Quarterbacks are rare creatures, born early in the 20th century. With no natural defense, the quarterback is surrounded by a wall of offensive linemen from the Footballous Offensiveous Felidae, a cousin of the quarterback. Coming in a variety of packages ranging from gun-slingers to timing-slingers, quarterbacks are big or small, fast or slow. They are naturally smart or only as good as the system they play in. They are game managers or, in the case of the rarer elite quarterbacks, game winners. And in Cincinnati's case recently, opposing quarterbacks generally leave the game with clean shirts and positive attitudes.
The Bengals defense, the most disappointing unit by far this season, is enjoying an innocent journey towards inconsistent pass defense against opposing quarterbacks. Thanks to a defense that ranks inside the top-ten with eight interceptions, the Bengals pass defense ranks 12th in the league with opposing quarterbacks generating a passer rating of 77.8. All things considered, save for performances against Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, the Bengals pass defense has generated just enough resistance to keep opposing quarterbacks from exploding. Then again, as the more angry Bengals fan will point out, the games that Cincinnati's pass defense played well against are Joe Flacco (which the Bengals have always kept in check), Jimmy Clausen (during his first NFL start), Seneca Wallace (a career backup quarterback) and Josh Freeman (a promising young quarterback in his second year). And successes by Seneca Wallace, Josh Freeman and Matt Ryan is causing concern.
You could point to the team's pass rush as our primary suspect. No, not could. You should. With only six quarterback sacks this year, the Bengals defense ranks behind six NFL players who have more sacks. If you specifically pointed to the Bengals defensive front, which only has two quarterback sacks this year, then you'd be totally frustrated to learn that 54 NFL players have recorded more quarterback sacks than the Bengals front four. Only one team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has generated less quarterback sacks than the Bengals.
According to NFL.com's Game Books, which charts how many times a quarterback gets hit and who made the hit, seven defensive linemen account for 18 quarterback hits through six games. And four of those hits came from Frostee Rucker against the Atlanta Falcons.
Let's specifically talk about the team's defensive ends.
Robert Geathers, who has yet to record a quarterback sack, has hit the quarterback three times and never more than once in any game. Geathers, generally considered the team's best rushing defender amongst defensive ends, signed a six-year contract worth $33.75 million after a 10.5-sack season in 2006. Since then, he's recorded 9.5 quarterback sacks in the 48 games since signing and scheduled to earn $3.25 million in 2010, $3.95 million in 2011 and $4.2 million in 2012 in base salary. Good rush defender or not, the Bengals need him to be far more disruptive in the passing game.
Antwan Odom has only played four games this year, due to injury and a suspension for violating the league's drug policy, and his contribution to the team's defense has resulted in zero quarterback sacks, zero hits on the quarterback and four total tackles. Already in his third year, Odom has only played in 22 of a possible 38 games, never playing a full season with Cincinnati. Odom signed a five-year deal worth $29.5 million in March of 2008, scheduled to earn $3.4 million in 2010, $4.5 million in 2011 and $5.3 million in 2012 in base salary. While Odom's 11 quarterback sacks in 22 games seems reasonable, five came against the Green Bay Packers in 2009. So that leaves six quarterback sacks in the remaining 21 games; not so reasonable.
That's $6.65 million for two defensive ends that's combined for zero quarterback sacks, three quarterback hits and 21 tackles through six games in 2010.
Michael Johnson could arguably be more disappointing, based more on the more hopeful side of expectations. After recording a quarterback hit and 0.5 quarterback sacks against the Baltimore Ravens, Johnson's playing time has actually decreased to the point that rookie Carlos Dunlap, who has been inactive in four games this year, had more snaps on defense against the Atlanta Falcons.
The team's leading pass rusher, Frostee Rucker, still only with one sack, but a team-leading six shots on the quarterback.
With Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph dealing with their respective injuries, with the team's safeties generalized as anything but coverage experts, the Bengals inability to get to the quarterback is a significant reason of the team's defensive struggles. And you could point directly at the team's awful defensive end performances.