Winning isn’t guaranteed in the NFL. Parity is the rule and it makes it even harder to establish a culture of consistency. Contrary to what most fans are led to believe, the Bengals are turning things around in Cincinnati. What used to be considered the NFL’s garbage pit is being transformed into a place of championship dreams.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is putting the finishing touches on a monster. He has slowly been tinkering with a unit that’s finally getting recognition around the league. In Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers showcased how dominating defenses can win. But, the Bengals aren’t following the “blueprint” those teams are rumored to have established. They started the foundation for an amazing defense years ago.
The Bengals understood the mechanics of building a contender, before it became chic. In 2014, the Bengals managed to have two of the highest-paid athletes, according to Forbes. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap ranked No. 53 and No. 84, respectively. The Bengals spent more than $69 million in cap value on the defense during that season. They were the highest-paid defenders in the NFL.
That effectively puts to sleep the rumors of how cheap the Bengals are. It also sheds light on the fact that the franchise realizes that defense wins championships. Of the current Bengals signings and re-signings during the free agency period, six have been slanted towards the Xs.
Entering the off-season, Bengals brass was faced with a ton of players set to walk. Per Spotrac, Cincinnati has brought back and signed players that will have an impact for the defense.
The newest addition to the Bengals, Karlos Dansby, has always wanted to be part of what Guenther was creating. He remembered visiting with the Bengals in 2013 and how he could relate to what was happening.
“In ’13 I came and visited. I met Paul,” Dansby recalled, via ESPN. “We had a great relationship. We watched film together. We did everything right there on that visit. We grew on each other. It was an instant connection right then and there. We just couldn’t make it happen with the terms. But like I said, good things come to those who wait.”
Just like Dansby waited three years to become a Bengals linebacker, fans have been waiting to get that elusive playoff win from the team. That dream – like Dansby’s – could come true with the building of a monstrous defense that continues to get better.
Reggie Nelson was a huge part of the Bengals defense. Last season, Nelson helped the unit carve out a No. 2 ranking in scoring defense. Bengals brass may have grown cold towards him. There haven’t been any indications of talks between the team and agents. Young safety Shawn Williams may have to get ready for his debut as the starter.
Part of winning in the NFL is being perceived as dominating. The Bengals’ defenders have decided they want to have a reputation. They aren’t concerned with how they are perceived off the field. They want to be respected and feared when the battle is happening between the lines.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko summed it up.
“That’s what we want to do every week. We want people talking about us. Not about what we say, but what we do on the field, by our actions. How we play.”
In the pass-happy NFL, it’s easy to understand that fans want to see scoreboards lighting up like pinball machines. But, a close look at the past three years will show that teams with a top 10 defense– in either scoring or yardage – has been in the conference championship game or Super Bowl.
The Bengals brass is on the right track. Offense will get you to the door, but defense will eventually kick it in.
[Photo by Tony Tribble/AP]