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Michael Johnson's impact quietly felt along Bengals defensive line

The Bengals' re-invested in their defensive line this offseason, with the centerpiece being Michael Johnson. After a slow start to the season, Johnson is leaving his mark on a much-improved line.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

From 2008-2013 under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Cincinnati Bengals' defense feasted on pressuring the quarterback. Applying pressure on the QB is known as one of the most important facets of football, and Cincinnati used that ability to mask other deficiencies on their roster for the better part of six seasons.

Before the 2014 offseason, the Bengals saw two major departures: Zimmer who left for Minnesota for a head coaching gig and long-standing defensive end Michael Johnson who exited the team via free agency. The result was the Bengals finishing last in the league in quarterback sacks last year.

In an effort to shore up the issues along the defensive line, the Bengals scooped Johnson back up after his release from the Buccaneers, along with another former Cincinnati teammate, Pat Sims, who was released from Oakland. After grabbing just 20 sacks all of last year, the Bengals already have 11 through four games in 2015.

While Johnson has just one of those 11 this year (that one was on Sunday against the Chiefs), his presence has been felt in multiple ways through four games this season. Here is a clip of his sack on Sunday:

Aside from the above-mentioned play, Johnson had a big fumble recovery in the opener against the Raiders and was a big factor in stopping the run through the first three games of the season. Johnson also had a tipped passon Sunday against Kansas City.

Here's the thing though: Johnson, while a valued and expensive member of the defense, isn't a guy who has traditionally dominated the stat sheet. It's why he's averaged a little over six sacks a season before 2015, but those numbers aren't why Cincinnati scratched and clawed to get him to come back this offseason.

Even though he's being paid like a big-time edge player, it's his effect on others playing on the line that makes him so valuable. Call it the "Geno Atkins Lite Effect", if you will. Fellow defensive end, Carlos Dunlap, had a sack against the Chiefs on Sunday as well, and Johnson's rushing prowess helped to pave the way for No. 96 to make a big play.

The defensive line's resurgence has been propelled by Atkins looking like his old self and the return of Johnson to fortify the rotation. He's a big reason why the defense is on pace for 44 sacks this year--more than double than what they had just a year ago.