August 16, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) scrambles on a play in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
On Friday, I published a piece discussing one area of the roster that the Bengals and their fans can hang their hat on as a positive at this early point in the 2012 season. Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton was the subject of that optimism and now it's time to address another spot. The Bengals front seven has flexed its collective muscle through the first two games of the season and have been downright impressive.
Let's take a look at things that have occurred so far to make us feel that this group has big potential for 2012.
In their first game against the Jets, they stifled the Jets' running game and harassed their quarterbacks for most of the game. Two Bengals linebackers were responsible for two turnovers, in Vontaze Burfict's interception of Tim Tebow and Dontay Moch's sack and forced fumble of Greg McElroy. The biggest runs given up by the defense came from Tebow after he was flushed from the pocket and scrambled.
Once again, the Bengals defensive front did some great things, even with a multitude of injuries to the group. Starter Michael Turner only had three carries in the game, but those carries garnered minus-three yards. This is a running back who rushed for over 1,400 yards last season and is widely-considered one of the best backs in the NFL. Granted, the sample size for Turner's performance was small, but I believe that to be more because the Falcons figured that they were not going to be able to run the ball with their first group against the Bengals' starters.
Beyond that, the Falcons' second-leading rusher of the night was Jacquizz Rodgers and he only notched 24 yards in the game, albeit at a six yards per carry average. The rest of their notable rushers on the night included quarterbacks Dominique Davis and Chris Redman. It was an all-around tough go for Atlanta on Thursday night. That much was evident with the amount of group tackles by Bengals players who had been swarming to the football.
The Bengals' group wasn't without their struggles though, either. They still exuded two weaknesses that have plagued the team for years: not being able to contain a running quarterback, nor being able to use a linebacker (or a safety) to cover tight ends. These problems need to be addressed at some point this season for the defense to be successful.
Still, we expect the run defense unit to be stout, as it has been for the better part of two preseason games. Geno Atkins appears to have put himself in position to become a perennial Pro Bowler and the others in the defensive line committee are making their fair share of plays. In the wake of injuries to Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, and Rey Maualuga, others have stepped up and made plays in their time against the Jets and Falcons. With Mike Zimmer once again at the helm of this group, the sky is the limit for 2012.