Much of the public reaction regarding the defense's depth chart that was released on Monday revolves around Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. With 9.5 quarterback sacks last season, breaking the Bengals rookie record and ranked second among all NFL rookies, why wouldn't Dunlap be promoted? It just seems logical, right? We see the point. But not the substance behind the argument. Posting 9.5 quarterback sacks in a season doesn't automatically suggest he's ready to take on the role of every-down defensive end, defending against both runs and passes. Fairly certain most of you will disagree, let me present my argument and then you can counter.
In 2009, Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers scored +5.8 according to Pro Football Focus' grading system. Not only was that the best score amongst defensive ends for the Bengals, it rated as the ninth best score amongst all defensive ends in the NFL within base 4-3 formations. While suffering a major overall performance drop in 2010, Geathers' overall run defensive grade ranked average, even though he performed during 84.9% of the defense's total snaps. Does that warrant a starting nod over Carlos Dunlap? Perhaps not alone. Yet according to the same grading system, Dunlap didn't outperform Geathers by much against the run.
The alternative to Geathers is obviously Carlos Dunlap. But is he the best fit to start and be one of the team's every-down defensive ends? Of the 286 total defensive snaps he participated in last season (of which is only 29.89% of the defense's total snaps), 75.5% of those snaps were focused on passing downs. Rated as the team's second-best pass rusher, the team felt that keeping Dunlap fresh by using him on passing downs created a much larger impact during games; over half of his quarterback sacks came on third down. Take away his 9.5 quarterback sacks and Dunlap has a total of 15 tackles in 12 games last season according to NFL.com's statistical tracking.
It makes sense that the Bengals could be offering a hint towards their rotation. While Robert Geathers and Michael Johnson take the bulk of the snaps against the run, Carlos Dunlap and Frostee Rucker (often rated as a good pass rusher) takes up the slack on obvious passing situations.
We're not arguing against Dunlap's eventual ascension as a starting defensive end. However, we understand the point that keeping Dunlap fresh and bringing him into the game during situations in which he dramatically affects the game makes sense. Anyway. The last time the Bengals took a pass rushing specialist, that defensive end picked up 10.5 quarterback sacks and spent the next four combined years equaling that total when he was promoted as the starting defensive end.
In reality, anything can happen from now until the start of the season. Additionally the team's released depth chart to the public is simply a formality; it's not a peak inside the minds of the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff and what they're up to.