Defensive tackle was supposed to be one of the Bengals’ more solid positions in 2016. The unit is led by All-Pro Geno Atkins and also includes Domata Peko, who had a great year in 2015, and Pat Sims, who has typically been a good rotational player throughout his career with the Bengals. In addition to these three names, the Bengals have some young and very talented players in Andrew Billings, Marcus Hardison, Brandon Thompson, and DeShawn Williams. Thompson is a third round pick who has proven to be generally reliable, Hardison and Williams have made their marks as preseason heroes, and Billings is the Bengals’ highly acclaimed fourth round pick who was seen by many as the steal of the draft.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite like the Bengals were hoping at the position in 2016. Granted, Atkins has been mostly impressive this season, while Sims has played well in the opportunities he has had. But, Peko has struggled mightily for much of the season, and DeShawn Williams hasn’t seen the field at all. Hardison, Billings, and Thompson have all suffered major injuries that have kept them out, Thompson’s coming in Week 17 of last season. The only other defensive tackle available right now is David Dean, who has spent the entire season on the practice squad.
A strategy that might behoove the Bengals’ rebuilding efforts, since they have virtually no hope for turning their 2016 season around at this point, is to start resting veterans who are struggling in favor of talented rookies who are, ultimately, the future of the team. Giving them some experience should be good for them. Unfortunately, the Bengals hardly have any depth at defensive tackle right now to implement that strategy. Peko has not been playing well, but most of the young defensive tackles are injured and Williams has been straddling the bottom end of the roster virtually all season.
It isn’t necessarily the kind of problem that will be fixed by bringing in more talent either, because the Bengals have plenty of talent at the position on IR and freshly off PUP (in Thompson). The Bengals are currently looking at a top 10 draft pick, depending on how the rest of the season goes. A strong defensive lineman like Jonathan Allen of Alabama or Malik McDowell of Michigan State might make sense at this spot. But, the problem with the Bengals isn’t necessarily a lack of talent, it’s a lack of availability.
The lack of depth at defensive tackle has created issues in other areas of the team as well. A defensive line featuring Atkins and Carlos Dunlap should not be struggling to maintain any sort of pressure whatsoever on opposing quarterbacks. But, they are, and it is making the job harder for every other defensive player in pass coverage. We constantly hear about how the secondary is underachieving, but what chance do they have when opposing quarterbacks have all day to throw the ball?
One possible solution to this issue would be to go ahead and play Sims and Williams more for the rest of this season. Williams has yet to be active for a game and we’d like to see that change. With Peko playing poorly, putting someone else in couldn’t hurt. The Bengals should try experimenting with what little depth they have now and make a strong effort in the offseason to ensure they have the best players possible at this position.