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Bengals defense allowed you to run early, but no longer

The Bengals rush defense has performed well in successive weeks, allowing the Jaguars and Eagles only 68 yards rushing a piece. Evenly splitting the season into two five-game campaigns, the Bengals rush defense has doubled their efforts, cutting the yardage allowed in half.

  Yards Allowed Avg. 1st Downs
First Five Games 855 171 44
Last Five Games 456 91.2 28

You'll note the obvious trend of lowering the opposing team's rushing efforts, limiting three of the past five teams to less than 100 yards rushing.

Team Rushing 1st Ds TDs
Baltimore Ravens 229 12 2
Tennessee Titans 177 9 1
NY Giants 117 8 1
Cleveland Browns 134 7 1
Dallas Cowboys 198 8 1
NY Jets 86 4 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 125 9 2
Houston Texans 109 5 1
Jacksonville Jaguars 68 6 1
Philadelphia Eagles 68 4 0

It might be somewhat surprising to see that the Bengals defense has only allowed two 100-yard rushers all season (Mewelde Moore, Chris Johnson). Though you'll also note that the Bengals have played various offenses that incorporate a two-back system, like the Cowboys, Titans, Giants, and Jaguars. Based on a different perspective, you could combine the yardage of the top two running backs for the Giants, Cowboys, Titans and Ravens to make the argument that the Bengals have allowed over 100 yards to the opposing team's two leading rushers for that game, which inflates to five games. Again, that depends on your perspective.

I listed the opposing team's leading rusher for the game we played them, and if a second running back got significant chances (through that point of the season), I listed those as well.

Player Team Yards
Brian Westbrook Eagles 60
Maurice Jones-Drew Jags 33
Fred Taylor Jags 12
Steve Slaton Texans 53
Ahman Green Texans 41
Mewelde Moore Steelers 120
Thomas Jones Jets 65
Leon Washington Jets 7
Felix Jones Cowboys 96
Marion Barber Cowboys 84
Jamal Lewis Browns 79
Derrick Ward Giants 80
Brandon Jacobs Giants 35
Chris Johnson Titans 109
LenDale White Titans 59
Le'Ron McClain Ravens 86
Ray Rice Ravens 64

Even though the Bengals defense broke a string of nine-straight games allowing a rushing touchdown, touchdowns continue to be a problem. Most aspects against the rush are improving though. So why the improvement? It's not like the Bengals are playing with significant leads, forcing opposing offenses to throw the ball late in the game.

Pat Sims played his first game against the Jets (the first game of the second five-game stretch). Brandon Johnson, who is receiving additional playing time after Rivers' injury and Darryl Blackstock's suspension, has recorded five tackles or more in his past four games, and two seven-tackle efforts against the Steelers and Eagles. Johnathan Joseph (15 tackles against the Jaguars) and Leon Hall are playing tremendous against the run, crashing downhill to protect the edges.

It also seems generally that the Bengals players are playing tougher against the run, filling gaps with bodies and safeties crashing the line of scrimmage, avoiding blocks and making shoe-string tackles. I think the improved effort against the run should be encouraging for fans, if they keep this pace, heading into next season. With a few adjustments (pass coverage, general line blocking, pass rushing), and a returning Carson Palmer, the Bengals should be better than 1-8-1 this time next season.