A few days after Pro Football Focus ranked the Bengals pass-rushing unit top 10 in the NFL, they have a harsher judgement on their run-defense unit.
Entering the 2018 season, the Bengals find themselves with the 20th best run-stopping squad in the league, which puts them third in the AFC North and ahead of the Steelers, who were ranked 25th.
The main culprits to this ranking where the Bengals linebackers not named Vontaze Burfict. Burfict’s run grade from PFF was a stellar 85.8, which ranked 16th in the league at the position. Burfict was the only other linebacker on the roster last year with a run grade over 50.
Nick Vigil, Vincent Rey and Jordan Evans netted a 32.7, 41.7 and 42.5 respectively, as they all struggled mightily during last season in this department.
The good news is Preston Brown’s run grade of 72.8 is much better than Kevin Minter’s 58.3. Brown’s consistently been one of the more solid gap fillers and tacklers in the league and should provide stability and become a significant upgrade at the MIKE linebacker spot.
Stopping the run isn’t just limited to linebackers obviously, and the Bengals defensive line possessed more capable bodies. Geno Atkins lead the way with an 85.5 run grade. Edge defenders Carlos Dunlap (80.7) and Jordan Willis (80.0) also held their own and were excellent at setting the edge. Ryan Glasgow didn’t do much as a pass-rusher (49.5) but the difference between that and his 75.0 run grade is extremely indicative of the player that he is.
The rotation at nose tackle last year between Pat Sims and Andrew Billings also helped sink their ranking. Sims finished with a 47.5 grade, while Billings was slightly lower at 42.3. Sims’ replacement, Chris Baker, had a down year as well last year with a 45.3 run grade, so he’ll need to regress back to the mean while Billings continues to find himself as a player.
Darqueze Dennard’s unheralded season at slot cornerback involved more than just being commendable in coverage. Dennard was Cincinnati’s third-best run defender with a grade of 81.3, tying him with Desmond Trufant of the Falcons and Kevin King of the Packers for 18th in the league. When each team plays three cornerbacks for most of the game, that’s a pretty good spot to be at.
Despite some impressive individual performances, the Bengals ended up being one of the easiest teams to run on last year. They had the 24th ranked rush DVOA per footballoutsiders and were a bottom 10 team in getting tackles for loss and opposing yards per carry.
Fresh faces in Brown and Baker could make a positive impact, as well as getting Willis on the field more. By season’s end, it’s very possible they outperform this ranking.