CINCINNATI -- Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' season is over, we turn our attention to the offseason.
There are many questions the Bengals must answer. Let's take a look at five of them:
1. How does the pass rush improve?
One of the biggest problems the Bengals had this season, particularly in the playoff loss at Indianapolis, was getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While coaches and players are quick to point out the complexities of the pass rush -- for instance, it's more important how the unit manages the rush on third downs, some have said -- the fact is the defense wasn't as good getting to quarterbacks as it has been in the past. The Bengals finished the regular season with 20 sacks, the second-fewest since Marvin Lewis became head coach. They also allowed 243 passing yards per game, 36 more than they did in 2013. Defensive tackle Domata Peko was one of the players who said earlier this week that change would be coming to the defensive line next season as the Bengals seek to get a better rush.
2. Where to turn in the NFL draft?
So what change could be coming to the defensive line? Different players and line combinations is one possibility. When the Bengals begin whittling down their draft board in the coming weeks, there probably will be several defensive ends and tackles on them. It's possible that Cincinnati will address its line woes in free agency, but it's more likely that ultimately gets done in the draft. The last three seasons, in particular, they have turned to the draft to tighten up the line, selecting Devon Still, Margus Hunt, Brandon Thompson and Will Clarke. Other position areas to watch when the draft comes around: offensive tackle, linebacker, tight end and receiver.
3. Is Jermaine Gresham coming back?
For now, it seems the answer to that question is "no." Gresham disappointed some around the team when he didn't play in Sunday's playoff game and in the game at Cleveland four weeks before that after testing out respective injuries during pregame warm-ups. He also has fallen out of favor with fans and appears content with having done so. The free-agent tight end has had better years, but he didn't have an abysmal season, catching 62 passes. Used as one of Andy Dalton's top targets following injuries to A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones, he was a key option in this year's passing game. With Eifert expected to be healthy before training camp and Ryan Hewitt coming off a strong rookie season, the Bengals -- again, for now -- seem content moving along from Gresham and going a different direction.
4. What can Dalton do to take the next step?
This was a big question last offseason, particularly with Dalton getting close to signing a massive new deal. It's safe to say that overall, Dalton this season didn't live up to the six-year contract extension he signed in August that could pay him up to $115 million. He had issues with interceptions (he threw 17) and lost a fourth straight playoff game. He also witnessed a steady decline in his passing numbers at the end of the season, around the same time the Bengals' rushing game became a prominent piece of their offense. Dalton said earlier this week that he expects to go to Southern California to work with throwing coach Tom House again. Dalton's time with House seemed to pay off early this season, as his throws looked vastly better than they did in previous seasons.
5. Will the Bengals need a new offensive coordinator?
While Dalton continues to figure out what he can do to harness some of what he had at the beginning of this season, he could end up with a new offensive coordinator as well. Hue Jackson reportedly met with the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday about their head coach vacancy. Other opportunities could come as well, meaning he could soon be on his way out after spending one year with Dalton. If that happens, the Bengals will need a coordinator who can push Dalton much the way Jackson did this season. This question could be the first to get answered this offseason.