Even though the Bengals lost 34-30, there's some encouragement that came out of Sunday's loss. By playing their younger guys, the team's future is getting experience now. Carlos Dunlap recorded 3.5 quarterback sacks in his previous two games and 4.5 quarterbacks sacks in his previous four games. Dunlap also has at least a quarterback hit or pressure in every game dating back to the team's November 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Geno Atkins is rated as the team's best pass rusher by Pro Football Focus with 13 quarterback pressures, five quarterback hits and 1.5 quarterbacks. Even Michael Johnson has been coming around recently with four passes batted at the line of scrimmage between the Bills and Jets -- with four stops against the Jets constituting a negative offensive play -- and at least one quarterback pressure in five of his previous six games.
When asked about Cincinnati's improved pass rush from the team's two rookie defensive linemen and Johnson, Marvin Lewis said:
“They’re doing a good job. It’s good to see. It’s been one of the positives to come out of this, those guys and their development. They’re building some confidence that they can put pressure on the quarterback, and they are. They made him (Drew Brees) throw the ball out of time a bunch. He’s usually able to check it down to the guy standing in the flat, but we were tackling the catch and getting off the field, and that’s what you have to do. Those guys have done a good job. I think it has built confidence that they keep getting better and better. Some of the things they’re doing are better and more efficient, and then just their individual rush (has gotten better).”
During Lewis' press conference, more of Dunlap's progression came into detail:
“He’s still catching up. You wish this was the way it had been in August. You wish he would have seen the impact he could’ve had. Nobody’s going to give it to you. You have to prove it and show it play after play. I think his practice habits have improved and he’s been rewarded with playing more, and that’s what we told him from the start. It’s no different from the progression that Andre (Smith) went through. You’ve got to show it here in practice, and then you’ll get an opportunity in the game, and he’s making good on it in passing situations and in base downs.”
While Lewis may seem hard on Dunlap, you get the impression that the head coach sees great things from the rookie defensive end.
“He’s a big man with long arms who can run, and he’s smart. He makes very few assignment and game plan errors. He understands his job inside and out. Even the week he was sick and missed practice, he sat in the meetings and came back and he was 100 percent right doing things on Saturday when we put him out there for the workout. I told Jay (defensive line coach Jay Hayes) to give him all the snaps just so I knew whether we could dress him or not, and he did a good job.”
Yes, the Bengals are 2-10. Yes, there's a bitter divide from fan's on the opinion with what the team should do at quarterback. And yes, it seems like hope is spiraling through a black hole. But of the few good things we've witnessed this season, the evolution of the team's young pass rush on the defensive line is fun to watch unfolding.