the team after Carson Palmer's sudden retirement, and 1000-yard rusher Cedric Benson's pending legal situation puts his status in doubt with the team. Benson is an unrestricted free agent.

The West Coast offense is built on timing and precision, and the lockout has hurt the Bengals significantly in those areas. Don't expect Cincinnati to light up the scoreboard, particularly early. But if the defense plays well, the Bengals still have a chance to get off on the right foot.

Cincinnati opens its 2011 season on the road against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1. The Browns are an early three-point favorite.