Defense was a key factor in the success of the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals, ranking in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed per game, and with defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer returning, there is strong belief that the defense will be even better in 2012.
That is, if they can take the ball away.
Cincinnati had just 10 interceptions last season, 6th fewest in the NFL, which was 21 interceptions behind league leading Green Bay and only two ahead of the league's worst Minnesota Vikings with just eight picks. It was a problem clearly evident during the season--at one point prompting Zimmer to threaten benching players unless they forced more turnovers--and is now again being mentioned, this time by Marvin Lewis. Geoff Hobson writes that Lewis understands it takes a solid defense AND turnovers to get to the big game.
"If there's one thing we have to get ... figure out a way to create more. Teams that create the most turnovers play in [the Super Bowl]," Lewis said. "More recently we have declined (in interceptions) and we have to find out why. We play more man concepts. That is part of it. We started very good and then we hit a lull. You have to look at that but conceptually that's the difference."
The Cincinnati secondary played well last year, and the rankings reflect that sentiment. Still, there is no denying their susceptibility to a strong passing game, and had the Bengals played Green Bay, New Orleans and Detroit instead of Jacksonville, Indianapolis and St. Louis perhaps those rankings would not be so flattering. The 2005 Bengals defense perfectly exemplified the importance of turnovers as its league leading 31 interceptions transformed a below average defense (ranked near the bottom of the NFL in yards and points allowed per game) into a true threat and allowed a potent Carson Palmer led offense more opportunities to score.
The solution to the problem is not clear. It may take a healthy Leon Hall, it may take a new rookie defensive back, or it may even take a new defensive philosophy. But both Mike Zimmer and Marvin Lewis know that this problem must be immediately addressed so once again Cincinnati can have a truly threatening defense and allow a (hopefully) potent Andy Dalton led offense more opportunities to score.