In his first two seasons, defensive end Michael Johnson has started in 10 of the 32 games he played in. He had 52 tackles, 5.5 sacks and nine passes defensed in his first two years. For somebody as physically talented as Johnson, he just didn't dominate like many hoped he would. Near the end of the 2010 season, though, when Carlos Dunlap began to rack up sacks on his way to breaking the franchise's rookie sack record, Johnson looked like he was beginning to come into his own. Many of Dunlap's sacks were a result of Johnson forcing the quarterback out of the pocket and right into the rookie defensive end.
Coming into the 2011 season, many were excited about a whole season of Johnson and Dunlap playing together. Dunlap, however, suffered through a knee injury throughout the entire preseason and hasn't played as often as most would have liked to see but Johnson hasn't disappointed.
Johnson leads the entire defensive line in almost every defensive stat. He has eight tackles (Geno Atkins is second with seven and Domata Peko is third with six), one sack (tied with Atkins), one interception, one forced fumble and three passes knocked down. He's on pace now to have 64 tackles and eight sacks on the season. 64 tackles would almost double his previous career high of 35 tackles, which he made last season and eight sacks in one season would be more than he has throughout his two year career.
Johnson's progression as a defensive end entering into his third season with the Bengals is highlighted by the following play:
On a second-and-17 play from Denver's 13-yard line, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton dropped back to pass. Michael Johnson came rushing in from the right side of the line, beating left tackle Ryan Clady badly. Before Orton could get set to throw, Johnson was right on top of him. Not only did he bring Orton down, but he stripped the ball from him, forcing the quarterback to fumble. Peko was there to recover the fumble on the 14-yard line.
The Bengals were down 17-12 at the time. Unfortunately, the Bengals offense went three-and-out and had to kick a field goal to go bring the score to 17-15. However, if the Bengals would have been able to score, Johnson's sack could have single handedly changed the game.
When Dunlap starts playing more often, he and Michael Johnson could do some massive damage to opposing quarterbacks, especially with Atkins' help in the middle.