ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 18: Running back Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams runs the ball ahead of defensive tackle Domata Peko #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals and guard Bryan Mattison #67 of the St. Louis Rams in the first half of the game on December 18, 2011 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)
The unsung heroes that characterizes defensive tackles and the offensive line has become expected in today's superstar, fantasy football world. Yet it's the key ingredient in football, the heart and soul of the sport. A poor offensive line translates into a similarly poor offensive unit, with a limited running game and a quarterback more concerned about where the next hit will be delivered from. At the same time a great offensive line can turn average players into superstars. Critically the same applies to defensive tackles, a group of gap-fillers more known as a linebacker's friend than play-makers.
There’s the obvious in regards to Cincinnati’s defensive line. Of the 45 quarterback sacks recorded in 2011 (ranked third in the NFL by the way), 34.5 were registered by the defensive line alone. Geno Atkins led the team with 7.5 quarterback sacks and at least five different defensive lineman registered four quarterback stops this year.
Yet it wasn’t just the impressive pass rush that qualified Cincinnati’s defensive line as arguably the strongest unit on the team. According to the NFL ’s Game Statistics and Information System, when opposing running backs ran up the gut (normally where Domata Peko stoically awaits), they only averaged 3.21 yards/rush. Only three teams posted a lesser average than Cincinnati.
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It wasn't just Domata Peko either. Geno Atkins was just as impressive against the run as he was rushing the quarterback. Pat Sims played an integral role as a gap stuffer, much like Domata Peko who took on most of the double teams. Jonathan Fanene slide inside during coverage formations.
It's been some time since fans felt comfortable with Cincinnati's roster of defensive tackles. If the team successfully re-signs Pat Sims, returning to the three-man rotation of Sims, Peko and Atkins, the Cincinnati Bengals defense in 2012 will already be off to a great start.