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Bengals Defense Inviting Tall Expectations: Projecting One Of The League's Best?

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BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Linebacker Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals walks to the field before taking on the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Linebacker Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals walks to the field before taking on the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The dreadful inhale of a calm offseason (aka, rolling our pens back and forth in sheer boredom) continues as people gather information in the name of projecting expectations for another NFL season that's already filling our collective minds with endless amounts of anticipation while anxiety shakes our unsettled hands. Training camp battles, sophomore seasons, rookie projections, free agency acquisitions are compiled into developing forecasts; though most of it chaotic musings in early July that somehow makes time slow to a crawl.

In the meantime Mel Kiper Jr. publishes what he calls a "Summer Audit" on the AFC North (In$ider), which basically summarizes what each team has done this offseason, while adding the weaknesses teams still exhibit.

For the most part this information is already known, largely because we're already indoctrinated like zombies (except for brains, we're devouring information on the Bengals). The one area that Kiper reflects on that's worth anything offers an interesting perspective. While there's plenty of wanderings about this offense, Kiper challenges that the Bengals defense could be one of the league's best.

Last season, the Bengals improved on the defensive side of the ball, and I wonder if they are ready to become one of the better defenses in the NFL in 2012. They were fourth in sack percentage last season, gave up just a hair over 20 points a game and have created depth in the pass rush, with Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Jamaal Anderson all capable of creating pressure. Devon Still is a nice addition as well. The question for me is whether the ceiling is much higher. People will look at Cincy and want to see progress from Green as he emerges into a star, more from Dalton as he becomes fully settled and a better run game. But don't be surprised if the best defense in the AFC North isn't from Pittsburgh or Baltimore in 2012.

Works for me.

Cincinnati had the league's No. 7 defense in 2011, allowing only 5.0 yards/play -- which ranked fourth in the NFL. Additionally the Bengals defense ranked inside the top-ten in most of the popular categories, such as against the pass (9th), against the run (10th), quarterback sacks recorded (5th), forced fumbles (6th) and scoring defense (9th).

Jonathan Fanene (Patriots), Frostee Rucker (Browns) and Chris Crocker (released) are the notable departures while the Bengals added players like Dre Kirkpatrick, Devon Still and Brandon Thompson through the 2012 NFL draft and Derrick Harvey, Terence Newman, Jason Allen and Jamaal Anderson through free agency.

But we assume you already knew that.