The Cincinnati Bengals are not traditionally known for defense. When fans and analysts mention the team, they talk about an offense that clicks. Since the early days of the franchise, moving the ball has been the prime directive for the organization. Last year, Cincinnati returned to the top of the heap with a unit built to win. The Bengals are quickly becoming recognized as having a top-tier defense around the league.
When the 2015 season started, Bengals fans were ready for the offensive fireworks. The usual suspects were expected to make their mark in the stat books and SportsCenter highlights. What actually happened was that and more. The Bengals were able to field an aggressive defensive unit that set a franchise scoring record. Per ESPN, Cincinnati’s defense was just one 10th of a point shy of the No. 1 spot.
Free agency negotiations are set for March 7-9. There are key Bengals players that could be lost. Can they duplicate last year’s success? According to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, the Bengals will be ready.
“We have a lot of guys back. Our guys play hard and they study,” Guenther explained, via the Cincinnati Bengals site. “I don’t expect anything differently. A lot of guys are saying we got guys are going to be leaving, a lot of free agents, but I don’t think we’re going to lose as many as people think. It’s a good group. It’s a d**n good group. I’d go to war with any of them. We should pick up where we left off.”
Guenther is a mad scientist who will tinker until his creation works. He’ll put the best pieces together that will have people thinking there was never a problem. The Bengals’ coordinator is depending on young talent to fill the void left by any veteran that leaves. Many of the free agents are ready to stay and build on what has been started. That being said, the lure of more money is enough to draw some players away.
With so many of the Bengals defensive regulars set to enter free agency, this may be an uphill battle for Guenther and the new coaching staff. Per the sports business site Spotrac, nine Bengals on the defensive side of the ball are set to enter the market.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t worried. He’s taking the same approach as his coordinator. He understands that losing players is part of the system. Lewis is confident that the foundation of what has been established will be back in Cincinnati.
“I feel good about things. I think the core is here. Positionally, we’re in good shape.”
The Bengals’ defense has built a reputation around the NFL as a sound unit. The coaching staff is hailed as one of the best at what it does. The system works. After Mike Zimmer left for the Purple and Gold of Minnesota, the Bengals haven’t missed a beat. Injuries and personnel changes gave the unit a No. 22 ranking in 2014. Outside of that, Bengals fans have been treated to a perennial top 10 unit.
Players may decide to leave. That doesn’t deter Guenther. He’s ready for the challenge. He’s ready to move forward with whoever is left.
“There are guys there. It’s part of the process. Build your team, build your roster. Those guys have to start playing. I’m not scared of playing guys like that. I never have been.”
Finally, the Bengals are matching their high-octane offense with a stout defense. In the Wild Card Round, the Bengals were less than two minutes away from advancing. Many say it was the fault of Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict. It’s easy to forget that the defense kept the game close for 58 minutes. This year could be surprisingly different. The sting of defeat is a wonderful teacher.
[Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]