When the smoke cleared on Week 9 of the NFL season, there were only three teams that remained undefeated. The Carolina Panthers are still dominating the competition and sitting at 8-0 in the NFC. In the AFC, the Bengals and Patriots have the only unblemished records. But no one’s talking about the Bengals’ defense. They’re the catalyst behind Cincinnati’s amazing start.
The Cincinnati Bengals came out of the gates with a roar that surprised the league. Their first game against the Oakland Raiders was a dominant performance which left skeptics saying it was a fluke. But at the midway point of the season, the Bengals are atop the AFC North and have almost a four game lead on the Steelers. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
This is the era of a new Bengals defense that’s playing lights-out and taking no prisoners. Yet the analysts refuse to talk about how improved the Bengals’ defense is this year. The defensive unit has kept the Bengals in close games and also allowed Dalton and Company to achieve astounding comeback wins. Against the Seattle Seahawks, the defense was put in a hole by a few offensive mistakes. Down 24-7 in the fourth quarter, the Bengals’ defense awakened and clamped down on Wilson and the Hawks. It was a prime example of brilliant halftime adjustments by the coaching staff.
This Bengals defense has heart. They dig in when the offense needs to be picked up. In the showdown against the Steelers, the defense turned in a masterful game against Big Ben. One thing was overlooked. As the Steelers were trying to drive for the winning touchdown, Carlos Dunlap was missing. As reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer, he was out with an injured shoulder. But on that drive, he checked himself back in.
“It’s Pittsburgh Steelers driving down trying to score on us,” Dunlap said with a matter-of-fact tone. “We needed a rush.”
Dunlap was able to push towards Roethlisberger and get a hand on his arm, as he tried to hit Brown in the back of the end zone. His pressure was enough to throw the pass off. It was defense to the rescue.
The missing piece to the Bengals defensive dominance arrived in the form of Vontaze Burfict. He has brought stability to the defense. That’s what helped their top ten ranking in 2013. After missing time, he came back like he was never gone.
”He’s got an incredible football intelligence and great passion to play,” coach Marvin Lewis said. ”He’s so doggone smart. He steps back in and does things as though he’s been doing it the whole time, which is a credit to him.”
That’s the story of the Bengals’ defense that no one is talking about. They have a passion to play and are making intelligent decisions to help the Bengals continue to win. The unit has looked like a championship contender all year long. Coordinator Paul Guenther has to iron out some kinks and the players have to stay healthy. What are the kinks? The unit has to string together a whole game. Shutting down the opponent in the second half is wonderful. But what if the offense can’t score?
Of the undefeated teams that are left, the Bengals’ defense has allowed the fewest points. Nobody is talking about that. Cam Newton pulled down a Green Bay banner and gave a kid a ball. But nobody has mentioned the dominant play of the Bengals’ defense?
The Bengals’ defense turned in another excellent effort against the Browns on Thursday Night Football. After allowing Johnny Manziel to keep the game close, the Bengals held Cleveland to seven yards of offense until their final drive.
“We settled down. I looked up and saw that it was like 250 yards to their seven,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “But that’s our team, that’s what we do.”
That’s what the Bengals’ defense does. They get it done.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images]