We all know about the other two defenses in the division. The reputation of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens has been established as being tops in the league, year in and year out. But the Cincinnati Bengals defense has a different kind of reputation. Not only are the Bengals known for losing, they are also known for bad defense. When I did my research for "Mocking the Mock Drafts", most of the so called draft nicks claimed the Bengals needed defensive help because it was so bad, which clearly told me that they didn't do any research and made their assumption solely based on the reputation of the team. Even the talking heads (who think they know football) l talk mainly about Carson Palmer's return and how the offense will be potent again. Not one has recognized the Bengals defense and how much they have improved over recent Bengal teams.
Now most of you may be thinking I have been ingesting something of an illegal nature and need to put it down and step back for attempting to make you think the Bengals defense can be as good as the Steelers and Ravens. But it is possible. Last season's defense was the sole reason the Bengals were able to win 4 games. Without them, the Bengals may have finished with the same miserable record as the lowly Detroit Lions. In the 4 victories and the kissing of their sister, the defense allowed a total of 51 points, or a smidgen over 10 points per game, which puts them in Steelers and Ravens territory. In the 3 victories to finish the season, the Bengals defense shutout the Browns while the Bengals offense scored a total of 14 points, and then held the Chefs (oops, did it again) Chiefs to 6 points with the Bengals offense scoring 16 points. In the final three games, the defense didn't allow more then 280 yards and held Cleveland to only 182 yards of total offense, which again, puts them in Steelers and Ravens territory. Yes, I know. The Browns and Chiefs offenses didn't put fear into the opposition's defense. In the other two victories and the token tie, the Bengals defense prevented the opposition from making a comeback to win the game. This was not the case earlier in the season when the defense allowed the Giants to win in overtime after taking a 20-16 lead in the 4th quarter and then letting Dallas win after grabbing a 22-17 lead late in the game.
In the offseason, the Bengals felt it was necessary to shore up a defense that showed improvement as they went out and signed Tank Johnson and Roy Williams providing experience and depth to the rather young defense. Both players have a reputation for being a force at their positions and are expected to start alongside emerging Domato Peko and Chinedum Ndukwe. The last full season Williams played (2007), he was credited with enough tackles that would have placed him 5th in tackles for the Bengals last season, ahead of Ndukwe and Marvin White. During this past draft, the Bengals had some luck fall their way when Rey Maualuga fell into their lap, who should draw playing time away from a veteran from last season. Plus, lining up alongside former USC teammate Keith Rivers should feel like old times for the two of them, who anchored one of the toughest defenses in college football a few years ago.
Before coming to the Bengals from the Dallas Cowboys, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer established himself with a reputation of being a no-nonsense coach. During his tenure with the Cowboys, the defense finished in the top 10 top 4 times and finished tops in the league in 2003. Zimmer's aggressive blitzing style surfaced last season as it appeared the Bengals blitzed more often than previous seasons. He does admit that the blitzing scheme used last season was stale compared to what he wants to implement this season, and that was due to the level of experience the players had with his system. With the addition of Williams at safety, who has spent every year of his career but one with Zimmer, should help the defense learn the system and which should increase the number of blitzes from the Bengals safeties.
Now I know some of you may think that I am comparing the Bengals defense to the Steelers and Ravens. No, I am not. But what I do feel is that there is a distinct possibility the Bengals defense has improved to a point which could change people's perspective of it. This improvement could also add a third team to the AFC North's reputation of hardnosed defenses that finish near the top and can carry a team to victories.