The Cincinnati Bengals defense has come a long way from where they used to be ranked back in the lost decade of the '90s. In 1991 they were ranked dead last (No. 28), in '92 they were ranked at No. 26, in '93 they were ranked at No. 16, in '94 they improved again to No. 15, but then in '95 they took another nose dive finishing deal last again (this time at No. 30).
The '90s and a lot of the 2000s went that way. Not only could the Bengals offense not move the ball, but their defense was even worse.
Then things for the Bengals defense changed. They hired no-nonsense defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in 2008 and the defense has never looked back.
They've had three straight years of the defense finishing with a top-15 ranking or better, including 2009 when they finished the regular season with a No. 4 ranking. Zimmer's still not satisfied with his defense, and, according to the Mothership's Geoff Hobson, he's looking for two more minutes from his unit.
"That's the thing the players don't understand," Zimmer says. "We can be really good, but the end of the game when you win or lose. The mistakes you make... The Tampa Bay game, the Miami game, I can name a bunch of them."
Hobson writes that the Bengals defense has allowed points in the final two minutes of a game or the final two minutes of the first half in 18 or their 32 games since 2009. They didn't lose all of those games but they did lose 5 games in the final minute of play (against Denver, Oakland, San Diego, Tampa Bay and New Orleans) and they lost eight of those games by six points or less.
Zimmer is excited and anxious for the lockout to come to end so he can get his guys in the film room and make sure they know what mistakes they made so they won't make them again.
I can't wait to get them back into the room talk to them about situational defense," Zimmer says. "I want to show them the play and I want to ask them, 'What exactly were you thinking on this snap?' And then we're going to go over what we want, what we're thinking, so player sand coaches understand this is the crucial part of the game and we have to make those plays to win."
According to Hobson, when the players are allowed to return to the stadiums and workout with their coaches once the lockout is lifted, Zimmer will be giving his defensive players a tape of crucial situations, so when the game is on the line and his defense is on the field, the Bengals come away with a victory.
"We're going to be hard to beat and we're not going to beat ourselves," he says.