Cincinnati's defense has grown a lot during the past few seasons, cumulating into a powerhouse defense that ranked fourth in the NFL last year. Consider this. The Bengals allowed 276 first downs last year, the lowest first downs allowed dating back to Cincinnati's last Super Bowl appearance. Furthermore, they allowed less than 300 points for the first since 1989, less than 20 passing touchdowns for the first time since 1988 and the team's 4,822 yards allowed is the first sub-5,000 yards allowed in a full season since Dick LeBeau's ninth ranked defense in 2001. I feel like a parent, to be honest, watching this defense grow, wiping a tear from me eye.
But they're not perfect. Not by a long shot. Aside from actually appearing to regress this year, one of the very few things that just hasn't stabilized is their ability to get to the quarterback. But even that expression comes with hesitation. Last year the Bengals recorded 34 quarterback sacks, which ranked 16th in the league. They doubled the production over the 2008 defense, which barely averaged a sack per game, falling three sacks short of the highest sack total during Marvin Lewis' tenure.
Yet, sacks are still a problem (admittedly, I totally giggled when I wrote that).
Pressure is more than just a numbers game. Even though a defensive player may not get a sack, constant pressure forces an opposing quarterback to throw the football before his receiver's route is completed. It also forces the quarterback's technique to deteriorate, causing a thrown duck to be shot down, thanking the gods because if that damned dog laughs at me one more time...
After a fast start pressuring the quarterback, building on the numbers game, Cincinnati's ability to get to the quarterback slowly, and noticeably, diminished. It became such a problem that over the offseason, one of the constant answers to what this team needs to improve upon, was pressuring the quarterback. For as good as Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph have become, the Bengals will still need to pressure the quarterback to limit the pressure on our cornerbacks.
One of their solutions was Florida Gators defensive end, Carlos Dunlap, selected in the second round with their 54th overall pick. The original plan was to play Dunlap as a defensive end opposite of Antwan Odom on third downs, eventually becoming an inside pass rusher on obvious passing downs.
Yet, his progress has been slow. After missing the first two games this season with a knee strain, Dunlap made his NFL debut against the Carolina Panthers, even pressuring Jimmy Clausen once. After that, Dunlap subsequently was listed as inactive against the Browns and Buccaneers.
So why is he inactive?
Simply put: He's impressing no one during practice. According to Mothership Captain Geoff Hobson, Mike Zimmer would "like to see more passion in practice."
The Bengals are one of only four teams in the NFL with six quarterback sacks or less and only one NFL team has less than six (Tampa Bay). With Odom out for at least four games, one has to figure that Dunlap will get his chance now. First things first. Impress the coaches in practice and, you know, actually get on the field.