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Fantasy Football Outlook: How Much Has the Bengals Defense Improved?

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The Bengals' defense was far from fantasy gold in 2014. Will the same be the case in 2015? How much has the Bengals' defense improved and will they be worth adding to your roster this season?

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Let's face it: If you had the Bengals’ defense in Fantasy Football in 2014, you bit the bullet more than once. Mike Zimmer left Cincinnati at the end of the 2013 season to be the head coach of the Vikings, and deservedly so. In his wake, Paul Guenther was promoted to take the reins of a defense that had been nothing short of superb the season prior.

A step back in the defense could have been expected. Six steps back was not.

Whether it was Zimmer at the helm or a healthy Geno Atkins that gave Cincinnati’s top five 2013 defense their edge, the Bengals had neither during Guenther's debut. Losing Michael Johnson to Tampa Bay for the year didn't help the cause.

Now, Guenther has a year under his belt, Atkins is (allegedly) looking like his former, once-destructive self, and Johnson is back with the Bengals. The team has an influx of youth in the back-end, which should see extended playing time this year. The linebacker unit picked up A.J. Hawk and hope to have Burfict ready by the regular season opener. And, there is no reason to expect the Bengals defense won't be worlds better than last season.

Yet, I still hesitate to project them as a top 10 defense in 2015. Let's take a look at some of the issues that plagued the Bengals’ defense last year.

A look back at 2014

First off, to say the interior struggled mightily in 2014 would be a gross understatement. The Bengals gave up 140 yards on the ground per game, which puts them as the fifth worst team in that category. The amount of times we saw average runners gash through the line cannot be counted.

Second, the blitz. What blitz? Cincinnati's pressure on the quarterback last season was atrocious, essentially leaving the secondary to fend for itself for the majority of the season. The fact that the Bengals still maintained a middle-of-the-pack ranking (19) in pass defense was a miniature miracle in its own right. There was no edge rush, Peko was merely a large man taking up space, and the team sorely missed opposing double teams on the Atkins diet.

Despite all of this, the Bengals managed to allow the sixth least points scored (an average of 19 per game) in 2014, even as they were ranked 27th in overall defense. Although the magnitude of the disparity here is somewhat confusing, the idea that their scoring defense was so much better shouldn't baffle. Cincinnati has relied on a very strong red-zone defense the last few years, and the secondary has always been full of opportunistic play-makers.

The Bengals simply employed a bend-but-don't-break strategy last season – a game plan that consisted of a LOT of bending.

The bottom line

I'm not sold on a defense that relies on luck inside their own 20-yard line to keep opposing offenses under 20 points, especially given the difficult strength of schedule coming the Bengals’ way this season. The defense is still a fantasy sleeper, but they shouldn't be counted on for more than that. There are too many inconsistencies and too many questions that the team will have to answer this year.

As for me, I'm staying away... at least until I see a definitive reason not to.