When frenzied crowds are holding signs that urge the defense to produce, they don’t care how it’s done. The only thing that matters is the end result. The Cincinnati Bengals are preparing for another AFC North crown. In order to achieve that goal, an emphasis must be put on what delivered the division win last year. Building a top-notch defensive unit is the key to taking the North.
Through most of the 2015 season, the Bengals were able to put points on the scoreboard. Andy Dalton came of age and was able to implement the high-powered offense. When that wasn’t possible, the NFL’s second-stingiest defense was around to lend a hand.
How stingy was the Bengals’ defense? According to ESPN, the unit surrendered a paltry 17.4 points per game. Given the tendencies of today’s typical offense, that’s a miserly total. The Bengals were a prime example of grit, brawn, and determination. The unit started the year, without the services of Vontaze Burfict. He was still recovering from microfracture surgery. Burfict will be missing in action, to start the 2016 season also.
Bengals brass made more than a few steals, during the 2016 NFL Draft. The focus wasn’t on defense, but there were impact players available. With the addition of young talent, the Bengals are continuing the Frankenstein approach. The newest edition of D-coordinator Paul Guenther’s unit will be just as mean and ornery as last year’s.
To fill Burfict’s space, the Bengals have a number of options. Linebacker was often one of the weak spots on Cincinnati’s fierce defensive unit. Per Cincy Jungle, Nick Vigil will be a good fit. During minicamp, he looked good in coverage and played with smarts and competitiveness.
In addition to Vigil and Burfict, the Bengals current crop of linebackers include Karlos Dansby, Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey, P.J. Dawson, Jayson DiManche, Marquis Flowers, Darien Harris, Jeff Luc, and Trevor Roach. Of the possible replacements for Burfict — during his three-game suspension — Dansby and Rey are the most obvious choices. Dansby’s motivation is a Super Bowl ring. Guenther has been impressed with his performance.
“Karlos Dansby has been a great addition. A guy like that is a good example to follow.”
Guenther is mixing in veteran skills with youthful bodies to get the desired effect he’s searching for. The former Cleveland Browns linebacker is matching his criteria for sniffing out Ws.
“If you have a team that has a lot of good young talent like we have, if you sprinkle in some veteran players like him that has the experience he has, it helps. He wants to win. He’s our kind of guy. Knowledgeable. He’ll help the younger players.”
What’s the desired effect? Quite simply, another chance to dominate the competition in the AFC North and beyond. The Bengals have a stockpile of talent. It’s time to see that pedigree unleashed on both sides of the ball. Keeping the defense in prime shape is a valuable key to winning, in one of the toughest divisions the NFL has to offer.
If not for a few breakdowns, the Orange and Black may have been facing Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. During the Bengals run to 8-0, the trip to Super Bowl 50 looked like a sure bet. But, life in the NFL happens. Cornerback Adam Jones understands that principle. His thoughts ring candid and true, per Stripe Hype.
“We have a good team. We could be way better than last year if we just stay healthy and do the little things. Let’s do whatever we got to do to win the conference and be in the top teams to get the bye. If you go back and look at it, we’re a snap here and a snap there, from f*****’ having a bye. And then if you come back and look at it again, we might have had Andy back and then we’d have the bye.”
Jones’ attitude may be the infectious jolt needed to get the Bengals over the hump.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]