This offseason, most everybody that followed the Bengals figured that they would have a near-dominant defense once again in 2012. They were coming off of a No.7 overall finish in 2012 and figured they would be building off of that with an injection of younger talent at some positions, particularly in the secondary. The first three games were ugly for the unit, but they have begun to hit their stride a bot in the last two matchups against the Jaguars and Dolphins, respectively.
To be honest, five weeks in we still don't know what to make of the group. Injuries have definitely played a role in the overall performance, but they're beginning to get healthier, again particularly in the secondary. Certain guys are playing out of their minds, while others continue to underachieve and frustrate observers.
With their efforts of the past two weeks, the Bengals have boosted their overall defensive ranking to No.18, which once stood at No.29 not too long ago. You might be surprised to learn that the team actually ranks higher in passing yards allowed per game (16th) than they do in rushing yards allowed per game (19th). Against Miami and Jacksonville, the team stifled the run and contained the pass for the most part, which is more than we can say for the first three weeks.
On the positive side, the Bengals are the top-ranked defense (tied with Chicago and Green Bay) in terms of sacks with 18. Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson are leading the charge with 11 of those 18 and there has been a noticeable impact with Carlos Dunlap's return to the lineup. There have been a number of players who have contributed in this area and it has been the bright spot of the defense.
Here's where the irony kicks in: one would think that with the amount of pressures and sacks that the Bengals defense have amassed, turnovers would follow. It hasn't been the case. The team has had only one interception in five games. One. This sole interception came courtesy of Chris Crocker and it's a big mar on the team's overall performance and was in the fourth game. The big surprise was that the unit did not have an interception against rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had been throwing them frequently. They also didn't have one against fellow rookie Brandon Weeden, who also has been throwing interceptions with reckless abandon. The one interception they have has them ranked 29th in the area.
To further the irony, the team is currently tied for fifth (Atlanta, Buffalo, New Orleans and Minnesota) in fumble recoveries with five. At an average of one per game, this has also been a bit of a bright spot for the unit and has helped them in their victories. If they keep this area status quo, they'll be in good shape the rest of the season.
At some point, the team needs to start intercepting the ball more. It gets the unit off of the field and usually gives the offense a short field to work with. That's not even mentioning the momentum shift that it gives a team. With cornerbacks Jason Allen, Dre Kirkpatrick and the rest of the team finally getting healthy, this should improve. But, "on paper" means nothing. This aspect of the defense needs to improve if the team is to survive the brutal second half stretch on the schedule.