Cincinnati Bengals: Defense Under The Bright Lights

Week 16 will be one to remember in the NFL. While there are games that will determine playoff seeding happening all around the league, there will be one in particular that grabs the attention of America. The finale of Monday Night Football will be the game to watch. The Bengals and Broncos will be showcasing two of the best defensive units, under the bright lights on Sports Authority Field.

When the Bengals and Broncos showdown was pegged for prime time, at the beginning of the season, it had the makings of an offensive battle that couldn’t be topped. Peyton Manning, the wily gunslinger, was leading the Broncos on a seven-game winning streak. He wasn’t playing at the typical Manning level, but the defense was pulling off miraculous saves.

The Bengals were having a magical season of their own.

Andy Dalton was torching teams with a precision that no one had expected. The Bengals roared out to an 8-0 start and were looking like the elite team that had so much promise in years past. Whenever Dalton was having a bad game, the Bengals’ defense was there to pick up the slack and manage to ensure a win for Cincinnati.

Things went sour for the Broncos in Week 10. As reported by SBNation, Manning was benched after two consecutive losses and undisclosed rib and foot injuries. Brock Osweiler was promoted to starter after Manning’s poor performance and the Broncos defense was called upon to rally in his absence. Osweiler’s record is 3-2 since Manning’s departure and the team is reeling.

Bright Lights [Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]There’s been a similar theme happening for the Bengals since opening the year with record-setting wins. In a Week 13 rematch against the Steelers, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Dalton had fractured his thumb and would be out indefinitely. AJ McCarron was given the starting duties. McCarron did well in his fill-in role and then won his first game under center the next week.

The Bengals’ defense has also vowed to help McCarron get through the fire until Dalton is able to return. Against San Francisco last Sunday, the Bengals’ defense forced a fumble and had a late interception to spoil any Niners hopes of a comeback.

The game America will be watching will be the battle of two spectacular defensive units determined to outdo the other. The high-powered offenses will be managed by backup quarterbacks that will attempt to navigate the smash mouth play of the other team’s front seven.

For the Broncos, it’s a rare balance that allows them to stop everything. Rarely is a team No.1 against both the run and the pass. No team has finished a season at the top in overall defense, run defense, and pass defense since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles.

Bright Lights [Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]The Bengals’ defense has given up a lot more yards — they rank ninth overall, including No.8 against the rush and No.18 against the pass. But when it comes to stopping opponents in scoring range, nobody has been better. Cincinnati’s defense has given up 243 points, the fewest in the league. That’s one point shy of the Eagles total for 1991.

The Bengals are the only team in the league with two players who have over 10 sacks. Carlos Dunlap has a career high 10.5 and Geno Atkins has 10. The D has held six of the last eight opponents to 14 or fewer points.

Bengals’ defensive end Wallace Gilberry said it best.

”Everyone knows that defense wins championships, so if you’re the best defense on the field, usually you are going to win the game.”

The return of Vontaze Burfict has also spearheaded the rise of the Bengals’ defense. It’s no coincidence that in 2013, when he played the entire year, he went to the Pro Bowl and they finished sixth in defensive scoring and third overall in defense. In his eight games back, the defense has allowed just 12 touchdowns. Last Sunday was his most active game. He recorded a sack and interception.

The Bengals and the Broncos may just give America a memorable defensive showdown under the bright lights.

[Feature Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]