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Bengals midseason awards: Defensive MVP

The Bengals defense as a whole hasn’t been worthy of too much praise, but there are still a few individual players worthy of recognition.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals Contract Extensions The Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODA

It’s truly hard to name an MVP for a unit that is one of the worst in the NFL.

The Bengals have allowed the most yards per game of any team in the league, and they are the 29th-ranked scoring defense. The injuries they’ve suffered on this side of the ball have been impactful, but their incompetence stems from more than just not staying healthy.

Despite that, talent certainly does exist in this unit, and there are a few players worth considering as the best of the pack at this point in the season.

We’ll start with the honorable mentions first.

Honorable Mentions

Jessie Bates, safety: It has become very clear why the Bengals decided to move on from their veteran safety George Iloka in favor of their second-round pick. Bates has had a really good season so far, and it seems like he is only getting better as he gets his feet under him.

Bates leads the team with 60 tackles and has four passes defended and three interceptions on the season, including one that he returned for a touchdown against the Buccaneers that probably helped save the game for the Bengals.

The real reason Bates isn’t going to get the MVP award today is because the competition in front of him is pretty stiff, but the fact he is already this highly considered through his first eight games is impressive in its own right.

Geno Atkins, defensive tackle: You could make the case that Atkins is the most important player on the defensive side of the ball, and you’d be right. The attention that he gets from opposing offensive lines really sets up the rest of the defense to (hopefully) do well.

There are a few arbitrary reasons why the award ultimately went to one of his teammates, but as strong as Atkins came onto the season with six sacks in the first five weeks, he hasn’t had any the past three weeks. We’re not worried about that though, he’s still getting consistent pressure on the quarterback like always.

Defensive MVP

Carlos Dunlap, defensive end: Again, the choosing between Atkins and Dunlap is pretty difficult, but the reasons why Dunlap ultimately ends up with the award are solid. For one, he only has two games where he didn’t record a sack. He also had a couple taken away from him in the Colts game due to the new ridiculous roughing the passer rules.

Dunlap leads the team with seven sacks, but he also leads the team with two forced fumbles. He has also pressured the quarterback plenty of times that have led to cleanup sacks for other lineman. One of those pressures led directly to the Michael Johnson interception for a touchdown against the Dolphins, as well as forced the fumble for Sam Hubbard’s touchdown in the same game.

The Bengals prioritized keeping Dunlap and Atkins this offseason with the contract extensions they both signed just minutes apart from each other. If there was any doubt they wouldn’t be worth the investment, that doubt is pretty much evaporated.