In my humble opinion, the defensive line was by far the strength of the 2011 Bengals. They were extremely talented and deep and were, for the most part, able to stop teams from running over them and were able to pressure the quarterback, effectively disrupting the passing game. Even though the secondary was weakened with injuries and was lacking depth, the Bengals defensive line helped limit the damage.
It was definitely a tale of two halves of the season for the Bengals defensive line. They only allowed one team to run for over 100 yards in the first half of the season (the Broncos) and they won six of those games. In the second half of the season, the Bengals allowed teams to run for over 100 yards in seven of the nine games (including the playoff game in Houston) and they subsequently they lost six of those games.
Here's how each player and the defensive line as a whole grade out.
Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins: Geno Atkins had by far the best season of any defensive lineman on the team. The second-year player not only led the team in sacks with 8.5 on the season, but he drastically improved as a run stopper as well. He had a ProFootballFocus.com grade in run stopping of 8.5, a pass rushing grade of 24.4, which totaled to an overall score of 34.8.
Defensive Tackle Domata Peko: Peko started every game as one of the teams two defensive tackles. He was a big part of the defensive line's success but he also struggled at times. He earned a run defense score of 3.4 but he struggled badly at stopping the run throughout the second half of the season. He also struggled at pass rushing, earning a score of -6.9. Those two scores equaled out to a total grade of -1.4.
Defensive Tackle Pat Sims: Sims played from Week 1 to Week 12 when he was injured and placed on IR. He was used primarily to stop the run and came out in obvious passing situations. His pass rush score was -4.5 but his run stopping score was 0.1. He's a free agent and is a force when it comes to stopping opposing running backs from pounding the ball up the middle. It would be nice to see the Bengals re-sign him. He had an overall score of -4.1.
Defensive End Frostee Rucker: Rucker, another free agent, started at defensive end opposite of Robert Geathers since Week 6 of the 2011 season. He played well, especially when it came to stopping the run throughout the season. He earned a pass rushing grade of -7.1 but his run stopping score of 9.5 helped him get an overall grade of 4.0.
Defensive End/Tackle Jonathan Fanene: Fanene bounced back and forth between defensive tackle and defensive end when he was need throughout the season. He only started in two games but he still averaged around 30 defensive snaps per game. He had a pass rushing score of -2.0 and a run defense score of 4.6 for a total grade of 0.5.
Defensive End Robert Geathers: Geathers started at defensive end throughout the entire season and while he racked up a handful of sacks, he came out in obvious passing situations so Carlos Dunlap could come in. He had a pass rush score of -4.3 and a run defense score of -2.1 for an overall score of -7.4.
Defensive End Michael Johnson: Johnson started through Week 1 through Week 5 before he lost his starting job to Rucker. He still played quite a bit throughout each game, especially in passing situations, though. Johnson earned a pass rush grade of -6.4 and a run defense grade of -0.4 for an overall grade of -6.4.
Defensive End Carlos Dunlap: Dunlap only started in one game and he missed a handful of games in the middle of the season with a hamstring injury. He didn't have the same number of sacks that he racked up in his rookie season, but he was still an effective pass rusher when it came to pressuring the quarterback (29 pressures, 13 hits). He had a run defense score of 3.8 and a pass rushing score of 22.5 for an overall grade of 29.1.
Defensive Tackle Nick Hayden: Hayden only played in Weeks 14 and 15 and played in an average of 16 snaps per game. He earned a pass rush score of -0.9 and a run defense score of 1.3 for an overall grade of 0.6.
The depth of the defensive line was the defense's biggest strength in 2011. As the offensive line tired throughout the game, the Bengals' defensive line's ability to rotate reliable players in and out to keep players fresh was a major asset. If the Bengals re-sign a couple of their free agents and maybe bring in a new player or two before the 2012 season, the defensive line can dominate next season and set the secondary and linebackers up for success. For their play throughout the 2011 season, the Bengals defensive line gets an A-.
What would you give them?