The Cincinnati Bengals have played much better since starting their season 0-3, but are now likely out of the AFC playoff picture. The offense has not been able to produce consistently for 60 minutes, but the defense has been solid for much of the year. The pass defense has been what Cincinnati has been able to rely on, as it’s currently eighth in the league, courtesy of ESPN NFL Statistics. The pass rushers and secondary have been on point in most instances, and two standout youngsters have produced at a very high level. Rookie linebacker Carl Lawson and second-year cornerback William Jackson are making their presence felt for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
Getting pressure on the opposing quarterback is more important than it’s ever been, and Lawson has done that all season long. The pass rush specialist leads all NFL rookies in sacks, courtesy of NFL.com. That’s not too shabby, considering he was overlooked as a fourth-round draft pick coming out of Auburn. Lawson currently ranks as the 29th-best edge defender in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Most notably, though, his Pro Football Focus pass-rush productivity rating was second among all edge defenders through Week 12, outside of last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s been able to win one-on-one matchups with a combination of rush moves, and he’s provided yet another edge presence for the Bengals. Lawson has provided great depth to go with Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, and Chris Smith. That’s meshed nicely with one of the best interior defenders in the NFL in Geno Atkins. The fifth-best sack total in the league is a great pair with Jackson and the Bengals’ stingy secondary.
The aforementioned Jackson has bounced back incredibly from missing his whole rookie year due to a torn pectoral injury, as was then reported by NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo. In 2017, Jackson has more than warranted his 2016 first-round draft selection by the Bengals, and he’s flourished in the back end with players like Lawson and Dunlap getting after it up front. Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus demonstrated just how dominant Jackson has been. Again, these statistics do not include last night’s game against Pittsburgh, but they are a worthy 10-game metric.
Jackson has been able to make plays outside the numbers all year Cincy, as he’s used his length and physicality to muscle the ball out of opposing receivers’ hands. When the rush from Lawson and Dunlap doesn’t get home, young corners have to make plays on the ball. This youngster has done just that, and Gayle highlighted how effective Jackson was in the Bengals’ Week 7 matchup against the Steelers, where he blanketed Antonio Brown.
“Targeted four times with Jackson as the primary coverage defender, Brown recorded zero receptions, while the Bengals’ budding star logged two passes defensed,” Gayle said.
Jackson had another solid outing against Brown and Pittsburgh this time around as well, as he posted a grade of 82.7, according to the PFF Analysis Team. He allowed zero catches again against Brown while as the primary coverage defender and had two passes defensed. He’s not given up any catches to Brown this season (again courtesy of the PFF Analysis Team), which is remarkable. Other than a horrible missed tackle on Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell near the sideline yesterday, Jackson was flawless. Together, Lawson and Jackson could be two franchise cornerstones for the Bengals for years to come. Both have truly exceeded expectations in their first year on the field.