Way back in July, I asked if the Bengals' defense would return to form in 2015, the form we'd grown so accustomed to during the long span of time during which Mike Zimmer was running the defense. As it turned out, Geno Atkins and company did in fact bounce back from a less-than-stellar 2014 campaign and were an absolute force this past season. The Bengals' defense allowed an average of 17.4 points per game (2nd best in the league), 340.8 yards per game (11th best) and 92.3 rushing yards per game (7th best). The defense also had 42 sacks, and a turnover ratio of +11, due to 9 interceptions and 7 fumbles.
For highlights of some of their best plays, check out the following video:
5 impressive stats about the Bengals defense in 2015
1. The Bengals finished second in points allowed, giving up just 279 points (17.4 points per game), only two more total points than the first place Seattle Seahawks gave up (277). The Seahawks have led the league in that category four years in a row, two of which ended with them playing in the Super Bowl. Further, Cincinnati's defense played at a different level after the return of Vontaze Burfict in Week 8, allowing only 15.7 points over their last 10 games. In other words, it is entirely possible that they could lead the league in that category next year (especially if Burfict's suspension is reduced).
2. The 32-year-old Reggie Nelson had a career year, tying Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs for most interceptions in the league (8). Nelson was particularly impressive against the Pittsburgh Steelers, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times in two regular season matchups. Cincinnati finished with 21 interceptions overall (3rd in the league).
3. The Bengals finished with 42 sacks, a massive improvement over the 20 sacks they totaled in 2014. Carlos Dunlap had 13.5 sacks, a franchise record. Atkins added 11 after getting only 3 in 2014 when he was recovering from an ACL injury. And Domata Peko added 5 sacks, a career high for the 31-year-old.
4. Cincinnati allowed just 92.3 yards per game on the ground (seventh in the NFL). And a stout run defense is a good indicator a team has what it takes to make a deep postseason run. For instance, the two teams playing in the Super Bowl finished 3rd and 4th in rushing yards allowed. Of course, the Bengals allowed fewer rushing touchdowns (8) than either the Carolina Panthers (11) or the Broncos (10).
5. The Bengals sent four defenders to the Pro Bowl (Nelson, Atkins, Dunlap and Adam Jones), tying them with the Broncos and Panthers for second most in the league. Only the Chiefs and the Seahawks sent more members of their defense (5).
Outlook for 2016
The tremendous strides mentioned above were made in Paul Guenther's second season as defensive coordinator, a position he had never held before in the NFL. With another offseason and year of tape to work with, Guenther should only continue to learn how to best take advantage of a talented roster. Also, Darqueze Dennard (whose season was cut short due to a shoulder injury) and Josh Shaw could be ready to make major contributions next year, giving the Bengals more athleticism in their defensive backfield. All signs indicate that Cincinnati will feature an elite defense next season.